Protests have been building in Honduras approaching June 28, the tenth anniversary of the coup ousting Honduras’ democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya. The recent protests began in late April led by teachers and healthcare workers after proposed reforms to the health and education ministries that were seen as a step towards privatization and layoffs in these sectors. The Honduran government deployed military forces on June 20th to control the growing demonstrations, where demands expanded to include calls for the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH). This peak in frustration about the increasing economic instability and violence that resulted in the years after the coup suggests that, like the coup 10 years ago, this may become an important moment of change in Honduras.
Ten years ago, a US-trained general led troops to forcibly remove the president of Honduras and send him into exile. The United States legitimized this coup and the interim president and has continued to support and send military aid to the Honduran government, despite election fraud, corruption, and use of security forces to repress citizens. The coup ten years ago is seen as the beginning of a downward spiral for the country, resulting in a corrupt one-party state with policies that privatized the country’s resources and eliminated public services. High poverty and few opportunities for youth has allowed gang and drug violence to flourish. It is this environment, with citizens fleeing from violence and poverty, that has caused the high number of emigrants leaving Honduras recently.
If the United States and the rest of the international community continue to support the undemocratic actions in Honduras, conditions in Honduras will not improve. The recent protests evolved to include people from so many different sectors because, according to Yessica Trinidad, the coordinator of the Honduran Network of Women Human Rights Defenders, “People are fed up. They are tired of so much corruption, of so much impunity. The issues are structural. First, we need that man [JOH] to go.” The recent protests are an important chance to see and support the grievances held by Hondurans so that 2019 can become a turning point for the better. According to Carlos Paz, director of social ministries for Caritas in San Pedro Sula, “2009 was a point of inflection, a point that made more extreme the process of wealth consolidation in a few hands in Honduras, accompanied by organized crime and corruption…a tremendously dark time, and we were thinking that we didn’t have any exit. But soon we began to see on the horizon different lights. And what we are living through now [the massive popular protests] is a light.” However, the United States is still sending aid being used to support JOH’s government with its corruption and human rights abuses.
One proposed intervention is Berta Cáceres’s Human Rights in Honduras Act introduced in the House of Representatives, which “would suspend military aid to Honduras until the Honduran government investigates credible allegations of gross human rights violations by their security forces.” The bill is supported by Congresspeople like Ilhan Omar, who tweeted, “In 2016, Honduran activist Berta Cáceres was murdered by US-trained Honduran special forces. The next year, I had the honor of meeting her daughter, Bertha. Today marks 10 years since the coup in Honduras. We in the US must stop funding its brutality.” The US promoting its own agenda and supporting un-democratically chosen leaders undermines the voices of Honduran citizens. Instead of sending military aid that is being used by the government to suppress its people, the US should be increasing aid to the people who have suffered from violence and poverty under the policies of leaders put in place by the coup and subsequent biased elections.