As Honduras suffers its worst political crisis since the 2009 U.S.-backed coup, protesters have taken to the streets by the thousands to reject an alleged attempt to steal the election from opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla in favor of incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez. In these demonstrations, the energy of youth to resist the consolidation of a U.S.-backed dictatorship is palpable.
Participants from the Indignados anti-corruption movement and the university students’ movement against privatization of education are actively joining these anti-fraud and anti-government protests. In this conversation, 29-year-old Gabriela Blen speaks about youth involvement in this defining political moment. Blen is a founding leader of the Indignados movement and a self-described centrist who ran for Congress with the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship.
The core demand of the Indignados was the creation of an independent U.N.-backed anti-impunity commission. The movement was criticized for lacking a structural critique of how corruption flourishes within neoliberalism and the broader injustices of the economic system. But the Indignados undeniably struck a chord with urban middle class sectors in a way that brought new forces to the street.
In the demonstrations since the elections, we have seen a lot of youth participation. Why are young people going out to the streets en masse to protest in the context of this election?
We’re tired of being lied to and of hearing “we want peace” when there isn’t social justice. There can’t be peace as long as there is no food on the plates of the children in the mountain neighborhoods around Tegucigalpa and other parts of the country. There can’t be peace as long as there is so much injustice. There’s a generalized anger among youth — fatigue, weariness.
I lived my own era of apathy toward politics. I didn’t want anyone to talk to me about politics. But it wasn’t because I wasn’t interested in it. It was that I didn’t see options, I didn’t see ways out. So I preferred not to hear about it as a protection mechanism. I feel like this apathy is breaking. Youth are seeing that if there are leaders, if there is a light at the end of the tunnel, this apathy starts to transform into interest and participation.
Social mobilization is also a catharsis. Youth have so much to say and express, but they don’t have the means to do it and they don’t feel represented. Mobilizing allows them to speak, grab the microphone, converse, let off steam, and find people who have the same feelings. It allows them to insult those in power who have insulted them. I think in social movements and in protests in the streets youth feel relieved. It’s a place where they can put forward what they think.
Have there been specific political moments that you think have helped youth to become politicized and get involved in this political process?
I would say there are three moments that I have lived. One was during the coup d’etat. This was a moment of rupture. This was one of the first awakenings of the youth, but above all youth who already had leftist ideological awareness.
Later, the second moment was many years later in 2015 with the Indignados movement. When the social security checks came to light, we called a candlelight demonstration in honor of the nearly 3,000 deaths linked to the social security scandal. Then we called the torchlit march, inspired by a demonstration for the Ayotzinapa students in Mexico, and 10,000 people marched. And we started 24 weeks of mobilizations in the entire country. For me this was a second moment in which those who went to the marches and took their grandparents and families were the youth.
The third moment is this right now. People hoped for a change. The people went and voted and overcame monumental electoral fraud. And now they want to take away the victory. I think that this whole conflict between certain economic and criminal elites has managed to turn many inhabitants back into citizens. It has managed to wake up the consciousness of people who thought politics was an issue for others.
These have been three moments in which the youth have woken up. The university students’ movement has also been important specifically on the issue of education. The Indignados and the electoral issue right now has moved the entire country at the national and even international level.
There’s a lot more at stake in this election than just another contestation of power. In publicizing the call for the recent torchlit march, you used the English hashtag #IDontWantToLeaveMyCountry. What does this mean and what role does this election play in the development of youths’ futures in the country?
We made the call from a group of the Indignados and MEU (University Students’ Movement). We said we have to send a message to the gringos because there is so much at stake and the U.S. influence is huge in this country. The two issues that are always part of the U.S. discourse and budgets are migration and drugs. They are two issues that are on the agenda for our geopolitical region.
Our generation has said we don’t want to leave, but we are being forced. We also don’t want to be killed. People from social movements have been exiled. Members of my organization have been killed. The lawyer Kevin Ferrera — 38 gunshots to his vehicle. This made some people pull back from the movement, disappear, lower their profile. But we don’t want to leave the country. It’s a general sentiment.
We want opportunities, but if there aren’t any, we have to leave. So what’s the United States doing as its immigration policy? The Alliance for Prosperity plan, supporting drug-trafficking and corrupt politicians. It’s a double discourse. That’s why we wanted that message, in English, for the U.S. as well.
The U.S. Embassy has remained relatively quiet during this whole electoral process even while the Organization of American States and European Union election observation missions have highlighted irregularities in the process. But it seems that the U.S. Embassy is now taking a larger role. U.S. chargé d’affaires, Heidi Fulton, recently appeared in a press conference beside the president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, David Matamoros. What do you make of this?
First of all, we haven’t had a U.S. ambassador since June. It’s never happened that they left our country without an ambassador for so long. They said that (former ambassador) Nealon was a very good friend of Juan Orlando. He was almost always congratulating him for something.
Now, the person who has been representing the U.S. has been very quiet for these months. Then she appeared after the most questioned process in the history of Honduras — a process in which nobody has confidence, a process with so many irregularities, a flawed electoral process where the magistrates have contradicted each other — beside David Matamoros. It’s a pat on the back for the people who are trying to carry out electoral fraud. Appearing beside someone, that means you’re endorsing them.
We didn’t expect anything different. This has been the behaviour of the representatives of United States in the country, unfortunately. They don’t have clear positions and in the end we end up with something like the MACCIH (the government and OAS-backed anti-corruption mission). It leaves much to be desired. When a government that is democratic, respects the law, believes in institutionality, and is against drug trafficking supports a man (Hernandez) who was mentioned by a drug trafficker in a court in New York and is attempting to illegally get re-elected — excuse me, but your discourse is shit.
I think that the position the representative took to appear beside David Matamoros, the most questioned person in this entire process, is disrespectful to the will of the people. The architect of the fraud was Juan Orlando, he (Matamoros) is the executor. It’s disappointing, I hope they correct that position, but we haven’t seen any indication that that’s something they want to do.
It’s difficult because if they announce Hernandez as president, this country won’t see calm for four years. Those who will lose most are those who have the least access to opportunities, money, education — the people who suffer most. This generation, legally or illegally, we can leave. But there are people who can’t even leave their neighborhoods because they don’t have money for transportation.
So Honduran youth have woken up at one moment or another. What will be the role of young people in this whole movement and struggle against fraud and in defense of the Honduran people expressed at the ballot box?
I think people’s patience is running out. We waited four years. A lot of things happened — Indignados, the university students’ movement, leaders united the (Opposition) Alliance. We saw that (Hernandez) wasn’t going to desist so we said we’ll stop him at the ballot box. People were skeptical but the message to vote en masse worked and we won. When people saw the preliminary results they regained hoped. But then they saw their will, dreams, and hopes trampled on. They were mocked in their faces and saw that you can denounce and denounce and nothing happens.
I think there are very few options left for youth. One is to migrate. And the youth without much education, without money, without work, who live in neighborhoods where they are easily captured by organized crime — those youth are ready for anything. They’re the ones who burn tires, who put their shirts over their faces and grab the tear gas that the police launch at them in their hands and throw it back at them. Those youth have nothing to lose. Those are the youth who will do more radical things.
We can call torchlit marches every week, but we’re not going to hold back people’s desire for justice. If fraud is imposed, the social situation is going to go out of control.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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