Honduras government cancels school to avoid teacher activism

by Larry Kuehn
Common Frontiers/Quixote Center Accompaniment Delegation

The law in Honduras directs that the school year ends on November 30 and the new school year opens at the beginning of February. However, this year the coup government ordered schools to close on October 30 and to reopen on January 3 in 2010.

The coup took place on June 28 when the Honduran military grabbed the elected president, Manuel Zelaya from his home and put him on a plane out of the country, still in his pajamas. The response of many Honduran social groups was to create a resistance movement against the coup.

Teachers have played a key role in the resistance coalition, described by many in the country as the “spine” of the resistance movement.
A human rights delegation from Canada met with one of the teachers active in the resistance, Carlos Mauricio Lopez, while in Honduras. The delegation included representatives from the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

Lopez is a former president of COLPROSUMAH, the largest of the teacher unions in Honduras, as well as former president of FOMCA, the federation of teacher unions in Central America.

Lopez said that the early closing of the schools was intended to remove the teachers as an active element in the resistance. The coup government hoped that the teachers would just go on holidays and be less of a factor in the resistance. Instead, he said, it gave teachers more time to do organizing.

The majority of the 60,000 teachers in Honduras are part of the resistance to the coup and in support of restoration of democratic government and the creation of a new constitution that will provide more equity and social justice, he said.
However, the repression has been intimidating, even to those with strong convictions against the illegality of the current government and the election it organized. Teachers will face a decision about whether they will return to school in January, a month earlier that the law says classes resume.

Lopez told the delegation that the military has been making a presence in schools. They show up at the school to ensure the teachers know that they are being watched.
As the school principal, Lopez has faced harassment. An officer showed up at his school, telling him that there are seven charges against the school for collaborating with the resistance and wanting to ask him questions. He knew that he did not have to answer any questions without a lawyer, and that the real intention of charges and questioning is intimidation to scare teachers from participating in the movement against the coup and for a new constitution.

Experience in the struggles of teachers for better conditions for education over many years gives him the confidence that teachers will remain a part of the movement. He quoted a protest song that reflects that experience: “They’re afraid of us, because we are not afraid.”

Members of the human rights delegation included Scott Marshall, an executive officer of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, Dominic Bellismo, also from OSSTF, and Irene Lanzinger, President of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and Larry Kuehn, also from the BCTF.