Honduras: coup regime backs off from emergency decree

Honduras’ de facto government backed off Sept. 28 from an emergency decree that barred protests and limited free speech after congressional leaders warned that they would not support the measure. The turn-around came just hours after soldiers raided the offices of Radio Globo, seizing equipment, and shut down Channel 36 TV, leaving it broadcasting only a test pattern. Regime spokesman Rene Zepeda said the outlets had been taken off the air in accordance with an emergency decree announced late the previous day that allowed authorities to close news media that “attack peace and public order.”

Supporters of the deposed President Manuel Zelaya vowed to march Sept. 28 in defiance of the decree and carry out what Zelaya called a “final offensive” against the de facto regime on the three-month anniversary of the coup. With the streets flooded with army and police, the marches were effectively cancelled.

But in an extraordinary televised news conference that evening, de facto President Micheletti asked for “forgiveness from the Honduran people” and said he would ask the Supreme Court to lift the decree “as quickly as possible.” The turn-around came after the congressional leadership arrived at the presidential palace to tell Micheletti that Congress would not approve the decree, as Honduran law requires.

“We need to lower the pressure, and all begin to calm down so that we can have a dialogue,” said José Alfredo Saavedra, the president of Congress and a member of the delegation that met with Micheletti.

US response equivocal
The US State Department initially condemned the Micheletti government’s actions. “The freedoms inherent in the suspended rights are inalienable and cannot be limited or restricted without seriously damaging the democratic aspirations of the Honduran people,” said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly in a statement late Sept. 28.

“I think it’s time for the de facto regime to put down the shovel,” added a State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley. “With every action, they keep on making the hole deeper.”

But at the headquarters of the Organization of American States in Washington, as diplomats met in an emergency session to discuss the Micheletti government’s expulsion of four of its diplomats, the Washington envoy saved his strongest condemnation for Zelaya. W. Lewis Amselem, the acting US representative, called Zelaya “irresponsible and foolish” for returning to Honduras before a negotiated settlement was reached. “The president should stop acting as though he were starring in an old movie,” Amselem said.

José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch protested: “Micheletti is the one who is taking away freedoms to an outrageous degree and the United States needs to be focusing all its attention on him.”

Diplomats expelled
The de facto regime Sept. 27 expelled four diplomats from the OAS and threatened to shut down the Brazilian embassy, where the ousted Zelaya, has been holed up for a week. The diplomats were members of an advance team planning a visit of foreign ministers from member countries to try to negotiate an end to the political crisis. The organization had been invited by the de facto government to hold talks here, then disinvited, and invited again before being turned back at the airport. Carlos López Contreras, the foreign minister of the de facto government, said the group had arrived before the government said it could. “They fell on us by surprise,” he said.

A fifth member of the team, John Biehl of Chile, was allowed to stay, López said, because he was a key figure in the Honduran crisis mediation in Costa Rica.

In Washington, OAS secretary general José Miguel Insulza said the expulsion was “incomprehensible, since it was the very same de facto government of Honduras that had agreed to the visit.”

The government also gave Brazil a 10-day deadline to either grant Zelaya political asylum or hand him over for trial. López said that if Brazil does not comply within 10 days, the embassy will lose its diplomatic status. “As a courtesy, we are not planning to invade the place,” he added.

Retored Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from Venezuela: “Brazil will not comply with an ultimatum from a government of coup-mongers.” He has previously said that Zelaya may remain in the embassy for as long as necessary.

The Micheletti government also seemed to be moving toward breaking relations with Spain, Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela. In a Sept. 26 statement, the de facto regime said that ambassadors from those countries were not welcome back unless their governments recognized its representatives. (NYT, CNN, Sept. 29; NYT, AP, Sept. 28)

See our last post on Honduras.

  1. Not Exactly
    It’s true that on Sept. 28 Micheletti promised to restore constitutional rights and even asked for “forgiveness” from the Honduran people. What he didn’t do, however, was fulfill his promises. As of Oct. 2, the state of siege remained in effect, opposition media were still silenced and peaceful protests were still banned.

    Typically, the corporate US media were quick to cover Micheletti’s promise to lift the emergency measures but delayed covering his failure to follow through. The NY Times finally got around to reporting on this in its Oct. 3 edition, with an exceptionally mealymouthed headline:

    A Promise to Restore Civil Liberties Is Slow to Become Reality in Honduras

    This is standard for our media. US allies in a place like Honduras overthrow the president, muzzle the press and repress opposition–and what is the response here? Our rightwing media back the repression, while more respectable outlets like NPR and the Times accomplish about the same thing simply by burying the story.

    David L. Wilson, Weekly News Update on the Americas