Honduran Teachers Get Shock Treatment

Jesse Freeston: Over recent weeks, the regime put in place by a 2009 military coup has begun the process of destroying the Honduran teachers’ movement, a campaign that has turned Honduras’s cities into battlegrounds.  Opponents are calling it an example of what author Naomi Klein famously labeled the shock doctrine.

Naomi Klein: The exploitation of crisis and shock has very consciously been used by radical free-marketeers.  And, you know, I start the book quoting Milton Friedman, something he wrote in 1982: only a crisis, real or perceived, produces real change.  And he was admitting that his ideas, his vision of a radical, privatized world, couldn’t be imposed in the absence of a crisis.

Jesse Freeston: Honduran sociologist David Vivar explains how it’s being applied in Honduras.

David Vivar: The teachers in Honduras are one of the only — or of the few — sectors that have achieved a decent living.  By this I mean they have decent housing, they can send their kids to college, they have healthy food, etc.  Since the coup, that livelihood has been heavily attacked.  A hundred million dollars was robbed from their pension fund and hasn’t been returned.  Last September, Pepe Lobo went to New Orleans in order to study the charter school system design, and he brought it back to Honduras, and that’s what he’s giving us now.

Jesse Freeston: The transformation of New Orleans’ public school system is one example employed by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine.

Naomi Klein: And one of the people who saw opportunity in the floodwaters of New Orleans was Milton Friedman.  He said New Orleans schools are in ruins; the teachers, families, parents, are scattered throughout the country.  This is a tragedy, he wrote; it is also an opportunity.  Then he proceeded to explain that this was the moment to transform New Orleans’ education system into a charter school system, which means public money going to private schools, many of them run for profit.  They busted the teachers’ union completely.  They fired 4,700 teachers — they don’t have a contract anymore.  This was the opportunity.

Jesse Freeston: During our September visit to New Orleans, Pepe Lobo’s assistant, Mayra Pineda, was quoted by the student newspaper the Tulane Hullaballoo as saying, quote, “We’ve had a huge problem with teachers unions. . . .  Charter schools are certainly one option to try to solve the union situation.”  Just two weeks after meeting with New Orleans authorities, Lobo signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.  In exchange for a $200 million loan, he promised to cut the country’s education budget.  A little over three weeks after that, the regime cut the teachers’ salaries, while announcing increases for the budgets of both the military and the police.  One month later, an IMF evaluation declared things were, quote, “broadly in line with expectations.”

David Vivar: You see these institutions talk about development and target the only working class that ever truly developed.  On December 28, during the teachers’ vacation, Lobo suspended the Estatuto del Docente, which is the teachers’ bills of rights, which allows them to strike.

Jesse Freeston: Then, in March, the regime passed a law moving control of the education system to the municipalities, and the teachers went on strike again.  Lobo declared the strike illegal.  Many teachers took to the streets anyways, occupying institutions, roads, and highways throughout the country.  Freddy Zavala is one of the teachers who organized a highway blockade outside the town of Jutiapa on Honduras’s north coast.  He put the regime’s attack on the teachers in the context of the broader repression since the 2009 coup.

Freddy Zavala: This is the continuation of the coup.  We see here disrespect for human rights.  Every day, we see deaths, youths murdered, teachers beaten and shot.  As teachers, we can’t put up with this any longer.

Jesse Freeston: In the capital of Tegucigalpa, the teachers occupied the national institute in charge of their pension fund, in order to demand their $100 million be returned.  Jaime Gonzalez is the president of one of the teachers unions that lead the occupation.

Jaime Gonzalez: The public education system has completely collapsed, abandoned because the people in power are redirecting all the resources to the security forces, the police, on top of an incredible level of corruption.

Jesse Freeston: The regime has been running television ads saying that the law isn’t about privatization but about involving all sectors in the management of education.

TV Ad: We all win with the Strengthening of Public Education and Citizen Participation Act — parents, teachers, schools, and above all, the kids. . . .

Jesse Freeston: Police and military were employed to remove the teachers from the pension institute by force.  School principal Ilse Velasquez was killed during the attack.  This security video shows her being run over by a TV truck in the chaos.  Her daughters, also teachers, say she was hit in the head with a tear gas canister before falling under the truck.

Daughter of Ilse Velasquez: We’re convinced that my mom died as a result of the brutal repression that happened that day against teachers that are merely demanding that their historic gains be respected that have cost us blood, sweat, and tears in the street, because nothing the teachers have was ever given to them by the government.

Jesse Freeston is a Canadian journalist.  This video was released by The Real News on 18 April 2011.  The text above is an edited partial transcript of the video.

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