More than two weeks after the Honduran military blocked his jet at the Tegucigalpa airport, deposed President Manuel Zelaya made a second attempt to return to the country July 24—sparking another confrontation between his supporters and security forces. This time, he approached by land from Nicaragua, in a motorcade that that included journalists, political supporters and the foreign minister of Venezuela, as well as an escort of Nicaraguan police. At the Honduran border post of Las Manos, a thick line of soldiers held back hundreds of Zelaya supporters chanting “Viva Mel!”
Zelaya supporters defy curfew, roadblocks
The 400 or so protesters who made it to the border were those who evaded or pushed past a military checkpoint established some six miles into Honduran territory, where a much larger crowd gathered and demanded their right to pass. Soldiers fired tear gas in an effort to disperse the crowd. Those who made it through in the chaos marched to the border chanting “We are not afraid!”
At a morning press conference in the northern Nicaraguan town of Estelí, Zelaya pledged to “return peacefully to Honduras… We come with a white flag of peace to proclaim the reconciliation of the Honduran people.”
But the Los Angeles Times reports that officials in Washington urged Zelaya to postpone his attempt to return, in order to avoid bloodshed. The LA Times also quoted Honduran National Police Chief Manuel Escoto, who said that Zelaya would be arrested if he stepped on Honduran soil. He said the entire police force had been deployed across the country, with roadblocks and searches being carried out in the border region. Aasked about fears for Zelaya’s life, Escoto said: “We will respect his physical integrity.”
But military spokesman Ramiro Archaga told AFP the armed forces could not guarantee Zelaya’s security if he attempted to return to the country. An ominous official statement from the armed forces said: “We cannot be responsible for the security of persons who foment generalized violence in the country. They are subject to be attacked, including by their own followers with the aim of turning them into martyrs.”
A daytime has been imposed in the border zone, with all residents ordered to stay indoors from noon on Friday the 24th until 6 AM the next morning. The rest of the country remains under a midnight-to-4:30 AM curfew.
In the end, both sides backed off a little. Zelaya did cross the border, slipping under the chain across the road that separates Nicaragua from Honduras, and exulted in the cheers of his supporters gathered there. But he proceeded no further into Honduran territory, and returned to Nicaragua after some 30 minutes. Because he stayed in the no-man’s-land along the border, the authorities did not arrest him. Zelaya said he retreated to avoid being the spark for a violent confrontation. “I am not afraid, but I also am not stupid,” he told reporters before heading back to Nicaraguan territory. (LAT, July 25; LAT, AFP, AP, Comun-Noticias, Honduras, July 24)
Protest actions keep up the pressure
On the 23rd, protesters again blocked roads throughout the country. Beginning at 8 AM, a takeover started at the Durazno police post on the Pan-American Highway just outside Tegucigalpa. Highway takeovers were also reported at the bridge to Puerto Cortes in Choloma; and near the highway exits to Comayagua and La Paz. Marches were held in Progreso, Cofradía, Santa Bárbara, Colon, Islas de la Bahía and other towns.
In Tegucigalpa, occupations were launched of several public institutions, including the Social Security administration, the National Agrarian Institute (INA), the National Electrical Energy Corporation (ENEE), the Francisco Morazán National Pedagogical University and the Telecommunications Corporation (Hondutel). The army was deployed and tanks mobilized at several locations. A confrontation between army troops and protesting workers was reported at the Hondutel building, with several protesters detained. Students also staged occupations at high schools and primary schools throughout the country. (National Front Against the Coup via Honduras Resists, July 23)
Police on strike
In an uncomfortable development for the de facto regime, more than 300 National Police agents at the Barrio Belén station of the Tegucigalpa Metropolitan command, on the northern outskirts of the capital, went on strike July 23 to protest that a wage increase they had been promised was never implemented. Congress president Alfredo Saavedra said the new budget would include salary hikes for the police and military, but there is fear the strike could spread at a time when the security forces are already overstretched. The National Police force is 10,000 strong across the country. (EFE, Comun-Noticias, July 23)
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