Zelaya’s return to Honduras met with force
Eighty-six days after he was summarily kidnapped and forced out of the country by the military, and on his third attempt to return, ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya appeared at the Brazilian embassy in the capital city of Tegucigalpa on Monday morning. Hondurans flooded into the streets to support his return, to which the coup regime responded by instituting a curfew. When thousands of Hondurans refused to adhere to return to their homes, the regime resorted to brute force.
Produced by Jesse Freeston.
JESSE FREESTON, PRODUCER, TRNN: The excitement of Monday’s surprise return of ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya gave way to tragedy on Tuesday when the coup government sent in the military and police forces to disperse thousands of protesters. Confirmed reports have been hard to come by, but what is known is that government forces have attacked protesters with batons and tear gas and have now surrounded the Brazilian Embassy where Zelaya is camped out. The military has also set up roadblocks outside the city in order to stop more protesters from arriving in the capital. Hundreds of protesters have been detained and are being held at a local soccer stadium. Electricity has been cut off to some areas, and many independent media outlets have had their services either cut or attacked. Multiple sources have reported gunshots from the military, and there have been as-yet unconfirmed reports of up to three deaths. The ongoing assault follows events that began on Monday morning when rumors spread that Manuel Zelaya was in Tegucigalpa. De facto president Roberto Micheletti quickly called a press conference to deny the reports.
ROBERTO MICHELETTI, DE FACTO PRESIDENT OF HONDURAS (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): It’s not true. He is relaxing in a Nicaraguan hotel suite.
FREESTON: He then threatened the two reporters who broke the story.
MICHELETTI: Today, those two gentlemen will be served with criminal charges.
REPORTERS: Which gentlemen?
MICHELETTI: The gentlemen from Radio Globo and the gentleman from Cholusat Sur.
REPORTERS: What are they charged with?
MICHELETTI: The crime of terrorism. Media terrorism. Psychological warfare.
FREESTON: Soon after Micheletti name spoke, Zelaya’s cabinet members confirmed that the president was in fact in the capital. His location was revealed when pictures emerged of him in the Brazilian Embassy. This was soon confirmed by Brazil’s foreign minister, Celso Amorim.
CELSO AMORIM, BRAZILIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I spoke with President Zelaya personally. I welcomed him to Brazilian territory, so to speak. Brazil had nothing to do with his trip to Honduras. But obviously he was received as the legitimate president of Honduras.
FREESTON: Thousands of Hondurans poured into the streets and surrounded the Brazilian Embassy, while the radio station Radio Globo interviewed people across the country who were organizing caravans to join the resistance in the capital. The de facto government responded by announcing a 15-hour nationwide curfew from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m. and organized a second, more demonstrative press conference, in which Micheletti was accompanied by the head of the armed forces and many of the country’s most powerful business owners, who have been key players in the coup regime.
MICHELETTI: Mister Zelaya’s presence in the country doesn’t change our reality. On 28 June, Mr. Zelaya was legally removed from his post by decision of the Supreme Court of Justice and the National Congress.
FREESTON: Later that evening, it was announced that the 15-hour curfew would be extended by an extra 11 hours, now set to end Tuesday at 6 p.m. Beyond the abruptly called curfew, the regime took several other measures designed to prevent people from gathering. Independent journalist Sandra Cuffe joined us by telephone from Tegucigalpa to describe some of these tactics.
SANDRA CUFFE, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: Ever since it was announced this morning that Zelaya was here, people have been organizing caravans to come into Tegucigalpa from different regions around the country. For sure the caravan from the south, they were detained by the military a little bit south of the capital. As far as I know, they still haven’t been able to come in, but, I mean, this is, like, over 2,000 people in the caravan, So I think these people said that they just started a protest right there. I don’t know how many thousands of people are outside the embassy now, but there has been power cut to a couple of places. Power was cut to the region right around the Brazilian Embassy where Zelaya is and the streets outside where people are.
FREESTON: For a night, it was unclear how the regime would respond to the events at the Brazilian embassy. But at sunrise on Tuesday morning, the military and police were sent in to break up the encampment.
CUFFE: The airport shut down, which is supposedly because OAS [Secretary General] Insulza announced that he’s going to come in tomorrow.
FREESTON: Looking to take control of the situation, the Organization of American States appeared to struggle with its own relevance during an emergency session Monday afternoon. They pushed through a motion put forward by the US for Secretary General Insulza to deliver an OAS-approved demand that Zelaya and Micheletti immediately accept the US-backed San José Accords as a solution to the crisis. The Micheletti government has long stood firm in opposing the agreement’s demand for Zelaya’s return to power, and the anti-coup resistance has been equally unwavering in its rejection of both the condition that grants amnesty for crimes committed around and during the coup and the condition which calls for the abandonment of the constitutional referendum. When the representatives for Nicaragua and Venezuela pointed out this uncomfortable truth on the floor of the OAS, they were roundly criticized for holding up the meeting.
ANTHONY ROWE JOHNSON, JAMAICAN AMBASSADOR TO THE OAS: I would like to make an appeal to my friends around this table. We are losing valuable time, and we therefore could lose also relevance. The big news tonight on the TV will be Zelaya has returned. The world waits to hear a response from credible—credible institutions. If we stay longer, the newspapers will also not have us in, or they will have you in one line. If we had accepted the resolution earlier, 1 hour ago or 90 minutes ago, we would have gotten on the second paragraph, maybe even in the first paragraph, and therefore retain relevance.
FREESTON: Ambassador after ambassador admitted that the motion was highly flawed, but supported it regardless, citing Zelaya’s prior declaration of support for the accords and the need to pass an agreement fast enough to make the news. Immediately after the motion was approved, Zelaya’s representative to the OAS thanked the group for passing the vote. Notice that he doesn’t answer his phone.
CARLOS SOSSA COELLO, EXILED HONDURAN AMB. TO THE OAS (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): [to his cell phone] Shut up. Manuel Zelaya is a man of his word. Both written and verbal form, both to me and to all of you, he has reiterated his desire to sign the San José Accords.
FREESTON: Moments later, the Nicaraguan ambassador did answer his phone.
DENIS MONCADA COLINDRES, NICARAGUAN AMB. TO OAS (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): A moment ago I received a call from the Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega. He told me to pass on the following. President Ortega just finished speaking with President Zelaya. President Zelaya asked to let it be known that he rejects the San José Accords.
FREESTON: Without Zelaya’s support, the basis for their approval of the motion had evaporated. But instead of incorporating the new information, the meeting was promptly adjourned, and everybody went home. Filmmaker and resistance member Óscar Estrada explained why the resistance so firmly opposes amnesty while he was in Philadelphia last week.
ÓSCAR ESTRADA, FILMMAKER AND ANTI-COUP ACTIVIST: Because amnesty is what we have as in the situation we have. They have an amnesty in the ’90s against the human rights violators, which happened to be the same people who is now violating the human rights. And if there was no amnesty and the ’90s, these people would think different about doing what they’re doing now. But the reason why they’re doing it is because they trust in the amnesty.
FREESTON: Monday marks Zelaya’s third attempt to return to Honduras since the coup. During the first attempt on July 5, the military blockaded his plane from landing in Tegucigalpa. According to Estrada, the country Zelaya finds himself in today is quite different than the one his plane passed over more than two months ago.
ESTRADA: I think that was probably one of the most shocking days of my life. Seeing probably, like, 500,000 people on the street is something that you don’t see in Honduras, never in the Honduran history. The people, I think the people really wanted [inaudible] in that point. You know? Probably because it didn’t happen, because Zelaya didn’t land it, it changed the way of thinking of the process. You know, I think that make us stronger, and I think probably that’s [inaudible] happened, because it forced us to organize, it forced us to think in a more longer process. And I think stop thinking that the change got to happen with one man is something very important. No one man can change the country. It’s like talking about Obama, too. There is nothing just one man can do. It has to be the people who do that. It has to be an organized movement who force the change.
FREESTON: In a Tuesday op-ed in The Washington Post, Micheletti repeats the claim that Zelaya planned to remain in power by removing the single four-year presidential term limit. Article 239 of the Constitution calls for immediate dismissal and a ten-year ban from holding political office for those who so much as propose repealing the ban on term limits. This video, shot three days before the coup, shows Zelaya proposing presidential reelection be discussed when the country rewrites its constitution.
MANUEL ZELAYA, HONDURAN PRESIDENT (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The only position in Honduras that cannot be reelected is the president. But reelection will be a topic of the coming National Constitutional Assembly.
FREESTON: There is an ongoing debate whether or not this violated the Constitution, as the document does provide room for the writing of a new constitution, and his comments referred to that future document. Furthermore, according to the current constitution, accused violators are to be tried in a court of law, not kidnapped and exiled by the military. The Micheletti government has insisted that it will not give up power until January, when the winner of the election, which is scheduled for November 29, will take over.
MICHELETTI: Why has Mr. Zelaya come back to Honduras right now? Only he knows. I can’t help but conclude that he is here to continue disrupting the upcoming elections to be held on November 29.
FREESTON: Even prior to the coup, Honduran elections have suffered from serious legitimacy issues. The 2005 election that brought Zelaya to power saw a voter turnout of only 46 percent. Four years later, with an anti-coup resistance, Zelaya, and two of the five presidential candidates boycotting the elections, and with the government of Panama being the only government in the world that has said it will recognize the results, the coup supporters have taken unprecedented steps to increase voter turnout. The de facto government has passed a law that makes it illegal to publicly advocate against voting. At least 35 fast food workers were laid off in late August for refusing to attend a pro-election rally. And Honduras’s largest business organization has announced their intention to offer election-day discounts at their businesses to anyone shopping with a painted finger from voting. The election is still more than two months away, and the next 48 hours promise to be historic for Honduras and the Americas. Brazilian President Lula and US President Obama are scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, where they will be hard-pressed to avoid the issue. Meanwhile, the coup regime in Honduras has for now chosen to use force to deal with the massive resistance in the capital. As the national coalition against the coup gears up for a unified march on Wednesday morning, how far will the coup government go?
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.