Honduras | HR | PANDEMIC

With Carlos Reyes

“They plan to solve the problem with more neoliberalism”

Honduras is a nationwide living experiment for testing out political, social, and economic trends that are later transplanted to other latitudes. The 2009 coup d’état heralded similar situations that would soon spread across Latin America. Labor reform, the invasion of paid-by-the-hour and intermittent work, political assassinations disguised as crimes of passion, criminalization and judicialization of popular struggles, a new penal code, the application of novel union-busting tactics, and institutionalized and unpunished corruption. Of that pandemic, Honduras is the hotspot.

Carlos H. Reyes | Photo: Gerardo Iglesias | Rel UITA

-What is the situation with the COVID-19 outbreak?
-In Honduras there are 4,000 cases, with almost 200 dead, and the coronavirus curve is rising daily.

The other problem is that we are witnessing a labor massacre here, with a great number of workers suspended and fired, and the entire informal employment sector unable to work. It’s a tragic situation.

-And the government’s response is just more of the same and escalating repression …
-Yes, that’s what it’s doing. A new criminal code is set to go into effect which criminalizes and judicializes social protests, establishing jail penalties for many people who fight to change the state of things.

In this sense the labor federations sent a letter to the National Congress requesting a hearing to argue against the articles that criminalize social protests and struggle, and to have those articles removed. The new code also lowers the penalties for corruption and drug trafficking, as well as for sexual crimes and violence against women.

-When are the next elections?
-The primaries are scheduled for March 2021, but in order for the process to take place, the holding of a new electoral census and the issuing of a new identity card must be guaranteed.

With the arrival of the pandemic, everything was put on hold, and there’s talk about postponing the primaries. No doubt, that’s going to be the first step to later declare that there can be no presidential elections in November 2021.

So you say you don’t like neoliberalism…

-In a country that already had chronic poverty and hunger problems, where thousands of young people have been emigrating for years, the current state of affairs must be one of critical emergency…
-Of course. Honduras has a population of eight million. According to the Labor Minister, the suspensions of work contracts in maquilas, industry, commerce, and agriculture will affect around 450 thousand workers.

Some 611 companies have applied for the arrangement established by the Solidarity Contribution Act. That is, the government and the maquila owners have agreed to guarantee part of the workers’ salary—around 6,000 lempiras (250 dollars). The state will provide 150 dollars and the business owners 100 dollars per salary. But this is not even half the minimum wage.

We’re talking about 120,000 workers or so who will receive this financial aid and some 330,000 who will get absolutely nothing, plus the countless others who have been laid off, and thousands more who worked in the informal sector.

Also, business owners are slashing salaries, holding the threat of dismissal over their workers’ heads, and will reduce the fourteenth month pay or simply not pay it at all. Collective bargaining agreements are either not being honored or their revision or suspension is being requested.

In short, we are facing a very serious problem of loss of rights, which exacerbates class struggle and is likely to bring more repression.

-Overcrowded prisons, closed borders, hunger. How is all this managed?
-There’s a state of siege with suspension of individual and collective rights, including freedom of expression.

The prisons are full, as you say, and so are the hospitals. The privatization policies implemented in the past have destroyed the health sector and education.

Business owners are taking advantage of the situation to ask for more concessions or to be exempted from paying taxes. Large landowners are being granted more land.

They plan to solve the problem with more neoliberalism. It’s absurd and very dangerous.