EspañolBy Jorge Colindres
Having recently shut down classes at the National Autonomous University of Honduras Valle de Sula (UNAH-VS) for 17 days, the Marxist Federation of Student Associations (FAE) and the Revolutionary Student Movement Lorenzo Zelaya (MER-LZ) threatened to do so again at a “student assembly” called for November 5.
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) is supported by faculty members within the UNAH-VS Economics Department, and upon learning of the planned shutdown, we quickly rallied all opposition against the impending closure.
The student demonstration in favor of the shutdown was scheduled for 3 p.m. local time, while the assembly to discuss the 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 forcing students from their classrooms and chaining doors shut with padlocks.
Our group 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.
Rocío Zaldívar, 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 José 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 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 of us shouted in unison: “We want classes, we want classes!” The result was incredulous silence. The FAE and MER-LZ students had never before 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!”
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 EsLibertad Honduras member, and nearly pushed her off the stage.
The students who answered our call deserve the real credit . . . they stood in solidarity to let other university students know that violent shutdowns in public universities will no longer be tolerated.
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 Rubí, who faces criminal charges for previously shutting down the university, came over to speak with us.
Over the course of a 40-minute conversation, Rubí 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 stood in solidarity to let other university students know that violent shutdowns in public universities will no longer be tolerated.