On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of thousands of Hondurans gathered outside the airport serving the capital of Tegucigalpa to welcome home Manuel Zelaya Rosales, better known as Mel. The day marked exactly 23 months since then president Zelaya was overthrown in a military coup, and for the first time since he now walks freely in his home country.
Produced by Jesse Freeston.
JESSE FREESTON, TRNN: On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of thousands of Hondurans gathered outside the airport serving the capital of Tegucigalpa to welcome home Manuel Zelaya Rosales, better known as Mel. The day marked exactly 23 months since then-president Zelaya was overthrown in a military coup. And for the first time since, he now walks freely in his home country. He returns home as the most visible leader of a resistance movement that has been fighting for almost two straight years to overthrow the coup regime and has faced incessant repression in return. It was impossible to estimate exactly how many people were there, given that the location required people to spread for miles along various roads, mountainsides, rooftops, and billboards. The coup-supporting media said it was a couple of thousand. The resistance press said around 1 million. The truth is probably in the middle. But many remarked that it was likely the largest gathering in the history of the 8 million-person country. Felix Molina hosts the nightly radio broadcast of the National People’s Resistance Front.
FELIX MOLINA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Zelaya embodies the shared suffering. Zelaya embodies the torture. For the Honduran people, Zelaya is another victim of the coup plotters. Zelaya has been attacked by the military, the business leaders, and the religious leaders, the politicians from his own party.
FREESTON: Zelaya is also seen as the first Honduran president to address the demands of the country’s social movements. [incompr.] traveled eight hours from [incompr.] to welcome Zelaya home.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): He did a lot as president to support the people, raising the minimum wage, lowering cost of gas and foodstuffs, amongst other things. Now that he’s been outside the country for so long, we expect a lot from him.
FREESTON: Honduras is the only country in the Americas where the majority of the population lives in rural areas. Historically it has one of the most active movements of smaller landless farmers, known as campesinos. [incompr.] Cruz is a member of the campesino movement of Aguan, which 11 years ago occupied and began farming the land formerly used by the CIA to train and arm the Nicaraguan Contra army, fueling a bloody civil war that ravaged Nicaragua throughout the 1980s. Ever since the campesinos occupied the land in 2000, they have been in conflict with Honduras’s wealthiest businessman, Miguel Facusse, who claims the land for himself. Cruz traveled ten hours to the capital to welcome home the only leader that he believes ever addressed the needs of Honduras’s campesinos.
CRUZ (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): To start, he delivered land titles to the campesinos in need of land reform through Presidential Decree 18-2008, which has since been repealed by the coup regime.
FREESTON: In the 23 months since the coup, Cruz’s community has seen eight of its members assassinated by Facusse’s death squads, with no real investigation and no charges laid. He believes that Zelaya’s first priority should be to address the impunity enjoyed by the country’s most powerful people.
CRUZ: No forgetting and no forgiving of those that have violated our human rights, that have killed campesinos, teachers, workers, etc. They must be punished appropriately for what they’ve done.
FREESTON: During his short speech, Zelaya gave special mention to some of the more than 100 resistance members killed since the coup. He gave his speech at the very spot where 19-year-old Isis Obed Murillo was shot in the head by the military two years ago. Murillo is considered to be the first martyr of the resistance movement.
MANUEL ZELAYA, OUSTED HONDURAN PRESIDENT (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We must pay homage to those we’ve lost in this struggle, to those who offered their lives.
FREESTON: Molina explains how Zelaya returns to a very different Honduras from the one that he left.
MOLINA: The police and military monopolized violence to the detriment of the society. The people don’t like them. Not to say that they hate them–they don’t trust them is a better way of putting it. There’s no trust that they represent security for the people. Nevertheless, the people are both happier and more mutually supportive now. There is resistance all over the country. In every corner of Honduras, there is a table set with one extra plate in case a friend shows up. We’re a happier people that is singing more and laughing more than before. We’re not afraid of the oligarchy and its army anymore. This is another sign of change in this country.
CROWD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Whoever doesn’t jump is a coup plotter!
MOLINA: There are more independent media outlets. There’s more will to create the country that we deserve. It’s better now. I’m loving it.
FREESTON: In the hours following Saturday’s event, resistance members followed Zelaya wherever he went–in this case, waiting for him outside his TV appearance.
CROWD: Mel! Amigo! The people are with you!
RODRIGUEZ (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We’ve overcome so much teargas and bullets, and here we are, always with Mel.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Mel Zelaya is an icon now because he helped to wake up the people. Now we need him to commit to the people in the grassroots.
RODRIGUEZ: First he needs to raise the spirits of the people. With all the repression we’ve been through, we need to refill our tank.
FREESTON: For the last two years, Zelaya has been calling the post-coup regime illegitimate. But in order to ensure his safe return to Honduras, he signed an agreement promising to recognize the current Lobo regime. [incompr.] Rodriguez waited in the rain for hours to share her advice with Zelaya.
RODRIGUEZ: Listen to the people, because the people must discover how to take power. The political route looks very difficult. Hopefully, Zelaya’s return isn’t a political game. In fact, his hands are tied. But the people will bring us to power.
FREESTON: Zelaya was accompanied in his return by a variety of prominent foreigners, including the foreign ministers of Colombia and Venezuela, famous Colombian dissident Piedad Cordoba, and the host of the US-based news program Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman.
AMY GOODMAN, HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: It’s great to be here, because in the United States it’s not even so much as getting the story wrong. It’s just silence. And it’s our job to go to where silence is.
FREESTON: Zelaya wasn’t the only Honduran exile to return on Saturday. It also marked the first day home for a dozen of the roughly 200 resistance members who were either forcibly deported or fled their homeland out of fear for their lives.
MOLINA: The people consider today as the defeat of political exile. This is an important step in the battle against the oligarchy. But it ends there. The struggle continues. The struggle doesn’t end with the arrival of Zelaya. It’s merely beginning.
FREESTON: So what’s next for Zelaya and the resistance? The long-standing goal of the movement has been to have a constitutional assembly with participation representing all sectors and regions of the country, a process the resistance calls the constituyente. Zelaya was the president that took up the call for the constituyente, and now he has an incredible weight on his shoulders to help deliver that goal while outside of office.
MOLINA: Zelaya has potential to be the boss, the head honcho, the patriarch, in Honduran culture. But he returns to a people that is demanding a different kind of leadership, a shared leadership, a more democratic leadership, not vertical like in the traditional style. Now that he’s back, we’ll see what happens. How will he act? Like the old boss of a political party? Or as the conductor of a collective leadership? That’s what Honduran society is demanding. We shall see.
End of Transcript
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.