Ousted President Manuel Zelaya attempted to return to Honduras July 5, but was denied permission to land the jet in Tegucigalpa, where military vehicles were arrayed on the runway. Soldiers lined barricades surrounding the airport, and police fired warning shots and tear gas at several thousand protesters who had vowed to protect the ousted president with a human cordon. Organizers said several people were wounded in the clashes.
The small jet was transporting Zelaya and UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto from Washington. Separately, several Latin American allies, including presidents Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, flew to neighboring El Salvador to monitor Zelaya’s attempted return.
As his plane entered Honduran airspace, Zelaya issued a statement to the military via TeleSur: “I am the general commander of the Armed Forces, elected by the peoples, and I order the High Command of the Armed Forces to comply with this order to open the airport.” Nonetheless, unable to land in Honduras, Zelaya’s plane proceeded to Nicaragua.
At a news conference, de facto President Roberto Micheletti justified the barring of Zelaya, saying his return could spark unrest. “I don’t want a single drop of blood to be spilled in Honduras,” Micheletti said. He said he is open to “good faith” talks with the OAS, but reiterated his government was legitimate and would not be moved. “We are going to remain here until the country becomes calm,” he said.
AFP puts the number of pro-Zelaya demonstrators at the airport at 30,000, and quotes a police source saying at least two were killed when the army fired on the protesters. From Managua, Zelaya protested that “a peaceful march was answered with bullets… This is a criminal act… The criminals cannot be left to run the country.”
Dramatic measures were evidently taken to prevent protesters who came from across Honduras from reaching the airport. CNN July 3 posted a cellphone video from the town of Limones, some 100 kilometers northeast of the capital, showing soldiers firing on a bus full of Zelaya supporters, blowing the air out of the tires. “I have not been informed of this incident. I cannot confirm or deny it,” army spokesman Col. Ramiro Archaga told CNN by phone. The military’s job is to protect the nation’s borders, Archaga said, “not guaranteeing internal security.” (The Guardian, July 6; AFP, ACN, CNN, July 5; CNN, July 3)
Top Honduran military lawyer: We broke the law
In a turnaround, the Honduran army’s top lawyer in an interview with the Miami Herald admitted that the military broke the law by removing Zelaya—but insisted the move was necessary. Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza said: “We know there was a crime there. In the moment that we took him out of the country, in the way that he was taken out, there is a crime. Because of the circumstances of the moment this crime occurred, there is going to be a justification and cause for acquittal that will protect us.”
Bayardo Inestroza offered this explanation for why Zelaya could not be legally prosecuted in Honduras: “What was more beneficial, remove this gentleman from Honduras or present him to prosecutors and have a mob assault and burn and destroy and for us to have to shoot? If we had left him here, right now we would be burying a pile of people.”
He proudly invoked the military repression that gripped Honduras in the 1980s: “We fought the subversive movements here and we were the only country that did not have a fratricidal war like the others. It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That’s impossible. I personally would have retired, because my thinking, my principles, would not have allowed me to participate in that.”
And if Zelaya does comes back? “I will resign and leave the country, and so would most of the military. They would come after us and the other political leaders who were involved in this.” (Miami Herald, July 3)
Annoyingly, most of the news sources cited above (even the supposedly left-wing Guardian)m refer to Micheletti as the “interim” president, conferring an unwarranted legitimacy on his regime.