Op-Ed: When Protests Broke Out in Honduras, the World Was Silent

Photo by Sean_Warren / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Recently, while no one was watching, Hondurans broke out into protests. Unlike the anger that people felt when they saw Honduran asylum seekers tear gassed in Tijuana, there was mostly radio silence. This disregard is something we Hondurans have grown accustomed to, but it’s still a disappointing fact of life.

Honduras, a small Central American country, is often overlooked. When it does end up in the news, it’s because of gang violence, homicide rates, and immigration. But what doesn’t get enough coverage is the ways that Hondurans are fighting for their country. In the last week of April, outlets gave little to no coverage of the protests in Tegucigalpa. That means many didn’t learn that dozens were injured, a teacher was shot and left in critical condition, or that tear gas was thrown at the crowd.

The protests began after the National Congress of Honduras approved reforms to the National System of Health and Education – despite heavy disapproval throughout the nation. The reforms allowed room for a financial and budgetary restructuring of the health and education systems, and because there was no clear methodology on how these financial changes would be implemented, many were concerned about how much discretionary power was granted to lawmakers.

Suyapa Figueroa, president of the Honduran Medical Board (CMH) explained that making these budgetary changes would allow Congress to make purchases without abiding to regulations, which would therefore reduce transparency. And this could effectively lead to a weakened health and education systems, allowing the government to justify privatization.

In the past, this lack of transparency has led to some of the biggest fraud schemes. In 2015, for example, government officials and businessmen embezzled $266 million through the Social Security Institute. With an already crumbling health and public education system, where hospitals only have 40% of necessary medications for the care of patients and 71% of students in public primary schools are below satisfactory levels in topics such as mathematics, allowing privatization to occur in the hands of corrupt politicians could worsen these dire situations.

Given all this, Hondurans came out to protest the probable privatization of health and education systems. The majority of the demonstrations were peaceful. Students, health and education professionals, labor unions, and many more assembled and held signs that read “No to Privatization” and “Public Health for Everyone.”

In my hometown of Siguatepeque, a strike followed a peaceful protest. A secondary school vice-principal in the city told me that “only two public high schools took part in the strike, as teachers in other public institutions worked because of fear of reprisals.” He further explained that the Department of Education instructed authorities to verify who showed up to work that day.

But to many Hondurans, the protests weren’t just about the Congress-approved reforms. The reactions are indicative of an overall frustration at the country’s current state, where corruption guides the actions of our leaders instead of a collective will to provide for the people.

On April 30, human rights organizations urged authorities to “respect the freedom of expression, in the context of demonstrations and protest.” They further called on the government to ensure that “organizers of demonstrations not be held responsible for the violent behavior of some of the protests’ participants.”

Fortunately, the Honduran Congress suspended the Ley de Reestructuración del sector Salud y Educación, in hopes of increasing dialogue between the different organizations that would feel the effects. Yet, health and education professionals demand that the law be terminated in its totality.

Since the protests, there was and continues to be a lack of international coverage. But this is the norm. Honduras is only spoken about when it comes to immigration or gang violence, which are important topics. However, they don’t tell Honduras’ whole story (and oftentimes, the coverage lacks the nuanced perspectives required to truly show what’s happening in the country).

So as the country faces this challenge, it’s important we listen to what Hondurans have to say so that we can keep ourselves informed and support the people – many of whom are young and fed up with corruption – who live there.

We can’t just stop at being upset at a Honduran women being tear gassed at the US-Mexico border. We also need to be called to action when Honduras’ military police uses tear gas against protesters, who just want to see the education and health systems improve, rather than fall further into decay. We should care about Honduras – not only because there are asylum seekers leaving Honduras and coming here, but because it’s a country with people who have personhood and dignity, too.