An interview with Sandra Cuffe, independent journalist reporting from the streets of Tegucigalpa,
Honduras on the day the military opened fire on protesters. Tension peaked as unprecedented
thousands marched to the airport to welcome the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, a return
that was thwarted by the military.
JESSE FREESTON, TRNN: Early Sunday evening, the week-long crisis in Honduras that followed the military coup d’état saw its first casualty, as soldiers opened fire on a crowd of protesters. The archbishop of Tegucigalpa, who has publicly supported the coup, went on national television the night before to warn against the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
ÓSCAR ANDRÉS RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA, ARCHBISHOP OF TEGUCIGALPA (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Let’s consider that a return to the country could unleash a bloodbath. I know that you love life. I know that you respect life. Not a single Honduran has died so far. Please think about this, because afterwards will be too late.
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FREESTON: The bishop’s warning didn’t stop Zelaya from a daring attempt to return to Honduras on Sunday afternoon, but the blood was spilled long before his plane was spotted in Honduran airspace. The day’s events began at 2 a.m. in Washington, DC, where an emergency meeting of the Organization of American States voted 33 to zero to expel Honduras from the group—the first such move since Cuba was excluded in 1962. With yet another unanimous showing of international support, Zelaya confirmed his plans to return to Honduras the coming afternoon.
MANUEL ZELAYA, PRESIDENT ELECT, HONDURAS: As president, I’m going to accompany my people, to call for calm, nonviolence, and to help everything unfold in a respectful environment.
FREESTON: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a survivor of numerous military coups in her homeland, stressed the significance of Zelaya’s return for all of Latin America.
CRISTINA FERNÁNDEZ DE KIRCHNER, PRESIDENT, ARGENTINA (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): In the name of our stories, and the name of the decades it took for us to rebuild our democracies, that’s why we’re here, not just to be a vote for sanctions, but also due to the need to design a common strategy that truly allows for the reconstitution [of] your government.
FREESTON: Interim President Roberto Micheletti announced that he would not give permission for Zelaya to land in Honduras. One reporter questioned that if the attorney general had indeed laid 18 serious criminal charges on Zelaya, including treason, then why would the ousted president be prohibited from returning to the country where he could face trial?
ROBERTO MICHELETTI, ACTING PRESIDENT, HONDURAS (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): We have insisted that we don’t want internal conflicts. Another drop of Honduran blood has been shed yet, but might as a consequence of Zelaya’s return.
FREESTON: Meanwhile, on the streets of Tegucigalpa, a massive march was organizing to meet the ousted president at the airport. But their path to the runway wasn’t an easy one. To begin, there’s been a virtual media blackout on anti-coup opinion in Honduras.
SANDRA CUFFE, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: Normally there’ll be more sort of media occurring within the country. And there’s often, like, an international media blackout, right? And what’s occurring now in Honduras is pretty much the opposite. I mean, there’s way more accurate and ongoing, consistent coverage by a lot of international media. You know, people in Honduras are walking the streets with signs that are thanking CNN for coverage, because there is this media blackout in Honduras. And that’s because the two main political parties and the business elite and the military have all orchestrated this coup. The mainstream media within Honduras is going along with that as well. When this was occurring at the airport and there were shots fired and there were, you know, at least one confirmed death and several wounded, they were doing this official broadcast by the coup government, by Micheletti, in order to basically totally block out, you know, what was occurring in the airport.
FREESTON: So, with its figurehead in exile and little to no media representation, how is this mass movement being organized?
CUFFE: The movement itself is a very organic movement. And like I said, there’s a hugely diverse, you know, range of organizations and political views. But the main sort of coordination of what’s going on is being carried out by the National Coordination of Popular Resistance, which was formed [inaudible] to organize nationally against a law that was coming into effect to privatize water. So, basically, PNRP, the National Coordination of Popular Resistance is the entire Honduran social movement. So it’s unions, it’s indigenous organizations, it’s the environmental movement, it’s church organizations, it’s housewives—I mean, every kind of organization. And that’s who’s definitely taken the lead with what’s going on now. And everybody talks. I can go buy a lemonade, and people will ask me why Mel’s coming or what’s going on. The movement itself is being coordinated by the National Coordination of Popular Resistance, and information is getting around mainly through a couple of radio stations, but mostly it’s really word of mouth.
FREESTON: Aware of Zelaya’s plan to return, the Armed Forces seized control of the airport at sunrise. Soon after, snipers were positioned in the towers. Still, for the thousands marching on Sunday, even arriving at the airport was a struggle. CNN Español aired this cell-phone video of troops shooting the tires of buses that were bringing in marchers from out of town.
CUFFE: When the march was approaching the airport—and at first there was the roadblock set up by soldiers one kilometer away from the airport away from the airport [inaudible] march and stop it from getting to the airport, and there were other roadblocks set up on the way to March, so that people who hadn’t joined the march from the very beginning, this morning at the Tegucigalpa University, and were heading to the airport or to meet up with the march couldn’t even get that far. So I had gotten through one of the roadblocks and made it to the airport. I was there when the march finally arrived. And the march—which was probably two, three times the size it had been in the past couple of days, so we’re talking, like, literally hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people—managed to get to the airport, because they actually kept advancing peacefully, slowly, and steadily, and pushing back soldiers and the police all the way back to the airport.
FREESTON: Venezuelan state-funded network TeleSUR spoke to Zelaya live on-air during his four-hour flight from OAS headquarters in Washington to Toncontín International Airport in Tegucigalpa. It’s unclear whether Zelaya was aware that TereSUR’s broadcast is currently being blocked inside Honduras.
ZELAYA: I hope that my return to the people that made me president will be a gesture of reconciliation and love for our country.
CUFFE: Everybody who’s participating is against the coup, they’re against a rupture of democracy, and therefore the return of the elected president. That’s pretty much clear across the board. And they’re against the repression that’s been going on. The differences are that a large number of people support Mel Zelaya who are out in the streets. There’s also a huge number of people who hate Mel Zelaya, who didn’t vote for him, would never vote for him, and don’t support the popular consultation that was happening last Sunday, which was sort of, like, the last straw and the trigger for the coup. I talk to people who tell me and make a point to tell me, “I hate Mel Zelaya, but I’m out in the streets because this is a military coup, and it’s wrong, and this is, you know, against everything that the Honduran people actually want, which is democracy.”
FREESTON: Roughly 30 minutes before Zelaya’s plane was due to arrive, soldiers began firing live rounds and tear gas into the crowd, killing at least one and wounding more than 30. TeleSUR reported that the chief of police immediately ordered his officers away from the airport, leaving responsibility for the attack on the military. When Zelaya’s plane came into view a half-hour later, the crowd erupted. A teleSUR journalist spoke to the pilot of the plane as it circled the runway, unable to land.
PLANE PILOT (UNIDENTIFIED): We attempted two passes over the runway at Toncontín. It was completely blocked by military personnel and vehicles. We asked again for permission to land from the tower, indicating that we had the president of the UN General Assembly on board. We were flatly denied, and they threatened to intercept us.
FREESTON: Micheletti’s government has since imposed a sunset-to-sunrise curfew and drastically increased military presence in the streets. As for Zelaya, he ended up landing in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador, where he promised to attempt another return in coming days. But what about the thousands who marched? What will be the effect of the day’s events on their resolve to continue?
CUFFE: Over the past few days, there’s been the same optimism as today and the same unity and the same, like, really positive, vibrant energy. And so that’s going to continue. You know, yesterday there were rumors that the president was going to arrive yesterday, and then there were rumors today that, you know, today. And then, so, yeah, the plane flew over and couldn’t land, and people are gathering at 8 a.m. tomorrow, just like they have been for the past, like, however many number of days. And so it seems like over this past week the mobilizations and marches and numbers and, you know, types of people and the people joining in, it keeps growing and building. Even though, you know, people were shot today and young people were killed, and even though the plane couldn’t land and nobody has, really, any idea what’s actually going to happen tomorrow, I’m 99.9 percent sure that tomorrow morning, people are going to gather, it’s going to be even more people than today, and people are going to be even more determined and optimistic. And one phrase that people have been repeating over and over is: [another language]. It was actually an official ad campaign leading up to the popular consultation, because there was a lot of sort of fear mongering. You know, there’s soldiers in the streets. There was—definitely the lead-up to the coup didn’t come out of nowhere. So it was this official ad campaign that say [another language] which is “Who said to fear?” and to encourage people to come out. And so that’s something that’s being repeated over and over, and people admit that there was a lot of fear at the beginning. There was a lot of surprise, a lot of fear, a lot of anger, a lot of sadness. But right now, that optimism, that’s really, I’d say, like, the overarching feeling of the movement.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.