Honduras: Zelaya returns, resistance responses vary

Thousands of Hondurans gathered at Tegucigalpa’s Toncontín International Airport on May 28 to greet former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009) as he returned from a 16-month exile. After arriving in a Venezuelan plane proceeding from Managua, Zelaya told the crowd at the airport that he would continue to fight for a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the 1982 Constitution; a similar call for a Constituent Assembly was the pretext for a military coup that removed Zelaya from office on June 28, 2009. “We are going to power with the popular resistance,” he said.

The military flew Zelaya to Costa Rica during the 2009 coup, but he managed to slip back into Honduras that September and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. Zelaya agreed to go into exile in the Dominican Republic in January 2010 when current president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa took office. The return from exile was arranged through an agreement, brokered by Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos Calderón and Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías, which Zelaya and Lobo signed in Cartagena, Colombia on May 22. The Organization of American States (OAS), which suspended Honduras after the 2009 coup, apparently agreed to readmit Honduras as a member once Zelaya was permitted to return. Honduras’ readmission might come as early as June 1,

On May 29 Zelaya was scheduled to meet with five teachers who have been on hunger strike in Tegucigalpa and to give an interview to the left-leaning Radio Globo. After that he was planning to go to his home in Olancho department. (El Universo, Guayaquil, Ecuador, May 29; TeleSur, Venezuela, May 29)

In addition to allowing Zelaya’s return, the accord signed in Cartagena also provides for the return of members of his government and other people who fled the country after the coup; it says the Lobo government will respect human rights and notes the creation of a new Ministry of Justice and Human Rights; it says that the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), a broad coalition of labor and grassroots organizations that formed to resist the coup, has the right to constitute itself as a political party; and it indicates that under a constitutional amendment passed in January this year a popular referendum can be held to call for a Constituent Assembly. (Honduras Culture and Politics blog, May 22)

The FNRP supports Zelaya and has designated him as its general coordinator, but it’s a broad coalition and member groups have different views of the Cartagena agreement. Juan Barahona, an FNRP spokesperson and a campesino leader, told reporters on May 29 that the front was ready to start gathering signatures to get recognition as a political party, with the goal of “taking power.” But an official statement by the FNRP political committee was more discreet, simply referring to the possibility of forming a party as an “advance.” The statement also expressed skepticism about the Lobo government’s willingness to respect human rights.

The Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), the country’s main indigenous coalition, is an important force in the FNRP. Its May 27 statement welcoming Zelaya’s return was implicitly critical of the agreement. Far from accepting Lobo’s good faith, the group pledged to “deepen all our efforts at denouncing the criminal dictatorship led by Porfirio Lobo Sosa, peon of the oligarchy and of North American imperialism.”

“We will not forget,” the statement concluded, “we will not forgive, and WE WILL NOT reconcile!!” (Europa Press, May 19; Honduras Culture and Politics blog, May 24, May 27)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 29.

See our last post on Honduras.