Honduras Violence, Coup Reps in US

Thelma Mejía

HAVANA TIMES, August 13   (IPS)  – A delegation of representatives of the de facto government headed by Roberto Micheletti in Honduras began to meet Thursday with State Department officials in Washington, while demonstrators demanding the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya have been beaten and arrested in Tegucigalpa.

Several members of the negotiating committee representing the Micheletti regime in the talks mediated by Costa Rican President Óscar Arias are meeting in the U.S. capital with officials of the Barack Obama administration.

The Honduran delegates say they will explain their version of the events of Jun. 28, when more than 100 soldiers surrounded Zelaya’s residence, bundled him out of bed at gunpoint, and put him on a plane to Costa Rica.

Zelaya has said he accepts the 11-point San José Accord, a compromise agreement set forth by Arias, which would reinstate the ousted president with significantly limited powers while offering a political amnesty to both sides in the conflict.

After Zelaya was forced into exile, the coup government issued a warrant for his arrest on a number of charges, including an attempt to carry out a non-binding popular referendum on the possibility of reforming the constitution, which was ruled unconstitutional by the courts and triggered the coup.

Legislators who spoke to IPS said the political class is willing to grant Zelaya and his family a political amnesty, but not close associates of his who face corruption charges in court. Nothing was said about the crimes committed in the framework of the coup d’etat.

Government Threatens More Repression

In the meantime, protests held by the Resistance Front Against the Coup d’Etat over the last two days in the streets of Tegucigalpa, the capital, and San Pedro Sula in the north, the second-largest city, show that contrary to what the regime had stated, calm has not been restored.

The security forces argued that the harsh crackdown on the demonstrators was necessary to put an end to violent incidents in which groups of protesters threw stones at businesses they believed to be owned by supporters of the coup, looted fast food franchises and set a city bus on fire.

Among those beaten by the riot police was Marvin Ponce, a legislator belonging to the left-wing Democratic Union party (UD), who required surgery for a double fracture to his arm and a damaged tendon, according to the medical report from the private clinic where he was treated.

But another lawmaker, Christian Democrat Ramon Velasquez, was a victim of violence on the part of protesters who accused him of backing the coup. When he left his office to try to talk to the organizers of the demonstrations, he was kicked and shoved, until he was rescued by leaders of the teachers union.

On Tuesday, the regime reimposed the curfew, which it lifted again on Wednesday, while Micheletti said in a nationally televised statement that his government’s patience towards the protests “had run out.”

Police spokesman Danilo Orellana told IPS that in a search of the “Francisco Morazán” Teachers University, where demonstrators who have come to the capital from other parts of the country are staying, the police and military confiscated 22 Molotov cocktails as well as dynamite, and arrested “the ringleaders who were guarding them.”

“These people, who numbered around 40, were arrested and will be taken to court, once the prosecutors determine the charges,” he said. “But I can tell you that we have at least 25 pieces of evidence to substantiate our arguments.

“And among the detainees is a person of Venezuelan origin, whose videos show that he took part in the burning of a fast food restaurant, as well as the destruction of windows.”

Vía Campesina activist Rafael Alegría, one of the leaders of the Resistance Front, told IPS that the “evidence was planted by the police.”

He also said the protests would continue through the weekend, and that “even if they repress us, we will not give up, because we are not vandals, just people who don’t want this coup to go unpunished, and who want President Zelaya to return to power.”

Appealing to Washington

The delegation that traveled to the U.S. capital is made up of a former chief justice of the Honduran Supreme Court, Vilma Morales, Liberal Party (PL) leader Mauricio Villeda, and businessman Arturo Corrales of the Christian Democratic party.

Lawmaker Marcia Villeda of the centre-right PL said the commission would meet with senior State Department officials and several U.S. senators. “We believe positive things will emerge towards a solution to the crisis,” she said.

Sources speaking off the record told IPS that one of the options being considered is the possibility that neither Zelaya nor Micheletti would govern the country until January, when the president’s term is to end.

This alternative, one of the sources said, “has begun to be mentioned in the last two weeks, given the growing polarization in the country, and because the two sides have begun to show a degree of flexibility.”

“Now the question is to convince ex-president Zelaya,” said the source, who requested anonymity. “Through its ambassador in Honduras, Washington has sent a clear message: that it wants to overturn the coup d’etat. That is what Ambassador (Hugo) Llorens has told the country’s elites.”

According to the source, Washington “would not be ill-disposed towards a negotiated third option for the transition, since the election campaign will not be able to turn the page on this, like the politicians think, and if this isn’t resolved in time, the election process will be marked by a great deal of instability.”

General elections are scheduled for Nov. 29, and the official start of the campaign is set for Aug. 31. However, the international community, which has completely isolated the de facto regime, has stated that the elections will be illegitimate unless Zelaya is reinstated.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for Zelaya, Arístides Mejia – one of his closest associates and a member of his negotiating committee – told the Tegucigalpa radio station HRN that the ousted leader “apparently has no personal desire to return to power.”

“From what I have seen, President Zelaya himself has no personal wish to return. He has already governed, his term was almost over. What he is doing is trying to get the democratic order reestablished,” said Mejia, adding that the two sides must sit down again to negotiate.

Mejia said Zelaya’s interest in returning is more a product of “the pressure from the international community to restore the democratic order, than of the interest of Zelaya himself.”

A delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will visit Honduras on Monday, Aug. 21 to assess the situation in terms of aspects like human rights, freedom of speech and access to justice.

And a group of Organization of American States (OAS) foreign ministers are slated to arrive late next week, to continue to seek a solution to the crisis.

The de facto government’s foreign minister, Carlos Lopez Contreras, said a team of advisers and experts is drawing up detailed reports on the developments leading up to what the regime calls a “constitutional concession” so that “the truth will be known, and the possible and hoped-for agreements will be reached based on that spirit.”