Friday, March 18, 2011

Does the death of a teacher count as a human rights issue?

Porfirio Lobo Sosa has taken a hard line against teachers' unions, saying he will not talk to them until they return to the classroom and stop going out on strike. The response from the unions has been nationwide protests that yesterday and again today were received violently by security forces.

Lobo Sosa has played on the frustration parents feel about the discontinuity of education of their children, and the effect that is likely to have on their future.

It is far easier to portray striking teachers as an enemy, because it is the strike that leads to suspended classes; far harder to convey the argument that it is the government that has the responsibility for these strikes, by not resolving the issues involved, which involve government defaults on funding teacher's pensions, failure or lateness of payment of salaries and benefits, and, most recently, proposals that teachers unions interpret as aimed to privatize education.

So, as is almost routine in post-coup Honduras under the security regime of Oscar Alvarez, not only the police but the military are sent in to combat protesting teachers.

This policy has now led to the predictable outcome: the death of a striking teacher, Ilse Ivania Velásquez, who Vos el Soberano reports was hit in the head by a tear gas canister, then run over by a vehicle described as a "tanqueta".

The story in El Heraldo describes the action as intended to remove striking teachers and Resistance members from the Boulevard Centroamérica in Tegucigalpa. Its description of the cause of death was, perhaps predictably, quite different than that on Vos el Soberano:

According to versions from witnesses, the educator was thrown to the ground by a stampede of teachers that caused serious wounds to her face.

Afterwards it happened that the woman was run over by a vehicle that was crossing the area. Up till now, none of the versions has been confirmed.

In a separate story, El Heraldo specifically disputes the claim that she was run over by a vehicle. Their story clarifies that the tanqueta in question was a water tanker, the kind of vehicle used to fuel the water cannons that were turned against the teachers by the police and military.

This additional coverage explains that teachers were attacked with batons and tear gas grenades when they tried to stop a commission named by Lobo Sosa from entering the building where the Instituto de Previsión Magisterial (INPREMA) has its headquarters. INPREMA is at the center of the pension dispute with the Lobo Sosa government, and the teachers have rejected this commission, whose motives they (quite reasonably) distrust.

El Heraldo
does admit that the action was being carried out by the National Police and the Cobra unit of the military, but manages to blame the teachers and resistance members for the death.

International news stories echo the claim that Velásquez was run over after falling in the crowd, while fleeing from tear gas being fired into the protest.

Vos el Soberano describes her as the sister of Manfredo Velásquez, who disappeared in the repression of the 1980s. She was also the sister of Zenaida Velásquez, described as the first president of the Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH, Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras).

These are reminders that there are deep roots to the resistance in Honduras.

1 comment:

RNS said...

Porfirio Lobo Sosa has declared an emergency in education. With his new emergency powers Lobo Sosa is ordering the minister of Education to hire replacement teachers whose contract will be "for as long as the emergency lasts."

The Presidential Palace released a statement that it "laments the possible death" of Ilse Ivania Velásquez Rodríguez and claims that the Police were not responsible for her death, claiming to have video that proves that. The statement calls on the teachers to "act wisely".