Honduran Students for Liberty Foil Campus Hijacking

George Colindres (con remera verde) y el equipo de Estudiantes por la Libertad Honduras celebra. (EsLibertad Honduras)
The Honduras Students for Liberty team celebrates the continuation of classes at UNAH-VS. (EsLibertad Honduras)

Espa帽olBy聽Jorge Colindres

Having recently聽shut down classes at the National Autonomous University聽of Honduras Valle de Sula (UNAH-VS)聽for 17 days, the Marxist Federation of Student Associations (FAE) and the聽Revolutionary Student Movement Lorenzo Zelaya (MER-LZ) threatened to do so again聽at聽a “student assembly” called for November 5.

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But for the first time since the early 1990s, an opposing student movement, without political affiliation, rose up to prevent a few students from shutting down the university with threats and intimidation.

The Honduran branch of Students for Liberty (EsLibertad)聽is supported by faculty聽members within the UNAH-VS Economics Department, and upon learning of the planned聽shutdown, we quickly rallied all聽opposition聽against the impending closure.

The student demonstration in favor of the聽shutdown聽was scheduled for聽3 p.m. local time, while the assembly to discuss the聽closure was set to take place at 4 p.m. At 3:20 p.m., EsLibertad members sent us images of MER-LZ and FAE members聽forcing students from their classrooms and chaining doors shut with padlocks.

Grupos estudiantiles marxistas sacaron a estudiantes de sus clases y cerraron las puertas con candados. (EsLibertad Honduras)
Marxist student groups removed students from classes and barred classroom聽doors with padlocks. (EsLibertad Honduras)

Our group聽then made its way to the university and informed campus authorities that anyone wearing an EsLibertad pin was there to help keep the university open.

Roc铆o Zald铆var, Oscar Sagastume, Christian Betancourt, and I were the first to arrive. Oscar and Christian later left to retrieve metal cutters to break the padlocks that barred the classroom doors.

We then found ourselves joined by Jos茅 Ortega, creator of the Facebook group We Want to Go to Class UNAH-VS and the first student at the university to publicly declare his opposition to the shutdown.

Together we looked for students who were sympathetic to our cause, and invited them to stay with us and speak out during the assembly. Meanwhile, UNAH-VS Director Francisco Herrera spoke before an impromptu audience, and urged students not to let聽their academic semester be endangered by a renewed shutdown.

When the FAE and MER-LZ students quit marching in the streets and reentered UNAH-VS to begin the assembly, they sang the Honduran national anthem with their left fists raised high in the air. Amid the shouting and singing, students who opposed the shutdown then joined us in greater numbers, and asked for EsLibertad pins until we ran out.

Once our group came together, more than 200聽of us shouted in unison: “We want classes, we want classes!” The result was incredulous silence. The聽FAE and MER-LZ students had never before聽faced opposition apart from university authorities.

Christian Betancourt asked for the microphone so we could address the assembly. We gathered the medical students who wanted to speak up, since they would be the most affected by a shutdown. We climbed on stage to better address the crowd, but the leaders of the Marxist student groups did not allow us to speak.

The leader of MER-LZ instead told the crowd that whoever had the most support present in the audience would decide whether or not there would be a shutdown. His supporters then began to shout with him: “Shutdown! Shutdown! Shutdown!”

National Autonomous University of Honduras Valle de Sula students listen to the university director speak in opposition to another shutdown.
National Autonomous University of Honduras Valle de Sula students listen to the university director speak聽in opposition to聽another shutdown. (EsLibertad Honduras)

These were the most tense moments of the evening, as shoves and shouts were heatedly exchanged between the two groups. Someone from either side, however, managed to calm the frenzy before the situation got out of hand. However, MER-LZ supporters crudely insulted Azucena Paredes, a UNAH-VS economics student and聽EsLibertad Honduras member, and nearly pushed her off the stage.

The assembly gradually dissolved, as our voices grew louder and we demanded the university remain open and we be allowed to speak on stage. As students supporting the shutdown dispersed, MER-LZ leader Marcos Rub铆, who faces criminal charges for previously shutting down the university, came over to speak with us.

Over the course of a 40-minute conversation, Rub铆 apologized for forcing students out of class and declared publicly that he will not attempt to shut down the university again for the remainder of the academic semester.

Students for Liberty was in the spotlight that day at UNAH-VS. However, it was the students who answered our call that deserve the real credit. Despite fearing for their physical safety, they聽stood in solidarity聽to let other university students know that violent shutdowns in public universities will no longer be tolerated.

Jorge Colindres is a legal analyst for the El茅utera Foundation and Local Coordinator for Students for Liberty Honduras.

Translated by Peter Sacco.

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