According to the Venezuela-based TeleSUR television network, thousands of Hondurans took to the streets of Tegucigalpa the morning of June 28 to demonstrate against the military’s removal of President José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales several hours earlier in a dispute over a non-binding referendum the president was planning to hold that day. TeleSUR showed footage of protesters at the Presidential Palace and other locations arguing with heavily armed soldiers, sometimes blocking their way or otherwise defying them. Ignoring a curfew imposed by the de facto government, the protesters said they would remain in the streets until Zelaya returns to office. (TeleSUR, June 28)
According to a report from the Italian wire service ANSA, soldiers used tear gas in an effort to disperse the hundreds of protesters at the Presidential Palace. Soldiers reportedly threatened journalists, pointing rifles at them. Meanwhile, tanks were seen patrolling the streets while Air Force planes flew overhead. (ANSA, June 28)
Electricity was cut in parts of Tegucigalpa, and most TV stations carried cartoons and soccer matches—while advising people to stay home. Churches cancelled Sunday services. The Honduran daily La Tribuna, which opposed the referendum, reported “relative calm” in the capital in one of its internet postings on June 28; the paper’s very next posting said that two of its staff, a reporter and a photographer, had been assaulted by demonstrators angry at the paper’s publisher, former president Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé (1998-2002). (La Tribuna, June 28) Many Hondurans countered the news blackout by passing information to each other and to international sources through Twitter and other internet social networks. (Jueventud Rebelde, Cuba, June 28)
In the northwestern city of San Pedro Sula, the second largest Honduran city, students from the University Reform Front (FRU) and others tried to proceed with the referendum, but soldiers stopped them; several students were arrested, and their parents were unable to learn where they were taken. There were demonstrations in the third largest city, the northern port of La Ceiba, where protesters scuffled with soldiers who were seizing election materials. (Diario Tiempo, Honduras, June 28)
The June 28 referendum was to determine whether the Nov. 29 elections for president, legislators and mayors should also include a “fourth ballot box” to establish a Constituent Assembly empowered to reform the Constitution. Opponents charge that Zelaya—elected in November 2005 as the candidate of the centrist Liberal Party of Honduras (PLH)—was just seeking to end the Constitution’s provision that presidents can only serve one four-year term. But unions and other social movements that have demonstrated against policies of Zelaya’s government in the past strongly supported the president’s call for a Constituent Assembly.
On June 10 hundreds of unionists, students, teachers and indigenous people had marched to the Congress building in Tegucigalpa calling for the legislators to back the referendum. “The people, aware, defend the Constituent [Assembly],” they chanted. The march included members of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), which blocked roads in a 12-day mobilization in February against government policies on forest exploitation. (Diario Tiempo, June 11)
Also strongly supporting the referendum was the Front of Teachers Organizations (FOM); the country’s 48,000 teachers carried out a series of militant actions in January and February to demand back pay that they said the government owed them. On June 26 FOM director Eulogio Chávez called on teachers to help organize the referendum in their schools. (La Tribuna, June 27) On June 28 Chávez joined the demonstrators outside the Presidential Palace to protest the coup; he announced a general strike to start on June 29 and to continue until Zelaya had returned. (El Financiero, Mexico, June 28, some from Notimex)
The Spanish-based website Rebelión reported that there were arrest orders out for leaders of COPINH and the Popular Bloc Coordinating Committee following the coup. These leaders included Marvin Ponce, Andrés Pabón, César Hans and Rafael Alegría, who is on the coordinating committee of the international campesino organization Vía Campesina (“Campesino Way”). Juan Barahona, Carlos Humberto Reyes, Cuter Castillo, Berta Cáceres and Salvador Súñiga were also reportedly being sought, although warrants hadn’t been issued for them. (Rebelión, June 28)
The National Police said that César Ham Peña, a legislative deputy for the leftist Democratic Unification of Honduras, was killed the morning of June 28 when a squad came to arrest him at his home. Police sources claimed that he had confronted the squad with a pistol and had to be killed. Ham was one of the main organizers of the referendum. (El Financiero, June 28, some from Notimex; NarcoNews, June 28)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 28
See our last post on Honduras.