Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

HONDURAS: Coup Opponents Announce New Stage of Protests

Thelma Mejía

TEGUCIGALPA, Jul 13 2009 (IPS) - The sectors opposed to the regime that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya on Jun. 28 announced a new stage of resistance, while Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is planning a second round of talks, as peace broker.

Arias, winner of the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end civil wars raging at the time in several Central American countries, told the press over the weekend that within the next week a new round of talks should be held by the representatives of Zelaya and the de facto regime headed by Roberto Micheletti.

The two sides now have a week to “reflect” before sitting down to dialogue “more calmly,” said Arias.

The first round of talks, held Jul. 9-10 in the Costa Rican capital, produced no results. Zelaya and Micheletti refused to get together face-to-face, each meeting separately instead with Arias, who said afterwards that “miracles” don’t happen overnight and that things would take longer than expected.

Former chief justice of the Honduran Supreme Court Vilma Morales, who formed part of Micheletti’s delegation, told IPS that “we are optimistic about the next meeting, because we are all Hondurans and we should look for solutions to the conflict among ourselves, in the framework of our laws, our constitution and the rule of law.”

Morales said the next meeting would take place on Saturday, Jul.18.

Rafael Leiva, an analyst who specialises in international law, said Arias “cannot afford to let the mediation fail; he will find a way to overcome the obstacles that emerge, in order to reach a solution. This problem must be resolved by Hondurans themselves, with the support of the rest of Central America.”

In his conversation with IPS, Leiva pointed to Arias’ ability to “unblock disagreements with his wisdom and insight” during the Central American peace processes that culminated in peace accords in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“We believe he will not allow this situation to get out of hand. He also has the approval of Washington, which has confidence in his peace brokering skills,” he said.

Meanwhile, the so-called Resistance Front Against the Coup d’Etat announced a new, more radical phase of protests this week aimed at securing Zelaya’s return.

Congressman Marvin Ponce of the leftist Democratic Unification (UD) party said he believes the talks in San José are merely aimed at “buying time, while the Micheletti regime gets established, and we won’t let that happen. We think they are only trying to drag this situation out, when things here are clear: there was a coup d’etat and Manuel Zelaya should be reinstated.

“As of this week we are going to take more radical action,” he told IPS. “We are calling all of the organisations that make up the Resistance Front to an assembly Tuesday where we are going to propose a nationwide general strike as well as more radical actions. If what it takes is civil war, then that’s what we’ll do.

“The people owe Honduras a revolution, and if the legitimate president, Manuel Zelaya, is not reinstated, there will be a confrontation between social classes. What I can say is that the days of peaceful resistance, like we have had until now, are numbered,” said Ponce, visibly exhausted from the last two weeks of protests.

There have been media reports and footage of harsh crackdowns on pro-Zelaya demonstrators, and two protesters were reportedly killed in a clash with security forces at the airport in Tegucigalpa when the leader’s attempt to return to Honduras was thwarted by the military on Jul. 5.

In addition, two of Ponce’s fellow UD politicians have been murdered in murky circumstances: Roger Bados was killed over the weekend at his home in Rivera Hernández, a violent slum in the northern city of San Pedro Sula, while Ramón García was murdered while riding in a bus to the capital from the western city of Santa Bárbara.

The deaths of the two UD social activists have not been expressly linked to the crisis triggered two weeks ago, when at least 200 military troops surrounded Zelaya’s residence early in the morning on Sunday, Jun. 28, pulled him out of bed at gunpoint and put him on a plane to Costa Rica.

The situation surrounding the two murders is “strange and hazy. We need more information before we can comment on” the deaths, said Ponce.

In the view of Erasto Reyes, a leader of the Bloque Popular that forms part of the Resistance Front in San Pedro Sula, the murders “have increased the fear and sense of insecurity in this tense context in which social activists move. But we are not going to let down our guard, regardless,” he told IPS.

On Sunday, the Micheletti government lifted the nighttime curfew in place since the coup, an attempt to show the international community that things were returning to normal in Honduras, in the wake of wide condemnation of the suspension of constitutional guarantees.

Labour and business activity began to return to normal last week, while marches by pro- and anti-Zelaya demonstrators have continued since Jun. 28.

The most affected sector has been education. On Monday, one faction of the teachers’ unions called for a return to the classroom, while the rest decided in an assembly to continue the strike.

Lina Pineda, leader of one of the five factions that agreed to continue the strike, told IPS that “besides suspending classes, we are going to block roads, because the resistance will continue. We are completely united, and we are not going to stop until the coup-mongers leave.”

In statements from the Dominican Republic, Zelaya announced that he would return to the country this week, in line with remarks by his ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who said Sunday that the Honduran leader would reenter his country at a point “where he is least expected.”

Chávez made his comments after a team of journalists from the Caracas-based regional television network Telesur, which belongs to several Latin American countries, were detained and held for several hours by the Honduran police, accused of driving a stolen vehicle.

The Telesur reporters said that although they were not physically mistreated by the police, they were the target of verbal abuse. Several of them left Honduras Sunday because their visas had expired, the local press reported.

The Venezuelan Embassy said it was considering lodging a formal complaint over the journalists’ arrest.

No government has recognised the regime in Honduras, which is facing total isolation. The coup was condemned by the United Nations General Assembly and the Organisation of American States, both of which called for Zelaya’s immediate return to power.

The Non-Aligned Movement, to which Honduras belongs, is preparing to do the same on Thursday.

But within Honduras, influential voices continue to deny that what happened was a coup. In an interview with an Argentine newspaper, Catholic cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez complained that the international community “has eyes and does not see, has ears and does not hear, has a tongue and does not speak.”

Rodríguez insists that Zelaya was removed in accordance with the steps outlined by the constitution. “If you see the steps taken, they are the ones established by the constitution. It would have been a coup if the head of state and the ministers were military officers and Congress or the Supreme Court had been dissolved. Some of the previous government’s ministers are even still in the cabinet. What the army did was enforce a judge’s order.”

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