August 5, 2009

Honduran teachers: The czars of strikes

Zelaya surrounded by angry teachers 2008Note that this photo is NOT Mel Zelaya surrounded by followers!
This is an August 2008 photo of Mel surrounded by angry teachers
who were striking against his government.

After listening to former Honduran president Mel Zelaya tell the world on CNN (Español) that thousands of teachers have not gone to their classrooms because they are ashamed to tell their students how democracy is functioning in Honduras, I have to tell you the truth about Honduran teachers.

Seeing the Honduran protests and strikes is shocking for many readers because they can't imagine teachers in their country blocking roads or setting tires on fire. But strikes were a way of life in Honduras long before June 28.

Just weeks ago, many of these same people were striking against Zelaya's government - and striking again and again and again.

In Honduras crisis: Teachers on strike, I wrote:
In the past eight years, the teachers have been on strike, oh, probably more than 100 times. A newspaper article two years ago reported that students had not received the required 200 days of classes in the prior 5 years, some years were as low as 150 days. .... During the presidency of Mel Zelaya, teacher strikes have been almost monthly. When the teachers aren't striking, the students are.

So just to show that this was no exaggeration, I took a little time travel through past issues of La Prensa during the past 12 months. Here are the results - and this is by no means a complete list of teacher strikes.

(Note: the links below unless otherwise identified are to Spanish language articles.)

Student demonstrations, Tegucigalpa, HondurasJuly 20, 2008: This was a big week for strikes as documented in this Blogicito article. After a week and a half of teacher strikes, President Zelaya signed an agreement to put an end to it by promising to pay the teachers. Then the students went on strike.

July 27, 2008: FOMH teach union continue a two week strike for back pay for 3,000 teachers and payment of the matricula gratis (free tuition for students) promised in Mel Zelaya's presidential campaign.

August 10, 2008: Teachers continue on the 14th day of strike (24th day in the past few weeks). Union leader Milton Bardales of Coprumh asks teachers not to provide parents with students grades. Eulogio Chávez, Copemh president, threatens to 'lose' the school year.

August 18, 2008: Minister of Education, Marlon Breve, says that students have already lost 30 days of classes this school year which ends in mid-November. Milton Bardales, presidente of Coprumh, says his group is not supporting Copemh. Eulogio Chávez, Copemh president,

September 8, 2008: Teachers are taking to the streets again because of another failed promise from Education authorities.

September 23, 2008: Five teachers begin a hunger strike. According to union leader Santos Guillermo Izaguirre, the protest will be accompanied by obstructing traffic and taking control of public buildings because of the failure to Mel Zelaya to abide by an agreement to pay past salaries for 5,000 teachers. Milton Bardales of Coprumh says the strike will be indefinite.

October 10, 2008: Some 50,000 teachers finalize a four day strike leaving more than 2 million students without classes after promises from Mel Zelaya that they will be paid some L.300 million. "Up to the last penny, we are going to pay them," said Zelaya. Measures included 'taking' of the presidential palace, the Minister of Education building, and the national congress, as well as bridges throughout the country.

October 30, 2009: Government proposes increasing the school year by 20 days to make up for the 20 days missed by primary students and 25 days by middle students for teacher strikes during the 2008 school year. Eulogio Chávez responds that teachers will not work one day extra.

November 26, 2008: More than 40,000 teachers began a strike this week and threaten to 'take' the schools to prevent the primary elections if they are not paid.

November 27, 2008: Teachers take three schools and announce that grades will not be submitted, final exams will not be given, graduations will be canceled, and school keys will not be turned over for the primary elections due to the government's failure to pay 7,000 teachers for up to 11 months.

December 4, 2008: Teachers remind government of the promise to pay past due salaries by December 12.

December 21, 2009: Teachers denounce education authorities for not complying with their promises to pay teachers and promise nationwide manifestations beginning January 5.

January 7, 2009: Eulogio Chávez, Copemh, said teachers strike for the removal of Minister of Education Marlon Breve who they said was incompetent, the addition of new positions, and payment for the 1,500 teachers who were not paid last year.

January 14, 2009: Unions Coprumh and Colprosumah announce strikes and taking of highways, bridges, and public buildings as pressure against the government who they say has not complied with promises.

February 5, 2009. At least 10 persons were injured and 5 were detained when police used tear gas to dislodge teachers who were occupying the Secretary of Education building.

February 6, 2009. Teachers announce that school will not start on February 9, unless Marlon Breve is fired and 2,000 teachers receive their pay.

Feb. 8, 2009 The dream of 200 school days is wobbling. Teachers unions promise that the school year will not commence February 9 unless their demands of Mel Zelaya are met.

Leader of the Sinprodoh teacher union calls for teachers to present themselves for classes on February 9 and calls Copemh leader Eulogio Chávez the "czar of strikes" says he strikes on a whim.
Eulogio Chávez responds that Zelaya talks like Santa Claus instead of an employer, and that he should pay as required by the law.

February 21, 2009: La Paz, Choluteca, and Intibuca Normal schools continue a week of school strikes. Tegucigalpa Normal school ends 17 days of strikes after receiving promises of more classrooms and furniture.

March 23, 2009: Hundreds of students take to the street to demand an increase in the educational budget to pay teachers and increase the number of teachers in their schools.

April 15, 2009: JTR students in San Pedro strike to demand payments for their teachers, many of whom have not been paid for three months.

April 21, 2009: UNAH (national university) students strike to demand removal of the admission exam for law students because only 5-10 students passed out of 800 taking the exam. They also want 20 classes removed from the study plan.

May 4, 2009: 60,000 teachers on second day of strike affecting 2 million students. Teachers block road and set tires on fire. Union leader Milton Bardales questions Zelaya for the million dollar investment in the cuarta urna project while the teachers go unpaid.

May 5, 2009: Professors of UNAH, the national university, continue their 14th day of strike. The majority of university teachers salaries are based on seven times the minimum wage which was increased to 5,500 in January, meaning that their base monthly salaries should have increased from L. 23,900 to L.38,500. Some teachers receive as much as 11 times the minimum wage, or an increase to L.60,500 per month.

May 6, 2009: Teachers' unions announce an indefinite strike and refuse to accept government bonds for L. 1.3 billion in debt to Inprema, the teachers' retirement fund. The government owes the employer contribution plus the contributions withheld from teachers' pay. The strike was stopped when the unions agreed to a payment plan. According to the unions, the government kept Inprema resources because of financial problems caused by waste of funds on international travel and initiatives such as the cuarta urna.

May 15, 2009: Copemh union leader Eulogio Chávez accuses Inprema union leader of corruption. Inprema leader to file defamation suit.

May 22, 2009: UNAH professor strike continues after more than a month with no end in sight. Students demand education. The effect of the minimum wage increase on public university professors salaries would be approximately L. 800 million.

June 19, 2009: Eulogio Chávez says there will not be a strike if Marlon Breve, Minister of Education, pays by Thursday past due payments plus (January 2009) minimum wage increases which had not been paid to 6,000 teachers.

June 24, 2009: UNAH rectora Julieta Castellanos announces the end of the 2-month long professor strike after agreement for a 10.8% raise.

June 24, 2009: Secondary teachers announce an "assembly" (no school) for Monday, June 29, because promised payments have not been made. Alejandro Ventura of the Pricphma teachers' union warns that if the government of Mel Zelaya installs a National Constitutional Assembly the Educational Statute may be thrown out.

I'm exhausted and I'm sure that this list is not complete. Also, this does not even mention the strikes of doctors, nurses, taxistas, transportistas, and other government employees.

Post Mel-ouster: The Minister of Education has been replaced and teachers' payments were supposed to be caught up to date in July. Though no mention of back payments is now being made, some teachers continue to strike almost constantly for the return of Mel!

Union leaders Eulogio Chávez and Milton Bardales are now staunch Mel Zelaya supporters. There is much speculation that they and other union leaders have been bought.

Eulogio Chávez, President of Compemh, said that teachers will give classes Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, reserving Thursdays through Sundays for strikes - however, Monday obligatory teacher assemblies were called (meaning no classes) and Tuesday teachers were required to attend demonstrations again. Education authorities say that 80-90% of teachers were in the classrooms on Wednesday.

Authorities have threatened to discontinue salary payments to teachers not working. Accusations have been made by parents and teachers against union members for threats against students and teachers who do not share the pro-Zelaya viewpoint. The new Minister of Education announced that some students have already lost 25% of the required school days this school year which ends in mid November.

I sympathized with teachers when they were not paid. But who is the victim now? Mel Zelaya, teachers, or students?
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