On December 4, videos showing Honduran residents applauding police circulated on social media. A segment of the national police went on a one-day strike, saying they no longer wanted to use force to crack down on the Honduran people after several protesters were killed in demonstrations following the November 26 presidential election.
In the election, the outgoing centre-right president Juan Orlando Hernández faced off against Salvador Nasralla, the candidate from the centre-left coalition.
Demonstrations broke out in the following days, with supporters of Nasralla denouncing electoral fraud, suspicions that were bolstered by a lack of official results.
At least three people were killed in the protests, reported AFP – 13, according to an NGO quoted by the EFE press agency – as well as several injured. There was also looting reported and barricades erected in various parts of the country.
To contain the violence, the government declared a state of emergency on December 1, restricting the movement of people at night.
On the night of December 3, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal finally published the results, giving Juan Orlando Hernández 43 per cent of the vote, against 41.4 per cent for Salvador Nasralla. No winner has yet been officially announced, with the opposition demanding a recount.
But the next day there was a twist in the tale: police officers went on strike, a measure initiated by the “Cobras”, members of the special forces. A spokesmen for them said that they were of the “people” and they no longer wished to crack down on protests. Other police officers around the country promptly joined them.
These declarations sparked joy among many Hondurans, as these videos filmed in different cities show.
Video filmed in Tegucigalpa, December 4.
In this video can be heard someone shouting “Policia, amigo” (“Police, friend”), as police pass through a crowd on motorcycles.
“People brought food and drink to police”
Rely Maradiaga is a sports journalist in the capital Tegucigalpa.
I was in San Pedro Sula [Editor’s note: the country’s second city] on December 4. After the strike was announced, many locals gathered in front of a police station, even though they weren’t supposed to be out because of the curfew. They sang the national anthem and brought the police food and drink. I’ve never seen anything like that!
Video filmed in San Pedro Sula by Rely Maradiaga.
I think it was the first time the police have taken a stance like that. So, because people realised it was out of the ordinary, they gave the police their support. I also think they did it because they know the police are just like them. Officers in the lower ranks earn around $300 a month, which isn’t enough to live on, and their working conditions are poor. That is why it has always been very easy to corrupt them. On the other hand, their superiors earn a lot more, as do members of the recently formed military police [established in 2013].
We are witnessing a reconciliation of sorts between the people and the police, who they didn’t trust before. But even the day before the strike was announced, at the demonstration in the capital that was called by the opposition, people were already offering flowers to police.
Screenshot of a video sent by Rely Maradiaga, in which two young women are offering flowers to police.
According to Wilfredo Ramos, a student contacted by France 24 Observers, “low-ranking police were only carrying out their superiors’ orders” when they cracked down on protesters, which would also explain the support they have received.
"In Central America, we are so used to seeing police act against the people that it’s hard to believe what is happening in Honduras,” writes this Twitter-user.
"A sort of Arab Spring"
Rely Maradiaga continues,
In response to the strike, the government has offered the police more money, but the police said that they didn’t sign up for that; they joined to keep the peace. So I think the police are being genuine in taking this step.
People are currently no longer respecting the curfew; there is a real rejection of the sitting president because everyone is denouncing fraud… We feel like we are witnessing a sort of Arab Spring.
In the Honduran capital on December 4.
End of the strike
On December 5, the police brought their strike to an end, less than 24 hours after it began, following negotiations with the authorities. According to local media, they came to an agreement that the police would no longer be used to crack down on peaceful protesters, and the government has pledged to raise their salaries.
"The police succeeded in making people believe they supported them – we can see that that was a ruse. They just wanted the government to cede to their demands,” says Willy Hernández, another Tegucigalpa resident who spoke to France 24 Observers. He adds: “The police are corrupt, they are linked to drug trafficking and they are accused of various crimes. Just a few days ago, they were putting down protests… So why should we trust them now?”
That’s a point of view not shared by Rely Maradiaga and Wilfredo Ramos. Ramos says, “For me, this doesn’t make any difference, because they repeated that they would not clamp down on the people, even if they went back to work. Besides, they didn’t bother anyone during the curfew after they ended their strike.”