By Democracy Now · 24 Sep 2009
Democracy Now interviews Andres Conteris of Program on the Americas, director for Nonviolence International and Mark Weisbrot president of Just Foreign Policy about the return of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to Honduras.
Zelaya was unlawfully removed from office by a military coup three months ago and returned to Honduras this week where he is being given refuge in the Brazillian Embassy.
The coup government remains in power, despite lacking the support of a large majority of Hondurans and appears to be buttressed by the ambivalence of the United States, which has not strongly rejected the military overthrow of the Honduran President. This is in stark contrast to the Organization of American States, the United Nations and many other countries internationally.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has made a dramatic return to his country nearly three months after the military coup that forced him into exile. On Monday, Zelaya reappeared in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, taking refuge in the Brazilian embassy. Speaking from the embassy’s roof, Zelaya said he had arrived after a lengthy trip, traveling sometimes by foot to avoid detection.
PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] I had to travel for fifteen hours, sometimes walking, other times marching in different areas in the middle of the night, because I wanted to celebrate the country’s independence day with the Honduran people. Those who believe that governing was something easy have made a mistake. To govern is something serious. Governing requires talent, dedication and love for the people.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Zelaya wouldn’t provide specifics, but it’s unlikely he could have returned without help from elements of the Honduran military or intelligence services. That prospect could signify a further setback for the Honduran coup regime, which has relied on military support to defy internal unrest and global isolation.
The head of the coup regime, Roberto Micheletti, initially dismissed reports of Zelaya’s return as, quote, “media terrorism.” But as thousands of Zelaya supporters descended on the Brazilian embassy, Micheletti imposed a national curfew and took to the airwaves. Flanked by his cabinet and top military leaders, Micheletti called on Brazil to hand over Zelaya for arrest.
ROBERTO MICHELETTI: [translated] It is not clear why Mr. Zelaya has returned to Honduras at this time. Only he knows this. But I cannot reach another conclusion other than he is here to continue hampering the celebrations of our elections next November 29th, as he has done so far, as well as his followers, for a few weeks now.
I made a call to the government of Brazil so that they respect the judicial order against Mr. Zelaya and hand him over to the authorities of Honduras. The state of Honduras is committed to respecting the rights of Mr. Zelaya to the mentioned process. The eyes of the world are placed on Brazil and also on Honduras. Let’s not allow passions of a few stain the reputation and image of our people.
AMY GOODMAN: Zelaya’s supporters are reportedly planning to march on the palace later today. Here in the US, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged both sides to engage in dialogue.
HILLARY CLINTON: It’s imperative that dialogue begin, that there be a channel of communication between President Zelaya and the de facto regime in Honduras. And it’s also imperative that the return of President Zelaya does not lead to any conflict or violence, but instead that everyone act in a peaceful way to try to find some common ground. Once again, the Costa Ricans will be using their good offices to try to encourage that to occur.
AMY GOODMAN: Clinton was speaking on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, where she met with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. After the meeting, Arias said he’d be willing to travel to Honduras to resume his efforts at brokering a negotiated solution.
PRESIDENT OSCAR ARIAS: I think this is the best—the best opportunity, the best time, now that Zelaya is back in his country, for the two parties to sign the San José accord. It’s all we have on the table. There is no B plan. And when we wrote this San José accord, it was after listening to everybody. We took suggestions from each of the parties.
I would be willing to go, but if both sides—if both parties ask me to—to go to Tegucigalpa, I certainly would be more than pleased to go and see what I can do.
AMY GOODMAN: The Nobel Peace laureate, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.
We now go directly to the Brazilian embassy, inside, in Tegucigalpa to Andres Conteris, who works with us at Democracy Now! and on the Program on the Americas director for Nonviolence International.
We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Andres. What’s happening right now?
ANDRES CONTERIS: Amy, good to talk with you.
About forty minutes ago, there was a very violent removal by the military and police of over 500 protesters who were outside the embassy dancing and rejoicing and celebrating all night. I was able to see them in their incredible, incredible spirit of jubilation as they expressed that since the news arrived that President Zelaya was returning to the country. Then, about forty minutes ago, there was a massive, massive tear gas attack and a violent removal of all of the over 500 people in front of the embassy.
I’m inside the embassy with about 150 people who are inside. There was no direct attack against the embassy itself, but the tear gas did enter, and it affected every single one of us inside the embassy. I’m now in the room where the President slept, and I’m with the First Lady nearby. Everyone, everyone was affected by this tear gas attack. But fortunately, there are no permanent injuries. We’re not aware of any injuries, but I’m sure there were many of those who were protesting and celebrating outside the embassy.
AMY GOODMAN: Andres, can you tell us how did President Zelaya return to Honduras?
ANDRES CONTERIS: Reports are, Amy—and he was asked directly, and he answered in a very general way, but the reports are that he flew from Nicaragua to El Salvador and then reached the border there at a place called El Amatillo and there entered into the trunk of a car and crossed about fifty—I’m sorry, about twenty police barricades and was never detected. He drove straight to—his driver took him straight to the Brazilian embassy.
Initial reports were that the President was in Honduras and that he was at the United Nations headquarters. So the initial rally of celebration went there to the United Nations. There were thousands and thousands of people there rejoicing. And then the word came that he was at the Brazilian embassy. And then we transferred that celebration here.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And Andres, why did the Brazilians take him in, have him have refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa?
ANDRES CONTERIS: It’s very clear that Brazil has been a very strong advocate of President Zelaya during this entire crisis. And because of the power and the symbolism of the strength of South America and Brazil being the strongest and largest of those countries, it’s clear that I think President Zelaya decided that this was the place that it was best to come to. And when he arrived, they of course opened the doors. The Brazilian authorities report that they did not know ahead of time that he was coming here, but he was welcomed when he came. And his family was reunited here in the embassy for the first time after eighty-six days of being separated.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And the President—the head of the coup regime, Roberto Micheletti, has continued his call for Zelaya’s arrest. What does President Zelaya say right now about that?
ANDRES CONTERIS: President Zelaya speaks very positively, in a very reconciling mode. He does not even take seriously what coup regime leader Micheletti is saying. Micheletti is saying that there’s a jail space waiting for President Zelaya. However, President Zelaya is really focusing on the way to truly resolve this crisis by seeking mediation.
Today, it’s hopefully expected that Mr. Insulza, the head of the OAS, will arrive. However, they have closed the airports, and it’s not certain if they will allow the plane to land with Mr. Insulza from the OAS.
AMY GOODMAN: Andres Conteris is speaking to us from inside the embassy in Tegucigalpa, the Brazilian embassy. Roberto Micheletti says that he wants Brazil to hand over the ousted president. Andres, is there a response from Zelaya on that request?
ANDRES CONTERIS: In terms of that request, no, there was no direct response. It’s really treating this coup regime as a nonentity, so much as possible, and not recognizing their authority. Many who were in the streets heard about the curfew that was imposed at 4:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon and held—and was enforced all night, and they did not respond to it, because they believe that President Zelaya is the one president, and he is the only one who can give an order for a curfew. And so, they continued to celebrate in the streets.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Andres is joining us from inside the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. We’re also joined from Washington, DC by Mark Weisbrot. He’s co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy. He’s written extensively on the Honduran crisis and is a longtime analyst of Latin American affairs.
Mark, could you explain the significance of Zelaya’s return, particularly coming on the eve of the United Nations General Assembly?
MARK WEISBROT: Yes. Well, I think it will make a big difference. You know, there’s been a big gap from the beginning, since the coup on June 28th. There’s been a big gap between the United States and the rest of the world on this situation. You know, the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, they all said right away that they wanted an immediate and unconditional return of the elected president, Zelaya. And the United States has never really said that. In fact, the Arias accords put all kinds of conditions on his return, including incorporating the people who led the coup into his government and moving the elections forward. And in fact, as Andres mentioned, you know, Brazil has been a strong supporter of Zelaya, and the foreign minister of Brazil said a couple months ago—he complained to Hillary Clinton that these conditions were placed in the Arias agreement, that, you know, this was not what the Organization of American States wanted or the United Nations or anyone else. So he said this publicly. And so, there’s always been this big gap, but the administration has been able to paper it over, because there hasn’t been much attention on Honduras.
And so, now, with the General Assembly and the attention focused by Zelaya’s dramatic return, Obama is going to have to choose sides more than they have in the past. They’ve been very—this administration has been very ambivalent. They’ve gone back and forth, you know, between saying that, you know, he should be restored and then saying really almost the opposite. And on August 4th, they sent a letter, for example, to President Lugar [Senator Lugar], where they backed off quite a bit from supporting Zelaya.
And, you know, Zelaya has been here six times since he was overthrown, here in Washington, and President Obama has not met with him once, even though he’s gotten requests from people who are very close friends and allies of his and Democratic members of Congress.
And so, these are the kind of signals, mixed signals, that this government has sent to the leaders of the coup, and that has strengthened their resolve all the way along. And they’re very stubborn right now, for example. It’s going to take a lot more pressure to get them out of there, a lot more, both international and domestic, from within the United States. There’s going to have to be a lot more pressure on the Obama administration to actually force them to leave.
AMY GOODMAN: And exactly what could the Obama administration do if it was committed to preserving the democratically elected leader Zelaya? What is the relationship the US has with Honduras?
MARK WEISBROT: Oh, there’s quite a bit more they could do. First of all, on August 11th, sixteen members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and asking them to freeze the assets of the coup leaders, and even the government—they can also freeze their assets. You know, when Aristide, President Aristide of Haiti, was overthrown the first time, George Bush, the first, actually froze some of the assets of the dictatorship and gave it to the government in exile, to President Aristide. And this was, you know, a Republican president who actually—that government actually supported the—or was involved in the coup initially. And so, this is—so this is a minimum they could do.
They could—you know, they could put all kinds of pressure that they haven’t put. And again, you see our Secretary of State, she’s trying to say, well, both sides should do this, both sides—she even said last night that she supported the curfew that this government has put, you know, on people to prevent them from peacefully assembling. And so, this is the kind of thing.
And, you know, there has not been one word from this administration about the human—the massive human rights violations committed by this dictatorship, the thousands of arbitrary arrests and detentions, the beatings. People have been shot and actually killed at demonstrations. These human rights abuses have been denounced by Human Rights Watch, by Amnesty International, by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights of the Organization of American States, by Honduran human rights groups, by Europe. And nothing—nothing—has come out of this administration. I think that really says a lot. That tells you how much this government has not wanted to undermine the dictatorship in Honduras. That’s what’s going to have to change. And I think there’s going to be more international pressure, and hopefully domestic pressure, as well, to change that.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Weisbrot, to the surprise of the coup regime, Zelaya’s return to Honduras, he’s now in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. But if he were in New York and wanted to speak, address the UN General Assembly, what would happen at the United Nations? Who would they recognize?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, they would recognize him, and he would get enormous support. And that was, I’m sure, his other plan: if he hadn’t gone back to Honduras, he would have spoken there. But this, I think, is much more powerful. I mean, that would have gotten maybe, you know, a few lines here and there in the news. This now forces it to the world attention. You’re going to see a lot of support in the United Nations and from various heads of state for Zelaya, a lot more pressure—and here in Congress, too, by the way.
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