Honduras: de facto regime intransigent; US stance equivocal

Jos√© Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), gave a grim assessment July 2 of diplomatic efforts to restore the ousted president of Honduras, warning that it would be “very hard” to head off a more severe break with the nation and that he is prepared to call for sanctions. At a news conference in Panama, the ousted Manuel Zelaya insisted that he remains the legitimate president of Honduras, and called on his supporters to keep up their protests. “We may not have the institutions, but the street is ours,” he said. “That’s the people’s place.” He added that a “dictatorship has been established” in Honduras.

In Honduras, de facto President Roberto Micheletti remained intransigent. In a veiled reference to Venezuela’s Hugo Ch√°vez, he said of Zelaya: “He cannot come back legally as the president of this country‚ÄĒunless a president of a Latin American country puts him there forcibly by arms.”

“We are open to dialogue,” Micheletti told a group of foreign journalists‚ÄĒbut added in the next breath that the courts would insist on Zelaya’s arrest if he returned. Zelaya had initially vowed to go back to Honduras on July 2, but agreed to postpone his return at least 72 hours after the OAS set a deadline for his reinstatement.

Protests continue; media restrictions in place
More protests were reported in Honduras July 2 in spite of the state of emergency, with pro- and anti-Zelaya demonstrators clashing in Tegucigalpa. Local journalists attempting to cover the street clashes claimed harassment. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, citing the army’s brief detention of seven international journalists this week, called on the authorities to allow all media “to report freely and without fear of reprisal.”

At a press conference, Micheletti said media restrictions were put in place to maintain public order because some organizations were urging Zelaya’s backers “to go and do what they did, breaking windows, hitting people, assaulting.” But Esdras Amado L√≥pez, the owner of Channel 36 TV, called the government hypocritical: “This is against the Constitution that the new government says it is protecting. I have a license. I have a right to inform the people. This is an unconstitutional order.”

In defense of the state of emergency that remains in place, Micheletti said, “It’s for the tranquility of the country.”

US stance still equivocal
The Obama administration has strongly opposed Zelaya’s removal, and the ousted president’s wife and son are now taking refuge at the US ambassador’s residence in Tegucigalpa. But the US, which provides millions of dollars in aid to Honduras annually, is the only country in the hemisphere that has not withdrawn its ambassador from Honduras.

The US is also isolated in its refusal to officially designate Zelaya’s removal as a “coup.” The following exchange with State Department spokesman Ian Kelly took place in a in July 1 press briefing in Washington:

Reporter: Ian, any move to withdraw the U.S. ambassador?

Kelly: I’m not aware of any move to withdraw the U.S. ambassador right now.

Reporter: And is the United States still saying that the ousted president should return in two and a half, three days, whatever it is?

Kelly: We subscribe to the statement that was issued last night at the General Assembly of the OAS, that we believe that the democratically elected president should be restored to power.

Reporter: Why isn’t the ambassador being withdrawn, the U.S. ambassador?

Kelly: I just ‚Äď like I say, I don‚Äôt have any information for you on that.

The US military contingent in Honduras has limited its contact with the Honduran armed forces as Washington evaluates the situation, the Pentagon announced July 2. Roughly 600 US forces are stationed at Honduras’ Soto Cano Air Base, 50 miles northwest of Tegucigalpa. “Our activities have largely been postponed with the Honduran military forces while our government has a chance to evaluate the situation and determine the way ahead,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.

But he added that US forces in Joint Task Force Bravo will continue “sustainment activities” such as flight operations from Soto Cano in support of the hospital ship USNS Comfort, now operating in Nicaraguan waters. (NYT, NYT, PBS NewsHour, July 2; US State Department Daily Press Briefing, American Forces Press Service, July 1)

US senator defends coup
South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint defended the ouster of Zelaya, saying the rule of law is working in Honduras. The conservative Republican called Zelaya “a Ch√°vez-style dictator” who had flouted the authority of the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court. He said President Obama’s call to reinstate Zelaya is “a slap in the face to the people of the Honduras.” (AP, July 2)

“Not a coup”
Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza Membre√Īo, the chief lawyer for the Honduran armed forces, insisted to the New York Times July 1 that Zelaya’s removal was not a coup. “A coup is a political move,” he told reporter Marc Lacey in Tegucigalpa. “It requires the armed forces to assume power over the country, which didn‚Äôt happen, and it has to break the rule of law, which didn’t happen either.”

Describing the mechanics of Zelaya’s removal from the country June 28, Inestroza said: “It was a clean operation. It was a fast operation. It was over in minutes, and there were no injuries, no deaths. We said, ‘Sir, we have a judicial order to detain you.’ We did it with respect.”

This contrasts vividly with Zelaya’s account before the UN General Assembly Jun 30, where he described soldiers shooting the hinges off the door of his bedroom and then bursting into the room. He related: “And with rifles and bayonets pointing at my head and chest, they told me, ‘Drop that cell phone or we will shoot, this is a military order! Drop that cell phone, drop it or we will shoot you!” Zelaya said the soldiers took him, still in his night clothes, to the airport, bundled him onto a plane and “dumped” him on the tarmac in San Jos√©, Costa Rica.

Zelaya told reporters July 1 that whatever missteps he might have made did not justify his ouster by military intervention. “If I do something illegal, take me to court and give me the right to a defense,” he said. “But do not use the army to kidnap the president and carry him violently out of the country.” (NYT, July 2; ATC, June 30)

See our last post on the resistance in Honduras.

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  1. Communique from the Honduran “Government in Resistance”
    Via Prensa Rural, Bogot√°, June 29:

    COMUNICADO DEL GABINETE DEL GOBIERNO DE HONDURAS EN LA RESISTENCIA

    Considerando:

    Que el domingo 28 de junio, a tempranas horas de la ma√Īana, el Presidente Constitucional de la Rep√ļblica Jos√© Manuel Zelaya Rosales, fue secuestrado por un grupo de militares, traslad√°ndolo a Costa Rica, desde donde √©l mismo denunci√≥ en conferencia de prensa a nivel internacional, el golpe de Estado por parte de las Fuerzas Armadas y el Congreso Nacional.

    Considerando:

    Que el Congreso Nacional de la Rep√ļblica, hizo aparecer una renuncia con una firma falsificada, desmentida por el propio Presidente Zelaya y su Gabinete.

    Considerando:

    Que, con argumentos fuera de la realidad, procedieron a aceptar la supuesta renuncia del Presidente y de su Gabinete de Gobierno, para luego nombrar de manera ilegal e inconstitucional a Roberto Micheletti Bain, quien prestó juramento como Presidente de Facto.

    Considerando:

    Que la familia del Presidente José Manuel Zelaya Rosales y los miembros de su gabinete están siendo perseguidos, sin el goce de ninguna garantía legal.

    Considerando:

    Que el Presidente de facto y su ileg√≠timo gobierno junto a diputados y grupos militares han decretado un toque de queda de 9:00 de la noche a 6:00 de la ma√Īana, violentando los derechos garantizados en nuestra Carta Magna.

    Considerando:

    La imposibilidad que tiene en estos momentos el pueblo hondure√Īo para recibir informaci√≥n objetiva y el cierre de medios de comunicaci√≥n independientes, en otro flagrante y consumado atentado a la libertad de expresi√≥n.

    Considerando:

    Que todos los pa√≠ses miembros de la Comunidad Internacional, incluida la Uni√≥n Europea, la OEA, los pa√≠ses del Cono Sur, los miembros del ALBA, el sistema de integraci√≥n Centro americana (SICA), y la ONU, condenan el golpe de estado militar, desconociendo totalmente al gobierno usurpador e ilegal, y que exigen la restituci√≥n inmediata e incondicional del √ļnico Presidente Constitucional de la Rep√ļblica, Jos√© Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

    LOS MIEMBROS DEL GABINETE DE GOBIERNO DEL PRESIDENTE ZELAYA AL PUEBLO Y
    A LA COMUNIDAD INTERNACIONAL DECLARAN:

    1. Que el √ļnico gobierno legalmente constituido y electo por el pueblo es el del ciudadano Jos√© Manuel Zelaya Rosales,

    2. Que estamos organizados, junto a miembros de la sociedad civil, obreros, trabajadores, partidos políticos y sociedad en general en una resistencia pacífica, desconociendo la instalación del Gobierno y Presidente de Facto que pretenden dar un zarpazo a la democracia de nuestro país

    3. Que el pueblo hondure√Īo ha reaccionado valiente pero pac√≠ficamente en contra de este golpe a la democracia

    4. Que reiteramos que estamos en pie a la par de nuestro Presidente, atentos para defender la democracia y estamos seguros de que gracias al contundente apoyo del noble pueblo hondure√Īos y de la comunidad internacional restableceremos el Estado de Derecho y se reinstalar√° el Gobierno de Jos√© Manuel Zelaya Rosales electo por el pueblo, para que cumpla su periodo constitucional y contin√ļe su incansable labor en favor del pueblo hondure√Īo.

    Exhortamos a todo el pueblo hondure√Īo para que continuemos defendiendo pac√≠ficamente la democracia para que en las pr√≥ximas horas restablezcamos el orden y la paz en nuestra amada Honduras.

    Tegucigalpa MDC 29 de junio del 2009.

    Gabinete del Gobierno de Honduras en la Resistencia

    ENRIQUE FLORES LANZA, MINISTRO DE LA PRESIDENCIA
    EDUARDO ENRIQUE REINA, SECRETARIO PRIVADO
    REBECA SANTOS, SECRETARIA DE FINANZAS
    FREDIS CERRATO, SECRETARIO DE INDUSTRIA Y COMERCIO
    CESAR SALGADO, MINISTRO DEL FHIS
    RICCI MONCADA, MINISTRA DE ENERGIA
    EDWIN ARAQUE, PRESIDENTE BANCO CENTRAL DE HONDURAS
    JACOBO LAGOS, MINISTRO DE STAFF PRESIDENCIAL
    MARCIO SIERRA, VICEMINISTRO DE LA PRESIDENCIA
    BEATRIZ VALLE, MINISTRA DE RREE POR LEY
    CARLOS ORBIN MONTOYA, MINISTRO ASESOR
    RODOLFO PASTOR FASQUELLE, MINISTRO DE CULTURA, ARTES Y DEPORTES
    MILTON JIMENEZ PUERTO, PRESIDENTE COMISION NAC. BANCA Y SEGUROS RICARDO
    ARIAS, VICEMINISTRO DE LA PRESIDENCIA
    JORGE MENDEZ , GERENTE DE SANAA
    FRANCISCO FUNES, GERENTE DEL INA
    MARCO VELASQUEZ, VICEMINISTRO DE TRANSPORTE Y VIVIENDA
    MARCO TULIO CARTAGENA, SUBGERENTE DEL INA
    ADA SERRANO, DIRECTORA DEL PANI
    JOSE MEDINA, MINISTRO DE LAS ETNIAS
    ANGEL MURILLO SELVA, MINISTRO DE AGRICULTURA Y GANADERIA
    MAYRA MEJIA, MINISTRA DE TRABAJO Y SEGURIDAD SOCIAL
    MARLON BREVE, MINISTRO DE EDUCACION
    MARCO BURGOS, MINISTRO DE COMISI√ďN PERMANENTE DE EMERGENCIAS
    KAREN ZELAYA, MINISTRA DE COOPERACION
    DORIS GARCIA, MINISTRA DEL INSTITUTO NACIONAL DE LA MUJER
    JORGE ALBERTO ROSA, GERENTE HONDUTEL
    SUYAPA PRUDOT, MINISTRA DEL INSTITUTO HONDURE√ĎO PARA LA NI√ĎEZ Y LA FAMILIA