Juan Ramón Durán
HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 22 (IPS) – Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya said Tuesday that he returned to his country to engage in dialogue to resolve the political crisis triggered by the June 28 coup d’etat, but that the de facto government responded with tear gas and rubber bullets against his supporters.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, the army and police used batons and tear gas to forcibly disperse demonstrators who were massed outside the Brazilian embassy since the ousted president unexpectedly appeared there at noon on Monday.
Xiomara Castro, Zelaya’s wife, reported around 20,000 demonstrators outside the embassy, but according to de facto President Roberto Micheletti they numbered no more than 2,500.
More than 200 people were reportedly arrested and at least 12 injured in the crackdown.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the de facto government should refrain from using excessive force against Zelaya’s supporters and should also refrain from abusing emergency powers to undermine the basic rights of protesters, journalists and others.
“Given the reports we have received, and the poor track record of the security forces since the coup, we fear that conditions could deteriorate drastically in the coming days,” said HRW Americas director José Miguel Vivanco.
OAS Condemns Honduran Military Violence
The chair of the Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council, Chilean representative Pedro Oyarce, condemned the violent incidents around the Brazilian embassy. In a statement Tuesday he called for “respect for the human rights of all Honduran citizens, and for full guarantees for the security of the Honduran leader and the diplomatic representation of Brazil in Honduras.”
After Zelaya appeared in Tegucigalpa, the de facto government declared a nationwide curfew, closed four airports and the borders with El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, and cut off power, water and phone services, food supplies, and medical emergency service to the Brazilian embassy, where Zelaya has taken refuge.
It is not yet clear exactly how the deposed leader slipped back into Honduras on Monday. According to sources close to him, he flew from Nicaragua to El Salvador on Sunday in a plane belonging to a wealthy Honduran businessman.
Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes confirmed that Zelaya was at the Comalapa international airport outside of San Salvador on Sunday night, but declined to provide further details.
Zelaya said he traveled more than 15 hours through the mountains to reach the Honduran capital. He reportedly hid in the trunk of a car for part of the journey, to pass police checkpoints.
Coup Leaders Want to Arrest Zelaya
The de facto authorities have asked the Brazilian government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to either grant Zelaya asylum or turn him over to the Micheletti government, arguing that he is a fugitive from justice. (The leader is facing arrest warrants on charges of abuse of authority and mismanagement of public funds.)
President Lula said he told Zelaya by phone not to give the de facto authorities any reason for violence. But he also urged the de facto government to negotiate a solution to the crisis.
Porfirio Lobo, the presidential candidate of the opposition National Party (PN), said the compromise agreement set forth by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who brokered unsuccessful peace talks between Zelaya and the de facto authorities, told IPS by phone that since both Zelaya and Micheletti “are in Tegucigalpa, they should begin a dialogue now to resolve the crisis.”
Lobo, whose party voted in Congress in favor of Micheletti replacing Zelaya on June 28 – after the president was removed from his home at gunpoint and put on a plane to Costa Rica – said it did so on the condition that dialogue would be held, to bring about national reconciliation.
He said now is the time for the two leaders to put aside their “personal interests” and engage in talks to bring about a solution to the crisis and clear the way for legitimate elections.
The National Resistance Front Against the Coup d’Etat, made up of trade unions, peasant farmer associations, popular organizations, and left and center parties and movements, has announced that it will boycott the elections.
In addition, the U.S. administration, the governments of Latin American countries, the European Union, and OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza have refused to recognize the results of the elections.
One of the central points in the Arias peace plan, known as the San José Accord, is the reinstatement of Zelaya, although with significantly limited powers. The plan would also create a coalition government and grant an amnesty for all political crimes committed during and after the coup. Furthermore, the elections scheduled for Nov. 29 would be moved forward and held under international supervision.
Zelaya’s term is to end on Jan. 27.
When he popped up in Tegucigalpa again on Monday, Zelaya said he did not want violence, and called for dialogue. But he complained Tuesday that to his call for a peaceful solution, Micheletti responded with tear gas, shots, water cannons, and loudspeakers blasting shrill music.
Micheletti’s Troops Impose Siege on Brazilian Embassy
There are around 300 people in the Brazilian embassy, which has a diesel-powered generator. Although the compound is surrounded by police and army troops, the de facto government promised to respect the rules that protect diplomatic representations.
About a dozen luxury cars owned by families living near the embassy were severely damaged when the troops dispersed the crowd of demonstrators. And army cranes removed 10 cars belonging to members of the National Resistance Front Against the Coup d’Etat, several of which had sound systems used during the protests held since the Jun. 28 coup.
The police and army blocked the streets around the embassy and for several hours chased members of the Resistance Front as they attempted to regroup and march against the security cordons. At the same time, protesters tried to mount roadblocks in poor and middle-class neighbourhoods in Tegucigalpa, which were broken up by the police.
The OAS called on the de facto authorities and all sectors of Honduran society to “act with prudence and responsibility, avoiding acts that may generate violence and hinder the national reconciliation that the Honduran people and the entire hemisphere are yearning for.”
Oyarce issued “a new call for peaceful dialogue that leads to a prompt restoration of the constitutional order” and Zelaya’s return to office.
In the eyes of some political observers, Zelaya’s surreptitious return to Tegucigalpa paves the way for a prompt solution to the political crisis. For others, it spells the end of his political career and has generated stronger support for the de facto government and the Nov. 29 elections.