July 22, 2008

Sound bites, week of July 20, 2008

Student protest, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Student protest, Tegucigalpa, July 17, 2008
All Photos: La Prensa Honduras

The following are some of the more interesting Honduran news items for the week ending July 20, 2008. Links to the complete articles (in Spanish) are given.

National: After a week and a half teacher strike leaving a million and a half students without classes, President Zelaya signed an agreement guaranteeing to put an end to the conflict (3,000 teachers going without their pay) and the teachers agreed to go back to work. --Promises, promises. Been there, done that.

Tegucigalpa: No sooner had the teacher strike been resolved when the students went on strike demanding a doubling of the transportation bonus. In Tegucigalpa, 3,000 students marched to the Presidential House, committing acts of vandalism and throwing rocks and bottles along the way.

Student demonstrations, Tegucigalpa, HondurasAnother group of students held a demonstration in front of the Ministerio de Educación building, similarly throwing rocks. Later in the afternoon, students again "took" the Ministerio de Educación and the National Congress installations. Thousands of motorists were inconvenienced by the marches.

Student demonstrations, Tegucigalpa, HondurasThe police were said to respond inadequately. Thirty students were detained. All this was following other demonstrations earlier in the week and a supposed agreement between the Minister of Education and the student organization. The government provides a L.400 (US $21) transportation bonus to 150,000 students. Students wanted it increased to L.800 (US 42). Some 400,000 students are ineligible for the bonus because they are failing or repeating grades. --Ever heard of student bus passes? They'll probably just buy cell phones with the money anyway.

Politics: The big news last week was the official announcement of the political candidates for the 2009 elections. Every presidential hopeful has a female vice presidential candidate. Those candidates already mamando la teta gorda have to resign their government positions in order to campaign. President Mel may be running the government solo for the next year and a half. --Forget the hoopla. I predict the big battle will be Pepe Lobo (Nacionalista and 2005 losing presidential candidate) vs. Roberto Michelletti (Liberal and current president of the National Congress), though Mario Canahuati (Nacionalista and big businessman) is interesting to me. The next president will be a Nacionalista because so many citizens are very unhappy with the Liberal government of Mel Zelaya.

Dario Banegas, the cartoonist, is running for Diputado (Congressman) from the Department of Cortés. --Good luck to him! He'll have no end of material being right in there with the corruptos. If he's elected, it will be interesting to see whether the tone of his caricatures changes.

Miami, US: Advisor to the Honduran President, Milton Jiménez Puerto, was offered a plea bargain in his resisting arrest and public intoxication charges. In exchange for attending an anger management class and a $50 fine, he'll get out of the potential one year in prison sentence. A few months ago Jiménez resigned from his former position as Chancellor of the Republic after causing a huge scandal when he was stopped for drunk driving in Honduras and later got in a brawl with several police officers at the station. It was captured for YouTube. --Jiménez: Do you know who I am? It was only wine. That doesn't count. Me: I told you so. The guy is an embarrassment to the country. Get rid of him.

International: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has 'flexibleized' Honduras' payments to Petrocaribe.
Honduras will now pay 40% of the cost of our fuel in 90 days with remaining 60% being paid over 25 years with 1% interest. --The interest rate is good, but isn't that kind of like taking out a 25-year mortgage on your lunches at Burger King?

Honduran gas prices, July 20, 2008Gasoline prices increased another two lempiras (US 10 cents) this week. Prices for La Ceiba are now regular, 78.35 (US $4.15); superior, 91.11 (US $4.82); and diesel, 89.68 (US $4.75). The rates are set by the government for each city. --The government is still subsidizing the prices.

Honduras has experienced a noticeable 2.2% drop in the birth rate according to the United Nations due to the increased use of contraceptives. --Sounds good but I don't trust the statistics. It's too hard for some to get a birth certificate to be sure.

The Central American Bank (BCIE) donated US $60 million to aid Honduras with the food crisis. --I hope BCIE is going to keep control of the dough.

More Strikes: Public hospital doctors threatened to strike. They demanded and received a 3.5% increase. Current base salaries of the 2,500 public doctors are L. 23,000 monthly with specialists receiving L.26,000 monthly (US $1,217 and $1,376, respectively). --Well, L.23,000 is only about 7 times minimum wage. Of course, I think most of these doctors are part time and have private practices, too.

The National Congress is studying a proposal to increase salaries as follows: 8% for those making L.10,000 or less monthly (US $529), 6% for those making 10,001 to 20,000 (US $1,058), and 3% for those making over 20,000. The proposed increase would not affect employers with less than five employees or those employees in syndicates or collective contracts. The current minimum wage is L.114.28 per day (US $6.05), which only covers one half of the cost of food for an average family of five. --The increase is needed, but I'm not sure that the highly paid should have an increase. Inflation is expected to be 12% this year.

Strikes and demonstrations, and the scoreboard this week:

Teachers, 1-0

Students, 0-3

Threatened strikes:

Doctors, 1-0
Transportistas, 0-1
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