U.S. supports Honduran government despite violent crackdown on protesters listen05/11/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Union busting, deregulation of private industry and silencing of dissent are on the laundry list of beefs many US citizens have about the new Republican leadership in statehouses like Florida, Ohio and Indiana. Working people in one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere are railing against their US-supported governmentâ€™s anti-labor policies.
An estimated 300 people have died suspiciously in Honduras since a 2009 military coup that replaced democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya with current president Pepe Lobo. Since then, says University of California at Santa Cruz Honduras scholar Dana Frank, the countyâ€™s labor policies have reshaped largely in favor of industry. The government is trying to privatize schools and do away with teacher pensions. In a recent piece in The Nation, Frank says a law proposed last year would severely hurt Honduran workersâ€™ rights.
And it converts an enormous amount of full-time work into part-time work, under the obviously ridiculous concept that that's gonna create more jobs, and once it's part-time work you're not eligible to organize a union, so direct attack on the labor movement. And just so people can see how bad this is, the law also says an employer under this program can pay their workers 30 percent of their pay in company scrip, which means you wouldn't even get real money.
That law, known as the Law of Economic Crisis, hasnâ€™t passed, but the president is still reportedly dragging his feet on setting a minimum wage. The US is the biggest consumer of Honduran exports, which include clothing, coffee, auto parts, shrimp, bananas, palm oil, and gold. Honduras is second only to Haiti in poverty throughout the Western Hemisphere. Frank says conditions for workers here, most of them young, are deplorable.
This is coming out of the maquiladoras, there are about 120,000 workers on the north coast that work in these factories that are tremendously exploited and almost completely non-union. Young people work in them. They get very sick, because there's almost no environmental regulations, they also lose their eyesight often, and the communities of the north coast are full of young people in their 20s whose health has already been wrecked by working in these maquiladoras who don't observe basic labor rights, and who are tremendously repressive.
Former president Zelaya angered industry leaders with pro-labor policies like raising the minimum wage by 60 percent and expanding social programs. Left-leaning UK paper The New Statesman reports political instability ensued in the wake of the 2009 coup and election that delivered the presidency to Lobo which caused a 46 percent reduction in foreign capital investment. Last week the country held its â€œHonduras is Open for Businessâ€ conference to attract reinvestment, but Frank says the country isnâ€™t any more stable than it was before.
The repression of the opposition and of journalists has really continued, in fact, it's escalated in the last two months two worse levels than the period right after the coup. So if people think things have gotten better, in fact it's actually worse.
Members of a broad coalition called the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular, or National Front of Popular Resistance held a nationwide after the Honduran congress passed a law opening the door for privatization of schools. The Frente consists of members of the womenâ€™s, gay rights, labor, and indigenous movements, among others. Though they faced brutal repression during demonstrations, the group also protested the Open for Business event. Frank said these also turned violent.
People who were trying to demonstrate peacefully against the conference wear tear-gassed at least three times, including a peaceful concert by students was tear-gassed. A journalist covering the repression was shot at close range and arrested. And they're now using tear gas as lethal force against not only these demonstrations, but huge demonstrations that went on throughout March and early April against the total privatization of the Honduran education system.
Open for Business attendees included former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe and Mexicoâ€™s Carlos Slim, the richest man in world. Former President Bill Clinton was scheduled to speak, but canceled. Frank said the US government has supported the current Honduran leadership, and claimed that it didnâ€™t know it was a military coup, even though a Wikileaks cable later indicated the US was well aware. She said the Obama administrationâ€™s approach is right in line with the Cold War policies of Ronald Reagan.
He's recognizing a very clearly repressive regime that's using tear gas as lethal force against its own citizens. There are no paths to a legitimate input onto this government, and the very same military figures that launched the coup are key figures in the government.
She added that itâ€™s an odd coincidence that the incoming ambassador to Honduras happens to be an expert in biofuels.
So why would an administration that ostensibly embraces human rights support a government that brutally represses its people?
Frankly, this is the logic of capitalism. Look for the place with the cheapest labor cost, and try to find a place where the state is not going to have environmental regulations or expect you to respect labor laws. As a person who studies the labor movement, that's what the labor movement does the opposite of that. It says, "Wait a minute, you have to have some legal structures around the economy, you have to guarantee basic labor rights as human rights, and you have to let people have a dignified living and a dignified daily life."
A Honduran American Chamber of Commerce official said President Lobo is focusing on creation of investment to generate employment by establishing the legal framework to gain confidence of domestic and national investors. Frank said if that sounds familiar to people living in states like Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio, it does for good reason.
We're next. In fact, we're already on the list. In Wisconsin, in Ohio, in Florida, in California, this is what they have in mind for us everywhere, because this is how you get the highest rate of profit out of working people.
WMNF reached out to the US State Department, the Honduran Consulate, and the Latin American Trade Coalition, but none returned requests for comment by air time.