The Indignados movement in Central America reconfigures the traditional class struggle

by Digital Rights LAC on September 23, 2023

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Not too many people suspected that April 16th, 2015, would mark a before and after in the politics and society of Guatemala and Central America. When the special prosecutor office against impunity (FECI) from the Public Ministry (MP) unveiled a network devoted to custom frauds (linked to members of the government), a Facebook event summoned  people to attend a “pacific rally to ask for the resignation of Otto Pérez Molina (president) and Roxana Baldetti (vicepresident)”on the 25th.

By Bernardo Gutiérrez*

The Facebook event (no longer operational, although the wall is recovered and it is available on Dropbox) was created around a narrative that has no precedent in the region: “No political or ideological affiliations, no discourses or shows, this is just the Guatemalan people, tired of the unscrupulous politicians governing us. Let’s get to the Central Park, show our inconformity and let everyone know that we are not asleep”. #RenunciaYa has not only established as a shout-out slogan but rather as a movement with nodes distributed all over Guatemala and the world. From the web to the street, this movement began to leave its mark in the political agenda and to reconnect unequal historical struggles to a new imaginary.

In June, #RenunciaYa became #JusticiaYa (its main twitter account is @justiciayagt). The new Indignados, as they started to be called, had a key role in the reconnection and reconfiguration of the classical Guatemalan struggles. The mini documentary The encounter: three months of citizen protests shows the evolution of a movement that shouted “yes, it was possible” after the resignation of the vice-president Roxana Baldetti and that was the key to inspiring the riots that started taking place in June, in demand of the resignation of the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández.

These two countries organized an unprecedented bi-national rally for the 4th of July and are taking over the anti-corruption discourse in Latin America, a discourse that used to be linked to the right wing. In the hands of popular movements, the anti-corruption cause becomes a strong, symbolic blow for the government and it is already generating uneasiness.

Both in Guatemala and in Honduras, technopolitics is barely just a layer that coexists with other paradigms and that reconfigures the already existing struggles, making it possible for there to be a metanarrative that includes said struggles and technosocial processes that respond to a global pattern.

Part of the Honduras case study from the #technopoliticLATAM investigation I made for OXFAM is presented below.. By the end of September the complete study will be published.

From #JusticeNow to #ResignNow

On June 28th, 2009, the people of Honduras were called to vote on a referendum to decide on a change in the Constitution that would allow presidential reelection. The Supreme Court of Justice, against the referendum, commanded the armed forces to arrest President José Manuel Zelaya. The designation of Roberto Micheletti as president was the final confirmation of a coup d’état and opened the door to a new type of violence and political repression.

Since 2009, Honduras’ social statistics have only gotten worse.  What stands out are the high levels of poverty, corruption, militarization and violence (for example in 2013 one person was killed every 78 minutes, according to the Observatory of Violence from the Autonomous National University of Honduras). The existence of The Tigers (special operation forces trained in the USA) and the Homeland Guardians (group that encourages children to use weapons) round off one of the worst scenarios of militarization and represion in Latin America.

Furthermore, “the leaders of the coup faction had religious domination interests”, which translated into the prohibition of the morning-after pill and an intense persecution of the feminist interests. Femicidio –word used in Honduras instead feminicide- has had an increase of a 263.4% between 2005 and 2013.

In this scenario, denouncing human rights violations became the epicenter of the Honduran struggles. There are hardly any emerging citizen processes or any digital activism, and “the isolation of the struggles prevails”. The National Front of Popular Resistance, that tried to encourage a pacific form of struggle after the coup d’état, consolidated as a new forum for establishing a dialogue between “feminist movements, unions, teacher leaders, students, farmers, LGTB, socialists, liberals, independents and artists.” Other important social causes are being addressed by the communities that oppose the looting of their common goods by mining companies or the concessions being granted in their territories (water, resources).

The introduction and use of the internet in Honduras has many peculiarities. Despite of the low percentage of users (18,6%), 60% of Hondurans connect to the Internet to access digital social networks, what makes it the most active country of Central America. Even though Twitter has boomed, since 2009 Facebook is the most used social network.

Social movements do not interact much with the digital environment.  There are some remarkable exceptions such as the video blogger La Chiki or campaigns against femicide on Twitter (with the hashtag #ObservaMujeres standing out), but other than that, social struggles use more traditional formats. Among other peculiarities about Honduras, there is the fact that the amount of mobile phones is larger than the amount of people, a lot of internet connections are made from those devices and the use of mobile networks (WhatsApp) is high.

The wave of protests that broke out at the beginnings of June, 2015, in demand of the resignation of president Juan Orlando Hernández has given new meaning to the social struggles in Honduras. Its narrative disruption incorporated actors that were ideologically different and contributed to the rise of a new political actor: Honduras’ Indignados. Additionally, this process has technopolitical characteristics, such as the self-convocations that use social networks as a platform, the citizens’ ability to self-organize, the breaking up of the frontier between the internet and the territory, and the empowerment of the people on an emotional level.

When the president publicly recognized that the National Party had accepted illicit money from the Honduran Social Security Institute (IHSS), people showed their indignation through the use of hashtags such as #renunciaJOH or #fueraJOH. One day after (July 5th), over twenty thousand people participated in a rally in Tegucigalpa, organized using the social networks : The Rally of the Torchs. The demonstrations expanded throughout the country and the media started talking about the new Indignados movement, which was partly inspired by the protests against corruption in Guatemala that have been demanding for the resignation of the president Otto Pérez Molina since April.

The #renunciaJOH protests started taking place every Friday, thus creating a new space of action and collective dialogue. In addition, an international connection with the movements in Guatemala was established. In this country, where #RenunciaYA evolved to #JusticiaYA, changes in the electoral law are already being demanded and the transnational Guatemalan citizens are setting the political agenda.

On July 4th both countries organized an unprecedented binational rally that renewed the Latin American anti-corruption discourse and included popular movements in the process. This was rather confusing to the American lobbyists that generally try to apply the neoliberal shock doctrine using corruption as an excuse. In the case of the Honduran Indignados, therehave also been mass actions that evidence a sense of collective identity, such as the defense of the journalist David Romero (who brought the corruption scandal to light) though the use of the hashtag #WeAllAreDavidRomero

The study conducted together with Alejandro González (Outliers Collective) exclusively for the this report, analyzed the tweets that use the hashtag #ResignJOH   between the days 05/06/2023 (Day of the Rally of the Torches) and 06/07/2015. The results show quite a decentralized topology and a big density (many nodes having conversations in multiple directions)

A distinctive feature of the graph is the importance of the collective identities (like the humorous profile @notibomba) and in particular, the importance of the ecosystem of Anonymous. Nodes such as  @legionhonduras, @anonshonduras, @anons_honduras or @ibero_anon have been fundamental to the configuration of the public imaginary of the new Indignados.

At the same time, the accounts of  some journalists, alternative media or writers (@chaveztoon, @julissa_irias, @soyfdelrincon) stand out, as well as the account of politicians from the Freedom and Refoundation  Party (LIBRE), which emerged as an evolution of the National Front of Popular Resistance (such as @beavalleM or the former president José Manuel Zelaya , @manuelzr ). In the graph it is even possible to see international accounts like @personalescrito (Brasil) or @takethesquare (15M España).

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The traditional social movements present on the streets are not specifically outlined in the study about digital networks of #resignJOH. The official account of the National Front of Popular Resistance (@fnrphn) has little relevance and the political actors that started the #ObservaMujeres campaign in 2014 are not considered either. The lack of the traditional social actors in the study is due to the fact that Twitter is not their most widely used digital network and also because these actors do not attribute much importance to the internet.

*Post journalist, writer, convinced transnacionalist . On Twitter: @bernardosampa

Image: (CC BY) Jorge Luis García / Flickr