Tocoa, Honduras – Delegation Report November 28, 2009

Two of the leaders of the Frente (the resistance coalition) in this region met with us to give more information about the situation and to work out what we will do tomorrow, on election day.

As I write this at ten at night, the streets are deserted and all the shops and restaurants closed. Last night these same streets had a steady stream of cars and people walking along the sidewalks. The hotel, tonight, has a guard armed with a shotgun circulating around the hotel.

We have this evening heard that all the schools and other buildings that will be used as polling places have been taken over by soldiers. We were called by one of the resistance activists to let us know that a community of campesinos faced 200 to 300 soldiers in the vicinity of their homes and there was fear that the group of more than 600 would be attacked. This was an area where the community was in a conflict over land last August. The man who claims to own the area also has links to the police and about half the soldiers are at his hacienda.

The calls with this information were not a surprise, based on the briefing that we had in the morning. We were called because of the hope that we would be able to get information out and prevent an attack because the facts are known outside of the community.

Alfredo Paz is the head of the resistance grouping of the six teacher unions that have been working together as a part of the resistance. He is also a representative from this region on the national committee of the Frente.

Pablo Osorio is the secretary-general of the Union of Health Workers regional organization. He is the one who will be taking us around on Sunday, election day, tomorrow.

Alfredo started by telling us that many campesinos in the surrounding area are particularly under threat of military repression. In many of these communities, they will not allow the military to bring in ballot boxes and set up voting places.

In the town of Tacoa, teachers make up a significant element of the resistance. The leadership has been threatened, often by calls to the homes by the military. Alfredo was called by one of the chief officers and told that the military knew who to blame if there was trouble.

The Frente has been carrying out activities to reach people with the message not to vote, using posters, leaflets and graffiti. We saw some of the graffiti today, with the message being election no, constitution yes. One wall had on it a quote from a section of the existing constitution that says that citizens don’t have to follow the laws if they are made by people who have usurped power.

The resistance will be monitoring voting places. People who are not high profile and known as part of the resistance will be using cameras and video to document what has happened, after the "event," the term used instead of election because they consider it not to be a valid election.

We heard again that the resistance believes that there are 60 to 80 Colombians here whose role would be to carry out assassinations and then get out, if there are to be killings. Alfredo said some of them are staying at the very hotel where we are staying and where our discussions were taking place.

He told us that the paramilitaries are driving vehicles with no license plates. As we walked around the city in the afternoon, we saw a number of vehicles, mostly with blackedout windows that were without license plates. A police and military checkpoint by the central park was stopping all the cars to check them out. When vehicles with no license came by, they simply waved them on without stopping them.

The mainstream parties that have always shared power back and forth may commit fraud or create conflict between themselves. The military is primarily allied with the National Party. The voting officials are allies of the Liberals because the Liberals have been in power. Zayela was elected as a Liberal party candidate and the Liberals were in a position to name the electoral officials. A number of the Liberals have supported the resistance and withdrawn as candidates.

We asked about the situation of teachers and schools. Alfredo told us that usually the school year ends in October. However, some schools had stayed in session after the official closing date as an "act of rebellion" by parents and teachers about the conflict that had led the schools to be closed during the months of protests and turmoil.

The de facto government wanted the schools closed early, hoping that if teachers were on vacation that they would not be organizing against the coup.

Teachers have had trouble getting their pay. Four hundred teachers have not received pay since February, even before the coup. This was a result, Alfredo said, of the way the economic crisis has hit Honduras.

Negotiations between teachers and government are supposed to take place with an agreement reached before the end of each year. However, no negotiations have taken place since the coup.

The public schools have very poor infrastructure. In line with World Bank requirements, over the last decade most of the funding has gone to community schools that are locally set up. These are essentially charter schools. One aim of this approach is to weaken the collective strength of teachers.

As always, the discussion comes back in the end to the same resolution. There must be a new constitution and a constituent assembly to create it. This is in its essence a demand for a non-violent way of producing a more just society.

In education, this translates into a constitutional guarantee of education as a social right for all.

Larry Kuehn
Common Frontiers