March 18, 2011

No school; strikes, standoffs, and now death

Honduran school calendarHonduran public school calendar
(Click the image to enlarge)

This is the Honduran school calendar. To get a better handle on what is really happening, I asked Arexy to help me keep up with the strike days of the public school where her children attend.

The 'X's' represent the school days missed by Arexy's children due to teacher union strikes. School was originally supposed to start February 1st but the opening was delayed for a week for some reason. In the 6 weeks
of school to date, one of Arexy's boys has had 12 days of classes and has been locked out of the school the other 17 days.

Her older boy in fourth grade wasn't allowed to attend school during the only full week that they actually held classes because his paperwork wasn't in order [article in English]. Additionally, one day that the school was open, his teacher didn't show up so his class was sent home. So out of 6 weeks of school, he has received 7 days of classes.

Also to be considered is that generally more strikes occur in Tegucigalpa where most of the unions are headquartered than in La Ceiba.


I'll try to give an overview of this mess, but remember that it has been going on for more than a decade. All of the links are in Spanish, except as noted:

The teachers' unions say that they are striking because:

1) They don't want schools transferred to local municipal authorities, as is currently being discussed in Congress [link in English] due to the chaos in the educational system and an effort to allow more citizen participation/oversight.

2) They want 6,000 more teacher jobs, even though the government clearly can't even afford the current teachers' salaries.

3) They say teachers are being persecuted by the TSC (similar to the General Accounting Office in the US). The TSC is requiring some 20,000 overpaid teachers to repay the excess they received. (more on that below)

4) The debt that the government owes to IMPREMA (the teacher retirement fund) which incidentally was primarily incurred during the Zelaya administration when the government withheld teacher's retirement payments but did not submit the money to IMPREMA. IMPREMA is a cesspool of corruption, incompetence, and political and union interests which is on the point of bankruptcy.

5) They want respect for the Estatuto de Docente (teacher law), which incidentally teachers and unions have shown no respect for themselves. While they are quick to demand all the rights and privileges granted under this law, they completely ignore their obligations. For example, the law requires 200 days of classes per year. In the past decade, teachers have averaged 125 days according to a study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) [summary in English]. Congress and others have discussed repealing the law because the salaries and bonuses are completely unsustainable, as confirmed by the IDB study, which also pointed out the chaos in the Honduran educational system and the damage done by the unions.

6) They want salaries paid to teachers who have not been paid. Estimates range from 1,000 teachers have not received their entire pay to 6,000 teachers did not receive any pay in all of 2010. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. But it is not even clear if all of these are legitimate teachers who actually teach anywhere. Some say the numbers include political appointees who did not receive a position but want to be paid anyway.

Honduran teacher strikeA few days ago, President Lobo announced that he would do no further negotiation with the teachers' unions until they went back to the classroom. He said that days not worked will be days not paid. Lobo promised them that if they "take the streets", the police will remove them. He also said that if they don't want to work, he'll fire them and hire some of the 20,000 unemployed teachers.

Yesterday, President Lobo reiterated his resolve to "put the country in order", saying he is "
strong as an oak". A bit of a wobbly oak, though, as the teachers are always allowed several hours of major road blockages before they are dislodged.

From that point on, the unions declared an indefinite strike and the protests have gotten increasingly violent, with union representatives even attacking and intimidating parents. Two schools were burned down last week.

Honduran teacher strikeThe teachers are egged on by former president Mel Zelaya, who issues public letters from the safety of his Dominican Republic mansion. "Forward, teachers! Right is on your side!"

Zelaya incredibly claims that he put the educational system in order when he was in office! I hope that those teachers who were out striking the entire year before Zelaya was ousted will remember at least a few of these dozens of strikes
[Honduran teachers: The czars of strikes, documentation of teacher strikes from July 2008 to June 2009, in English].

Zelaya also tries to claim that the last two administrations borrowed money from IMPREMA, causing the institution's financial problems, when it has been documented that the loans or debts occurred prior to June 28. In his
long rambling letter, Zelaya spreads the blame among the Honduran government, Pepe Lobo, the International Monetary Fund, the money-hungry, the ruling class, foreign capitalists, and, of course, the United States of America.

Honduran teacher strikeYesterday, another long list of teachers was published in an announcement in the newspapers as owing the government money due to overpayments of salaries. Several of the teachers owe around a quarter million lempiras each! Many more owe in the neighborhood of L.100,000.

In total, the audit shows that approximately 20,000 teachers (out of a total of around 60,000) have received overpayments totaling L.900 million and must pay them back. Transformemos Honduras originally exposed the existence of the audit and demanded action. TH says the audit report, which only covered a period through July 2008, was ignored by the Zelaya administration who took no action upon it. TH estimated that if the payments have continued without correction, the total would have been over
1.1 billion lempiras (about US $65 million) by the fall of 2010, and much more by now.

Today teachers were dislodged from the streets of Tegucigalpa with water canons and tear gas. A teacher was knocked down during the stampeding melee. She was run over by (according to which 'news' you listen to) the mob, a white pickup truck, or a police vehicle. She died after reaching the hospital.

Shortly after that, the government declared a state of emergency in the public education system. Actions will include the temporary hiring of substitute teachers to be paid with the deductions made from the payroll of striking teachers.

Related articles:

HondurasWeekly: Porfirio Lobo's Mexican Standoff

HondurasWeekly: Wanton Populism Posing as Social Reform

HondurasWeekly: The Efficacy of Angry Teachers
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