Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cutting Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face!

The school year in Honduras is 200 days. It began in January and is supposed to run through November. But this year and last, school has been interrupted and the instructional period shortened.

The administration of Roberto Micheletti thought nothing of ending the school year more than a month early last year to clear out the public schools so the military and police could take them over to hold their flawed election last November. This year, various days have been lost to protests and, most recently, to a two-week strike.

In this situation, the Lobo Sosa administration's Education Minister, Alejandro Ventura, just made an absurd suggestion:
It hurts us to say this, but its preferable to cancel the school year from September on, because the teachers are acting irresponsibly.

Really?! If the teachers are acting irresponsibly, how is it responsible to the students to make the irresponsible suggestion that the government just cancel the rest of the school year?

What is behind this questionable proposal is a labor dispute that the Lobo Sosa administration could settle.

A confederation of teachers' unions, the Federación de Organizaciones Magisteriales de Honduras, has been out on strike the last two weeks because the government is two years behind in its payments to their retirement fund, and is up to three months late in paying the monthly salary of 3000 teachers, among other issues.

It is not that all the teachers all over Honduras are out on strike, but there's a large contingent of them protesting in Tegucigalpa.

As a result, for the last two weeks, many, but not all, schools have been shut, children not receiving classes. The government says about 2 million students are affected.

The protesting teachers have been peaceful, but the security forces have been disproportionately violent of late. Over the weekend the Assistant Security Minister threatened more violence against the protesters if they block the streets, a common tactic in Honduras, that he said interferes with the citizen's right of free passage.

There are many other paths forward that would have better educational outcomes than canceling the school year. Suggesting canceling the rest of the school year is a political response, not one made by someone acting responsibly towards Honduras's students.

Instead, the Education Minister is considering issuing a decree declaring a state of emergency, canceling the remaining school year, and beginning procedures to fire the striking teachers. Here again the disruption of normal constitutional order last year echoes forward: having developed a habit of suspending normal constitutional protections by using the "state of emergency" claim, the Honduran government seems to see it as a solution for all problems.

Not one that will ensure students get the education they deserve. Not one that will settle the debts already owed to teachers. Just one that would allow unilateral elimination of opposition in an undemocratic manner.


RNS said...

After we posted this, the comments on the part of government officials got even stupider before Porfirio Lobo Sosa finally cracked down and told them all to shut up.

Among the other statements from government officials was a gem from Humberto Palacios Moya, the legal adviser to the government. Palacios Moya told the press they were elaborating a decree that would establish hearings to fire all the striking teachers, and to suspend their constitutional rights ("la suspencion de todas las guarantias constitucionales") for their disobedience.

This idiocy forced Lobo Sosa to issue the following press release late yesterday.

The President of the Republic, to the national teachers, parents of students, and the people of Honduras, communicates the following:

1. The Executive branch has never considered canceling the present school year; that would harm the education of the children of all the country that are currently in classes.

2. The government of the Republic maintains a dialogue through the bi-partisan commission to discuss the points presented by the Federación de Organizaciones Magisteriales de Honduras (FOMH), with President Porfirio Lobo Sosa.

3. The declarations of lawyer Humberto Palacios Moya from this morning were in response to specific criteria as a legal professional.

In this sense, the Presidency of the Republic, reiterates to the people of Honduras, that it will give priority to transparent dialogue between the government and the leadership of the teachers with a goal of the return to normalcy of the educational system.

Given in the city of Tegucigalpa, the 24th day of the month of August of 2010.


Why is it, so you suppose, that anyone in Honduras would suggest "suspending constitutional guarantees" out loud, as a solution to a non-violent strike?!

Something is seriously wrong with Humberto Palacios Moya's understanding of of his own constitution, which is quite specific about the conditions under which, and how, constitutional rights can be suspended under a state of emergency decree. None of those conditions currently apply.

Anonymous said...

RNS asks, "Why is it, so you suppose, that anyone in Honduras would suggest 'suspending constitutional guarantees' out loud, as a solution to a non-violent strike?!"

Very true. Since constitutional rights do not exist in practice, announcing that they will be suspended would be redundant.