Students united against the coup

November 25, 2009

Cecile Veillard reviews a documentary that provides an on-the-scene view of the student movement against the coup in Honduras that toppled Manuel Zelaya.

WHEN NEWS of the coup in Honduras broke in August, Johannes Wilms was in Europe. The anthropology student who had spent the last year and a half studying in Nicaragua immediately returned to Central America to document what was happening on the ground in Honduras. The result is a 90-minute film, La Joven Revolución Hondurena (The Honduran Youth Revolution), which documents the resistance to the coup by students at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras (UNAH).

Wilm's film has struck a chord with activists in Latin America who see the military ousting of Manuel Zelaya not only as a disruption of democracy in Honduras but as an attack on what has been a positive trend toward the left in Latin American countries. State censorship of media since the coup, together with the refusal of the corporate media to cover the story, means that activists are excited to see a film documenting the resistance against the coup.

When Wilm arrives in Honduras, it doesn't take long for him to find people eager to share their stories. On his first day in Tegucigalpa, while riding on a bus, a young man strikes up a conversation with him and introduces him to a two young socialist activists in Tegucigalpa who are part of a group popularly known as "Los Necios," which has been organizing in Honduras since the late 1990s.

La Joven Revolucion Hondureña captures the youth resistance movement against the coup
La Joven Revolucion Hondureña captures the youth resistance movement against the coup

The two young college graduates tell Wilm about Los Necios' participation in protests in recent years, which has earned them the respect of a broad swath of Hondurans. They explain their strategy of political and organizational independence from both major parties in Honduras, including the party that helped elect Zelaya in 2006.

The next day, Wilm visits UNAH to try to speak with student activist groups demonstrating against the coup. He meets members of Fuerza Universidad Revolucionaria (FUR), who allow Wilm to film them while they are planning for a demonstration on August 5. This protest becomes a central feature of this film, but it was also featured on almost every Spanish-speaking news station around the world.

Wilm interviews Alejandro, a member of FUR, who tells the filmmaker that, even though Zelaya started his presidency as a center-right leader, he has since made a leftward shift. He points out that Zelaya was ousted on the same day that Hondurans were supposed to vote on a non-binding referendum to hold a constitutional convention with the stated goal of creating institutions of direct democracy, and limiting the amount of land any person can own to make it more accessible to native groups and to peasant farmers.

Review: Movies

La Joven Revolución Hondurena (The Honduran Youth Revolution), a documentary by Johannes Wilms. Visit Wilm's Web site.

Alejandro tells Wilm that activists are denouncing the coup not out of political support for Zelaya as president per se, but with the goals of reversing a military coup that isn't supported by the people and defending the call for a constitutional convention--something that Honduran people overwhelmingly support.

ON AUGUST 4, the Liberal candidate for the next president of Honduras (who would be scheduled to take his seat in January) is scheduled to appear on campus to speak to an assembly of students.

The film shows a gathering of students, mobilized by another campus activist group, the University Reform Front (FRU), waiting outside the meeting to challenge the candidate, who refuses to denounce the coup or take a position on calls for a people's boycott of the elections if the country's legitimate president isn't first allowed to return to power.

That afternoon, FUR members leaflet students in their classrooms, in some cases interrupting lectures to ask them, "Do you agree that Zelaya was removed by coup?" and to invite them to join them for a discussion about it, and then a demonstration.

The next day, FUR organizers hold their assembly on the campus lawn before a gathering of students, and then lead a march of students to the street, which is blocked with burning tires. Soon afterward, members of FRU arrive to participate in the protest. "This demonstration is a united student resistance against the coup," says one activist.

When police show up hours later to remove the student demonstrators and reopen the street, they use tear gas and rubber bullets, and go onto the university campus to chase students fleeing from the scene. This causes the entire campus--including students and teachers who had until then looked on, but abstained from participating in the demonstration--to respond to the police, throwing stones at their armored line.

FUR organizers had hoped that at least 150 students would show up to their demonstration, but some 3,000 students and faculty took part. It was covered by most major Spanish-speaking news sources around the world. According to Wilm, this is the first time in almost 30 years that demonstrations like these have happened in Honduras.

A quickly convened meeting of faculty and students is held in a university assembly hall the next day. Faculty, inspired by student activism on campus, speak from the front of the assembly in praise of the bravery of the student organizers.

When Wilm returned to Nicaragua, he showed footage of the student demonstrations to Honduran expatriates. Their expressions of hope and relief at the surge of youth activism are now a part of Wilm's full-length film.

Sandinista activists in Managua helped Wilm promote the film when it was screened at the Cinemateca Nacional. The Latin American radio network Puente Sur is using Wilm's film across Latin America to rally support for the opposition to the coup. With Puente Sur's help, the film has been shown in 12 Latin American countries so far.

In Europe, the film was shown by a group of students in Salzburg, Austria, who were occupying the public university in protest of tuition fees. In Granada, Spain, it was showed at an alternative film festival. It was also part of a festival of Central American films in Vienna.

The filmmaker is showing La Joven Revolución Hondurena in cities across the U.S. To arrange a showing of Wilm's film in your area, contact him at [email protected] or visit his Web site. La Joven Revolución Hondurena is available for viewing online at

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