TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS — Antonio Lopez Mendoza, 74, stood among about 100,000 people gathering in this capital city Monday morning. Some pumped their fists and waved red flags bearing the image of President Manuel Zelaya, ousted in a coup exactly one year ago.
Some did a brisk business in hats, bandannas and buttons celebrating Zelaya, Che Guevara or revolutionary Francisco Morazan. One woman hoisted a stuffed gorilla on a pole, a reference to “Gorilleti,” the derogatory nickname for Roberto Micheletti who took power after the coup.
Mendoza wore an earnest expression and waved a small banner in each hand, proclaiming “There’s no democracy or governability if you don’t respect human rights,” and demanding the immediate rehiring of 186 workers fired in February from the National Autonomous University of Honduras. The firings came after contract negotiations broke down and employees took over a university building. Mendoza had worked at the university for 30 years before being fired. Now he is struggling to buy food, often resorting to tortillas and salt.
The workers say they did nothing illegal and blame university rector Julieta Castellanos and a larger crackdown against unions that has accelerated since the coup. Eleven university workers went on hunger strike in late April and some are still at it two months later. At least four of them ended up in critical medical condition.
“She has no conscience, she said she doesn’t care if we die of hunger,” Mendoza said of Castellanos. “That was my whole life. I didn’t do anything with bad intentions, it was always a pleasure for me to come to work. Now I have nothing.”
Joselito Aguilera, 50, was also fired from the university after working there for three decades. He thinks they will ultimately get their jobs back, through one of two processes – exterior tribunals or dialogue with the administration.
He thinks this victory will come as part of the larger process of pressuring the “golpistas,” as people refer to both the coup government of Roberto Micheletti and the current right-wing Lobo government.
“Legally we should have our jobs back but this country isn’t complying with the laws, it’s illegally changing the laws,” Aguilera said. “But we have confidence that we’re going to succeed because that’s justice and the people are unified to fight for it.”
Aguilera thinks increasing labor rights, including increased salaries for university workers under Zelaya, were among the reasons for the coup.
“What to the oligarchy are crimes, to us are rights – for agriculture, education, a minimum salary,” he said.
As marchers described during the anniversary march through the streets of Tegucigalpa June 28, the coup and current government have meant a tightening economic and political vise and increasing repression against the many segments of society who have now united in the National Front of Popular Resistance.
Unions in general and the education sector in particular have been a target of the new government. Union of Workers of the National University of Honduras Section 1 president Marco Antonio Moreno explained that Castellanos is a coup supporter and fired the workers with no legal reason as a way to break the union.
Ironically she is one of the five members of the government-supported Truth and National Reconciliation Commission which was launched seven weeks ago and is supposed to report findings by January.
“She’s just going to lie, she’s a liar,” said Moreno. “This was a move against the union, they wanted to destroy popular resistance.”
The National Front of Popular Resistance and major international groups and human rights advocates complain that the Truth Commission is heavily biased toward the forces which carried out the coup and continue to lead with the current government, and doesn’t plan to examine assassinations and other human rights abuses since Lobo took power in January. The commission will also keep many of its findings secret.
An alternative truth commission of international delegates has convened to carry out their own investigation of the coup and the events of the past year.
People working in a variety of jobs described how the coup and ensuing repression has affected them. The economy has suffered greatly since the coup, hurting people who work in various sectors. A taxi driver noted that since the coup, annual gas subsidies for taxistas have been cut in half, gutting their ability to make a living. Mechanic Ricardo Bonilla, 35, said he finds it exponentially harder to support his wife and two kids since the coup.
“The cost of gas, electricity, everything is up, and business is down everywhere,” he said. “Before I had plenty of work, not anymore.”
He, like many Hondurans, blames the U.S. government for allowing the coup to happen or even, in Bonilla‘s words, being “the intellectual architects” of the coup.
But he thinks the resistance movement will ultimately succeed in instituting a democratic government that restores or expands the labor rights and the economic gains for the masses that Zelaya’s administration had sent in motion. For the resistance movement, the first step in this process is their call for a popular constitutional assembly to revise the constitution.
“It doesn’t have to be fast,” Bonilla said. “But it has to happen.”
For more In These Times reporting on the Honduran coup, see “The Return of the Death Squads,” the magazine’s May 2010 cover story.