Hondurans Protest Gas Prices Ahead of Polls

(International Relations and Security Network, 08/09/2005)


Hundreds of taxi and bus drivers have blocked all entry and exit routes in the Honduran capitol of Tegucigalpa, protesting gas prices as the situation in the country intensifies ahead of November elections.


The Regional Security Office at the US embassy in Honduras reported late on Wednesday that protesting public transport drivers had also blocked highways in the Honduran towns of Comayagua, Copan, Danli, El Arenal, Juticalpa, and San Lorenzo, according to US-based private intelligence agency Strategic Forcasting.


It was the first major civil protest in Honduras in years.


The protests began in Tegucigalpa early on Monday morning and continued late into the night, local sources report. Massive traffic caused further protests from private car owners, who found themselves in gridlock due to buses and taxis stopped in the middle of the road. Windshields were broken and fights broke out.


In an emergency meeting, government ministers met on Wednesday evening to discuss lowering gas and diesel prices to abate the protests. After learning that the government had agreed to lower gas prices by some US$0.37 and diesel by less than half a cent, taxi and bus drivers continued to clog the streets, and the protests spread to other urban centers in Honduras.


The executive director of the Honduran Association of Gas Distributors, Sarai Silva, admitted on Wednesday that some gas stations in Tegucigalpa that are members of the association may have been selling their gas at an inflated price.


She also noted that in the wake of the destruction of hurricane Katrina, gas imported to Honduras had been limited and out of her control. Answering questions from the local press concerning the upward pressure on gas prices, Silva passed the responsibility to gas importers.


"We should remember that those who control the gas in this country are the importers," Silva said, adding, "[our association] makes only two purchases a week, so it is difficult to speculate."


Meanwhile, Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez, the highest-ranking member of the Catholic clergy in Honduras, publicly asked his people to be patient. In a public statement, he offered sympathies for the taxi and bus drivers, claiming they may have legitimate claims for protest. But he insisted that the population remain calm and "not risk losing the social peace that the country recently enjoyed in the past few years".


Though Honduras has not seen any major civil protests in years, tensions are rising as election campaigns have gotten underway and questions of mounting security problems are on the lips of everyone in the voting public. Youth gangs called Maras, drug and gun trafficking, and a general sense of a lack of security throughout the country has the public on edge. The mass protests over gas prices may have been fueled by such underlying tensions.

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