Protests Erupt Following Zelaya’s Return

Daily News Article   —   Posted on September 23, 2009

(by Jose de Cordoba and John Lyons, WSJ.com) — Ousted President Manuel Zelaya holed up in Brazil’s Embassy in Honduras’s capital while soldiers and police dispersed his rock-throwing supporters with tear gas and water cannons.

Tegucigalpa was locked down under a curfew Tuesday, while international airports remained closed. Honduras’s interim government temporarily cut off power, water and telephone contact with the Brazilian Embassy where Mr. Zelaya took refuge Monday after he slipped secretly into Honduras in an attempt to reclaim the presidential seat. ………..

In an interview with a radio station Tuesday, Mr. Zelaya said, “The coup mongers have shown their claws.” Despite previous statements that he had returned to Honduras to seek dialogue, Mr. Zelaya called on his supporters to defy the government. “Citizens should not obey a usurper government,” he said.

As police clashed with demonstrators Tuesday, some gas canisters landed inside the embassy where Mr. Zelaya, his wife and at least 70 supporters have taken refuge. Tegucigalpa police spokesman Jorge Daniel Molina said 49 people had been detained in the disturbances, while 23 — including 10 police officers — had suffered slight injuries. Mr. Molina said the situation was under control, but the curfew, which was expected to be lifted Tuesday evening, was extended an additional 12 hours.

The de facto government said it is willing to talk to Mr. Zelaya if he recognizes the legality of the country’s presidential elections scheduled for November, Reuters reported. “I will talk with anybody anywhere at any time including with former President Manuel Zelaya,” de factor ruler Roberto Micheletti said in a statement read out by Carlos Lopez, the interim govenment’s foreign minister.

Nevertheless, Mr. Lopez said Mr. Micheletti’s offer to talk to Mr. Zelaya “in no way includes (an offer) for Mr. Zelaya to return as president.” Mr. Lopez said the offer to dialogue could not void the Honduran Supreme Court’s issuing of an arrest warrant for Mr. Zelaya “nor the charges he faces in our independent judicial system.”

In Washington, Mr. Zelaya’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, Carlos Sosa, said Mr. Zelaya had returned in an attempt to “force a political solution [to the crisis]. Being in Honduras facilitates things.” ………………..

Late Monday, the Honduran government said that Costa Rican President Oscar Arias would no longer be authorized to serve as a mediator in the crisis. Shortly after Mr. Zelaya’s ouster June 28, Mr. Arias drew up a road map to try to settle the dispute. But the Micheletti government says the main point of the Arias plan — the return of Mr. Zelaya as president — is unacceptable.

Mr. Zelaya, a close ally of Venezuela’s [socialist] President Hugo Chávez, was ordered arrested by Honduras’s Supreme Court after he pushed for a constitutional rewrite that critics said would have allowed him to stay beyond his term. The soldiers sent to arrest him feared his detention would spur bloodshed and instead put him on a plane to exile.

Mr. Zelaya’s return to Honduras appeared to be a setback for the U.S.’s efforts to find a way out of the impasse. Mindful of the U.S.’s history of backing right-wing military coups, the Obama administration has cracked down on the Micheletti government. In doing so, it has angered many Hondurans, traditionally among the U.S.’s closest allies, who feel that the armed forces, following a court order, saved Honduras from a Chávez-inspired blueprint to stay in power.

Among other pressures, the U.S. has suggested it may not recognize the results of elections scheduled for Nov. 29, which the Honduran interim government hopes will provide a way out of the country’s current isolation.

The State Department called on both sides to maintain calm Tuesday and avoid incidents that could provoke violence. …………..

In New York, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called on Mr. Zelaya to refrain from doing anything that would lead the interim government to storm the embassy. Mr. Micheletti said his government doesn’t intend to confront Brazil or enter its embassy, saying Mr. Zelaya could stay in in the embassy for “five to 10 years” if he wants to.

Mr. Micheletti, who rejects claims that Mr. Zelaya’s ouster was a coup, has said Mr. Zelaya should surrender to Honduran authorities to face charges that include treason and abuse of authority. He has asked Brazilian authorities to hand over Mr. Zelaya.

The move appears to undermine Brazil’s ability to negotiate with the Micheletti government, which now views Brazil as partisan, since by default Brazil has become Mr. Zelaya’s chief international sponsor in Honduras.

Given the latest twist, Mr. Shifter, the analyst, said he believed Mr. Zelaya could be in the Brazilian Embassy for a long time. “Maybe he should take up samba lessons,” he said.

Write to Jose de Cordoba at jose.decordoba@wsj.com and John Lyons at john.lyons@wsj.com.

Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at wsj.com.

Questions

1. What actions has the Honduran government taken in response to ousted President Zelaya’s secret return and residence in the Brazilian Embassy?

2. What is ousted President Zelaya calling on his supporters to do?

3. Why is Costa Rican President Arias no longer authorized by the Honduran government to serve as mediator?

4. How did interim President Roberto Micheletti respond to Brazilian President da Silva’s call for Mr. Zelaya to refrain from doing anything that would cause the Honduran military to storm the embassy?

5. Read the excerpt below from a wsj.com op-ed on U.S. involvement in the Honduran situation.
(wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204488304574427403985118892.html)
a) Do you agree with U.S. support for ousted President Zelaya? Explain your answer.
b) Do you agree with the recommendation of the editors “the best solution to avoid violence would be for the U.S. to urge Mr. Zelaya to turn himself over to Honduran authorities for arrest and trial”? Explain your answer.

The U.S. has since come down solidly on the side of – Mr. Zelaya. While it has supported negotiations and called for calm, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both insisted that Honduras must ignore Mr. Zelaya’s transgressions and their own legal processes and restore him as president. The U.S. has gone so far as to cut off aid, threaten Honduran assets in the U.S. and pull visas to enter the U.S. from the independent judiciary. The U.S. has even threatened not to recognize presidential elections previously scheduled for November unless Mr. Zelaya is first brought back to power – even though he couldn’t run again.

Now that he is back, Mr. Zelaya and his allies aren’t calling for calm. His supporters have flocked to Brazil’s embassy with cinder blocks, sticks and Molotov cocktails. “The fatherland, restitution or death,” he shouted to demonstrators outside the embassy. In anticipation of trouble and with concern for public safety, President Roberto Micheletti announced a curfew. But when police tried to enforce the curfew, the zelayistas resisted and there is now a Honduran standoff.

On Monday Mr. Zelaya said he owed his return and political survival to “the support of the international community.” He’s getting support from Nicaragua’s Sandinista President Daniel Ortega, the former guerrilla group FMLN in El Salvador, and especially from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. But let’s face it: None of that support would mean very much without the diplomatic and sanctions muscle of the U.S.

If the U.S. didn’t know about Mr. Zelaya’s stealth return, it ought to feel deceived and drop its support. Now that he’s back in Honduras, the best solution to avoid violence would be for the U.S. to urge Mr. Zelaya to turn himself over to Honduran authorities for arrest and trial.


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Background

ON HONDURAS’ OUSTED PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA:

Since his election in 2006, President Zelaya has moved to the left, and aligned himself with the nine-nation Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), a bloc led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

In an echo of earlier maneuvering by Chavez and others, Zelaya sought to amend the constitution to extend presidential term limits. He defied both the Supreme Court and the Honduran legislature in pressing for a referendum on the subject.

When the head of the army refused to help Mr. Zelaya carry out the illegal voting exercise, Zelaya fired him – and then refused a Supreme Court order to reinstate him.

The Supreme Court ordered the army to remove the president “to defend the rule of law,” and the National Assembly then appointed Roberto Micheletti [who was president of the Congress] as a new acting president to serve until January 2010, when Zelaya’s term was to have ended. [elections for the new president will be held November 29, 2009]

“Zelaya pursued his ambition with total disregard of his country’s constitution,” observed Kevin Casas-Zamora, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, noting that the president’s plans had been opposed by the Supreme Court, lawmakers, business, the media, the country’s electoral tribunal and nearly all political parties, including his own. (from cnsnews.com/news/print/50455.)

According to the Associated Press, “The fiercest criticism [against the Honduran government’s ouster of Zelaya] has come from Hugo Chavez, the socialist president of Venezuela. [Chavez] has called for Hondurans to rise up against the ‘gorilla government’ and vowed to do everything possible to overthrow it and restore his leftist ally, Zelaya.”

Resources

For photos from Honduras, go to the Wall Street Journal “Slideshow” accompanying the article.

Read responses (mostly from Hondurans) to Greta’s interview with President Micheletti at gretawire.blogs.foxnews.com/2009/09/21/emails-honduras. (see video in “Background” above)

For background information on Honduras, go to the CIA World FactBook website.

Go to worldatlas.com for a map of Honduras.