Honduran Prosecutor General Luis Alberto Rubi said June 30 that ousted President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya would “immediately” be arrested if he returns to the country, where legal officials have accused him of 18 crimes including “treason” and “abuse of authority.” Zelaya, meanwhile, vows to return on Thursday July 2—raising the prospect of an imminent showdown. The secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza of Chile, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa have offered to accompany Zelaya on his return.
Addressing charges that he sought to extend his term through proposed changes to the constitution, Zelaya pledged he would not seek re-election after his non-renewable four-year term ends. “If offered the possibility to remain in power, I would not do it,” he told a press conference in New York. “I am going to fulfill my term up until January 27.”
Zelaya addressed the UN General Assembly as the Honduran president June 30, and the body adopted a resolution condemning the coup and demanding his “immediate and unconditional” reinstatement. Zelaya warned that if the coup stands, Central America will be moving “back to the old time, where once again we are seeing the criminality of the state.”
Zelaya’s key ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, warned that his decision to return on Thursday represents a danger for him and those accompanying him. Most of Zelaya’s cabinet members have been arrested and expelled from the country.
In Tegucigalpa, hundreds of Zelaya supporters defied a 48-hour curfew issued by de facto President Roberto Micheletti, putting up barricades near the presidential palace the night of June 29, battling soldiers and police with rocks, pipes, metal bars and Molotov cocktails. Security forces responded with tear gas and gunfire. The army said 15 soldiers and 15 officers had been injured, while protest organizers reported 276 injured.
Clashes continued June 30, although anti-Zelaya protesters gathered in the city’s main plaza unmolested, with banners reading “It’s better without Mel” amid a sea of blue-and-white striped Honduran flags. Micheletti said he would consult with security forces about whether to continue the curfew, and blamed unspecified foreigners for fueling pro-Zelaya protests.
Labor and campesino leaders in the Bloque Popular announced a nation-wide general strike, and accused soldiers of blocking roads to prevent protesters from traveling into the capital. They asserted that thousands were protesting across the country, in defiance of the curfew and an intimidating military presence in nearly every town.
The international committee of Vía Campesina issued a statement calling the coup a “desperate action by the national oligarchy and the recalcitrant right to preserve their capital interests, and especially those of the big transnational companies.” (AFP, The Telegraph, All Things Considered, Minga Informativa, El Libertador, Tegucigalpa, June 30)
Repression in countryside
The Honduran Committee of the Families of the Disappeared (COFADEH) reports military raids on the homes of popular leaders in the rural northern department of Olancho, where Zelaya is from. Several have been arbitrarily detained in municipalities across the department, the group reports. The community of Cuacoca, a village in San Francisco de la Paz municipality, seems to be particularly devastated. Several residents have gone into hiding in the mountains in fear for their lives.
Electricity is being cut off regularly around the country, interrupting residents’ capacity to communicate. In El Progreso, protesters were set upon by the police with tear gas, and the human rights lawyer Marcelino Martínez has been illegally detained. (Rights Action, June 30)
US stance equivocal
Ostensibly, US President Barack Obama is taking a strong stand against the coup. “It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections,” Obama said June 29. “The region has made enormous progress over the last 20 years in establishing democratic traditions in Central America and Latin America. We don’t want to go back to a dark past.”
But Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, asked directly whether the US was insisting on Zelaya’s return to power, said, “We haven’t laid out any demands that we’re insisting on.” (AP, June 30)
Under US law (1985 amendment to section 508 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act), no aid—other than for the promotion of democracy—may be provided to a country whose elected head of government has been toppled in a military coup. The key provision reads: “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available…shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.” The law states that this does not apply to aid “to promote democratic elections or public participation in democratic processes.”
Clinton said June 29 that the US regards Zelaya’s ouster as a coup but is holding off, for now, on making a “formal legal determination.” (Reuters, June 29)
Otto Reich involved in coup?
At an emergency session of the OAS in Washington DC as the coup went into action, the Honduran representative Carlos Sosa compared the situation to the 1973 putsch in Chile.
The Venezuelan representative (Roy Chaderton) went further, accusing former Bush assistant secretary of state Otto Reich of complicity: “We have information that worries us. These is a person who has been important in the diplomacy of the US who has reconnected with old colleagues and encouraged the coup: Otto Reich, ex sub-secretary of State under Bush. We know him as an interventionist person… In 2002 he tried to deny the lawfulness of President Hugo Chavez.”
Recalling Reich’s involvement in the Nicaragua destabilization campaign in the 1980s and (apparently) the attempted Venezuelan coup in 2002, he concluded, “We suffered the First Reich, the Second Reich, and now we are suffering the Third Reich.” (Americas MexicoBlog, June 28)
See our last post on Honduras.