Nationwide Civic Strike Disrupts the Quintessential Banana Republic

Meanwhile, Zelaya stuns the nation by opting for ALBA

On August 5, nearly 100,000 workers coming from civic organizations, unions, and professional groups throughout Honduras initiated a strike against the country’s public and private sectors. The protesters promoted a twelve-item list of demands for the government to consider, including the eradication of the 2003 Framework Act on Drinkable Water and Basic Sanitation, an increased respect for trade unions and workers’ rights, and suspension of the construction of dams. Specifically, the strikers hailed from trade union organizations, farmer’s groups, teachers’ guilds, and religious bodies. By mid-day, seven bridges had been closed in Tegucigalpa and Comayagüela and the strikers had set up roadblocks around Carías Soberanía, Mallol, and La Isla.

Plans for the August 5 strike were made public on July 12, as part of an effort to raise awareness about environmental issues and citizens rights. Since the announcement was first made, Honduras has experienced multiple protests that have manifested an increased level of dissatisfaction with the policies of President Manuel Zelaya. A July poll by CID-Gallup published in the Tegucigalpa daily La Prensa, indicated that at the start of the month, Zelaya’s approval rating was just 34 percent, down four points since February 2008. Two days after the initial strike declaration, Honduran primary and secondary school teachers joined their middle school counterparts in pursuing backpay, benefits and retirement provisions. After a ten-day protest forced nearly one and a half million students to remain at home, Zelaya signed an agreement resulting in concessions that eventually ended the conflict. Shortly after that, Honduras was once again plagued by discontent as hundreds of truck drivers protested recently increased highway tariff rates. The disaffected trade operators disrupted traffic between the north and center parts of the country by blocking the major highways.

With Zelaya at the helm, Honduras is undergoing a period of unprecedented internal change. On July 30, Zelaya announced that, pending congressional approval, Honduras would become a full member of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). The initiative, launched by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in response to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), seeks greater economic and diplomatic collaboration in the region, while still trying to achieve a degree of autonomy from the United State, Honduras’ projected inclusion in ALBA ignited controversy in Honduras and has been criticized by members of the opposition and the Zelaya-led Partido Liberal, as well as by Roberto Micheletti, president of the congress. In March, Congress ratified Zelaya’s bid to join Petrocaribe, the Venezuelan-based soft-loan oil initiative. In addition, on August 2, the Cuban Ambassador to Honduras, Juan Carlos Hernández, declared that he was waiting for “the right moment” to sign the document that would restart diplomatic talks over their respective conflicting Caribbean boundary claims. Honduras’ increased collaboration with Latin America’s preeminent leftist regimes coincides with the souring of relations with the United States following a recent nasty diplomatic row between Zelaya and U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Charles A. Ford.

Although Zelaya appears to be embracing the region’s left diplomatically, his recent fiscal policies remain congruent with his past neoliberal tendencies. By sending a confusing message to the nation, Hondurans are not certain where their president is leading them. The aforementioned 2003 Framework Act on Drinkable Water and Basic Sanitation, one of the instigating factors of the strike, gave control of water services over to municipalities, which then sold the resource to private parties. On June 17, the World Bank approved the Honduran Rural Competitiveness Project, allocating $51.2 million to enhance rural development and encourage alliances with domestic commercial partners.

With contradictory ideological shifts observed in Zelaya’s policies, where can Hondurans turn? The recent strike featured crippling roadblocks that represent the degree of civil unrest throughout the nation and the negative consequences of national instability. Zelaya needs to remedy such doubts by committing himself to consistent policies proving to his people that their welfare is the government’s utmost priority.