Protests in Honduras continue over public sector reforms

7 Jun 19

Protests have rocked Honduras this week after a government u-turn on public sector reforms failed to quell anger among state employees.

President Juan Orlando Hernández pledged on Sunday to cancel two decrees which would set up new entities with the power to restructure the education and health sectors.

Teachers, students and medical professionals held numerous strikes over laws passed by Congress in April, which they say will privatise the sectors and lead to mass layoffs.

Funding shortages have hit both sectors. Education and culture spending has fallen to 19.9% of the government budget from 32.9% a decade ago, with wages and infrastructure investment effectively frozen, according to The Guardian.

Figures published by local civil society organisation Centre for the Study of Democracy indicate 9.7% of the central government budget is now spent on health, compared with 14.3% in 2010.

Honduras has around 14 doctors for every 10,000 people, compared to a Central American average of 20 doctors, according to the National Commission for Human Rights.  

Attempts to begin negotiating new legislation with unions and trade groups have reportedly met mixed results.

“We think it’s a new deception,” the president of the Medical Association of Honduras, Suyapa Figueroa, told Telesur, adding that protesters will not “sit down” until their requests were met.

The head of a teachers’ group acknowledged some colleagues had met with Hernández, but accused them of “turning their backs on the base of the strike” in comments made to Washington Post.

Longstanding criticism of Hernández’ legitimacy leaves any breakthrough an all the more distant possibility.

Hernández’ National party has ruled Honduras since the elected president Manuel Zelaya was removed in a military-backed coup, later condemned by the UN.

The current president changed rules to enable him to run for a second term in 2017. His subsequent election win was heavily criticised by international watchdogs, although he was recognised by Washington.

Despite hostility towards the US, the revelation that Hernández was subject to a US Drug Enforcement Administration trafficking investigation during his first term has hardened opposition.

A Cid Gallup poll last month found the National retains the most popular support at 31%, but the proportion of voters with a favourable view of the president has sunk to 36%, from 61% in September 2017, shorly before his re-election.

Demonstrators set fires at the main entrance of the US Embassy in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa on Friday. The local subsidiary of American agriculture giant Dole Food on Wednesday suspended business in Honduras after many of its containers were burned and looted.

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