Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Honduran coup:

Honduras Quagmire: An Interview with Zelaya
By Tim Padgett Saturday, Sep. 26, 2009


Honduran President Manuel Zelaya believes he put his
adversaries' backs to the wall this week. He may,
however, have painted himself into a corner as well. By
sneaking back into Honduras on Sept. 21 and taking
refuge inside the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, the
exiled leader -- deposed in a June 28 military coup --
hoped to turn up pressure on the de facto government to
negotiate a settlement that would put him back in
office until his term ends in January. But in a
telephone interview with TIME on Friday, Zelaya
complained of noxious tear gas wafting into the
embassy, the scene this week of deadly clashes between
his supporters and Honduran security forces. And he
seemed to acknowledge that he's also turned up pressure
on himself to get Hondurans and the international
community fervently enough behind him to end the
standoff. "We want this to end soon," he says. "But I
may have to summon all my spiritual strength to get
through it."

Those who back Zelaya's restoration, including the
Obama Administration and every other world government,
argue that condoning a military coup would simply set
Latin America's democratic clock back to the
dictator-infested 20th century. Zelaya's opponents
equate his leftist politics with those of Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez -- whom they call a socialist
caudillo -- and they point to Chavez's declaration this
week that he helped Zelaya get to Tegucigalpa as proof
that Zelaya is the Venezuelan's puppet.

Zelaya says he got no help from Chavez and, contrary to
Chavez's statements this week that he advised Zelaya to
take refuge with the Brazilians, tells TIME the
Venezuelan President did not know he was headed to that
embassy. "No one knew," says Zelaya. "I'm a great
friend of [Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da
Silva], who has given me a lot of support, so going
there was a sensible thing to do."

Either way, Zelaya, 57, says he trekked 15 hours by
foot, car and plane (he won't say over which border or
who helped him) before showing up at the Brazilian
mission. It took him in, even though it may have to
host Zelaya, who would be arrested if he stepped
outside, for weeks if not months. Zelaya had tried
unsuccessfully to fly and walk into Honduras in July.
"How could I stay in exile," he asks, "when the coup
has been condemned by every country in the world? I had
to come back to show support for the people who elected
me." Even those who support restoring him to office
wonder if his theatrical return actually hurts his
chances of getting de facto Honduran President Roberto
Micheletti to agree to a settlement. But Zelaya insists
it has turned momentum his way: "The coup leaders are
like anyone who committed a crime and wants to hide it.
You have to keep the spotlight on it."

After Zelaya told the Miami Herald earlier this week
that the Micheletti government was "threatening me with
death" and that "Israeli mercenaries" were trying to
zap him with high-frequency radiation, Brazil
admonished him to soften his rhetoric. But after army
and police riot squads were criticized at home and
abroad this week for their heavy-handed use of clubs,
tear gas and mass arrests, Zelaya still argues, "We
came here for dialogue and they answer us with war.
Since the coup this has become a violently repressive
regime." Micheletti supporters, however, suggest that's
part of Zelaya's strategy. The only way he can win,
they say, is if his demonstrators can prevent the
country's Nov. 29 presidential election from taking
place, or provoke security forces into atrocities that
would force the U.S. or the U.N. to intervene more

Zelaya also hints that he came to Tegucigalpa in part
because he and his leftist allies in the region,
including Chavez, felt the U.S. has been too tepid in
trying to leverage Micheletti. (The Obama
Administration has cut off some $30 million in aid to
Honduras as well as visas, and has threatened not to
recognize the presidential election results if Zelaya
is not returned to office by then.) "President Obama
and Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton have made a
great effort, and I realize they live in a democracy
with limits on their actions," he says. "But I do feel
they could and should do more, like trade sanctions."
When reminded that the U.S. is largely prevented from
cutting off trade with Honduras because of the Central
American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), Zelaya insists,
with some irony, "I am still the legitimate President
of Honduras, and I approve of that action."

The Micheletti camp, which denies Zelaya's ouster was a
coup, says Zelaya was booted out because he defied a
Supreme Court order not to hold a non-binding
referendum on whether to convene a special assembly to
reform Honduras' Constitution. The move, say Zelaya
foes, was a veiled attempt to eliminate presidential
term limits and usher in Chavez-style socialism. But
Zelaya, while arguing the Constitution needs to be
modernized to better help the 70% of the population who
live in poverty, says the referendum "was an opinion
poll, and it never once mentioned extending
presidential term limits."

Despite evidence to the contrary, Zelaya denies that he
defied the Supreme Court. (The matter was being
appealed, he says.) But, like the rest of the
hemisphere, he asks, "Even if I did, why wasn't I
charged and tried in court instead of removed before
dawn by the threat of soldiers' bullets and flown away?
The army chiefs say it was because I was a communist,
that Chavez and Fidel Castro were coming to take over
the country. But in fact I was pursuing social
policies, like raising the minimum wage, that our
economic elite found threatening."

When elected in 2005 with his trademark cowboy hat,
Zelaya was widely considered a centrist -- and even now
he denies that he took the hard left turn as President
that his critics accuse him of, despite his strong
alliance with the more radical, anti-U.S. Chavez. "It's
like when people in your country call President Obama a
socialist just because he stumps for healthcare
reform," Zelaya says. "The presidential term limits
issue was just a false pretext for a coup."

Zelaya is now betting he can bring the coup leaders to
the table to sign the San Jose Accord, the deal
brokered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias with the
backing of the U.S. and the Organization of American
States. It would return Zelaya to the presidency for
the waning months of his term -- but with certain
conditions, such as dropping the Constitutional reform
effort -- while granting an amnesty to the coup leaders.
"We have to do this," says Zelaya. "I don't want to see
Honduras become the first Latin American country of the
21st century to revert to a coup to remove a

Conditions had improved in the embassy for Zelaya and
his entourage since the de facto government restored
the building's electricity and water (which Micheletti
was widely criticized for having turned off after
Zelaya arrived.) Zelaya ended the interview, however,
when he claimed the air inside the embassy had gotten
too thick with tear gas and possibly other irritatnts.
It was a reminder of how murky, and painful, the weeks
ahead in Honduras promise to be.
Time Magazine

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