Four high school students, the organisers of several demonstration against Honduras’ education minister and his proposed reforms, were last week found dead in the country’s capital.
Soad Ham, a 13-year-old student leader of the Central Institute of Tegucigalpa who was known to have participated in the student protests against the Honduran government in the last two weeks, was found tortured and killed inside a plastic bag on Wednesday.
The following day, the opposition Libre Party called for yet further protests. This time against the assassination of Ham and 3 other student leaders who were forced to share his grisly fate.
The largest public high schools across the country have been protesting against the decision to change the class schedule, a seemingly small thing to protest to us in the West. The reformed schedule however will mean that the students would not leave their schools until 7 in the evening, a notoriously dangerous hour for students to be on the streets of one of Latin America’s most dangerous cities.
Public high schools are generally located in areas which are infested with crime, and there is no public transportation services at those late hours for fear of damage, looting or outright theft. Another issue which the ministers’ reforms do not address is that many students live in dangerous areas where organized crime has established “curfew hours”.
The decision was taken by Marlon Escoto, the Education Minister for Honduras, who argued that adding five minutes to each class would improve the quality of education in the country. Whilst not entirely unfounded the idea that lengthening classes leads to better results seems to represent a misunderstanding of how students learn. Students themselves have come out in force to criticise the decision. They have stated publically, and loudly, that in many class rooms there are not even enough chairs for the students already taking the class, and that maybe that problem should be addressed first.
The students, along with teachers and parents, have been demanding changes to the education system and protests have often been met with aggression from police in their attempts to repress the voices of Honduras.
The murder of the students has moved other groups to become more active in what should simply have been an education issue, there is now widespread protests and finally education has grabbed centre stage; although not how they would have hoped. The protesters have found a strong voice in former President Manuel Zelaya, who is now coordinator of the Libre Party. He has said, “We came here in solidarity with the families of the victims that have lost their lives in this student struggle and we want to denounce this ridiculous state that we have in Honduras.” He would continue to condemn the actions of the government by saying, “They are directly responsible for the existence of death squads, because they protect them with their silence, they protect them knowing they exist.”
This is far from the only issue facing Honduras however, during the march, students denounced profiling by intelligence agents as one example of abuse of power from the authorities. One police agent was discovered during the demonstration integrating himself with the marchers, but protesters were able to handle the situation without any aggression against the public official.
The protesters marched upon the Presidential House and demanded the resignation of President Juan Hernandez and Education Minister Escoto.
“This demonstration is in solidarity with the struggle of high school students and also condemning the selective assassination of four student leaders” said José Luis Herrera, a university student leader. “We need reforms because we can see the problems of the education system and in everything else in the country, they are killing young people, a 13 years old girl and we can´t let violence become something normal,” said another student, Diana Sabillon.
The high school students began this struggle independently, but now they have the support of the university students, of the National Resistance Front, the Libre Party and other organizations that have committed to continue their support until the government respects the rights of students.