Sunday June 28, 2009 Tom Loudon
A National Constitutional Referendum had been scheduled in Honduras for today, sparking tensions between the President and other branches of the government; the Congress and Supreme Court had ruled against the referendum during the past week. Last Wednesday General Romeo Vasquez refused to cooperate in conducting the referendum and President Zelaya fired him. The next day President Zelaya and supporters stormed the base where the ballots were being kept, and removed them. The situation was tense, but it was expected that the referendum would be conducted today without major incident.
However at 5 am this morning elements of the Honduran military forced their way into President Manuel Zelaya’s residence and, after a struggle with the Presidential security forces, kidnapped the President. They took him to a military base in Honduras and then flew with him to Costa Rica. The Honduran military plane which carried him to Costa Rica landed without prior permission.
The military has also rounded up many of Zelaya’s allies within the government; the whereabouts of Zelaya’s cabinet members are unknown. The Foreign Minister of Honduras, Patricia Rodas was kidnapped by the Honduran military despite efforts on the part of Ambassadors from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua who were beaten up as they tried to prevent her abduction. Rodas has been taken to an undisclosed location, presumably a military base. Social movement leaders also fear capture, and many are in hiding. A leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), Fabio Ochoa is in critical condition in the hospital. Five days ago he was shot five times as he left a television station where he had been speaking in favor of the Constitutional referendum.
By 1:30 in the afternoon, an urgent session of the Honduran Congress was convened and a letter of resignation, allegedly signed by Zelaya was read. A resolution was read on the floor accusing Zelaya of “manifest irregular conduct” and “putting the state of law in present danger.” These charges refer to Zelaya’s refusal to obey a Supreme Court ruling against holding the referendum scheduled for today.
Subsequently, the President of Congress, Roberto Micheletti, was sworn in as the new President, to finish the term of President Zelaya. All of the 124 delegates present voted in favor of the new President. The four deputies from the left wing UD party did not participate in the session. Micheletti and Zelaya are both members of the Liberal Party. Micheletti has been in Congress for 29 years and it is widely rumored that he has long aspired to be President. Micheletti lost the primary election to Zelaya for this Presidential term.
This afternoon, Costa Rican President Oscar Aries stated in a press conference that he had received a phone call early this morning, informing him that a plane carrying President Zelaya had landed in Costa Rica without prior permission. Arias condemned the coup d’état against the Honduran President, and called for a return to Constitutional order in Honduras.
During the same press conference, President Zelaya told the story of his kidnapping, of being led away forcefully in his pajamas by 10 hooded and heavily armed soldiers. He explained that his intention as President has been to reduce poverty levels in the country and explained that the referendum scheduled for today was a simple, non binding referendum to poll people about their interest in having a Constitutional Convention. Zelaya accused those who executed the coup of being a mafia wanting to control the country. He said that nearly assassinating a president for merely conducting an opinion poll was an affront to democracy. President Zelaya asked the people of Honduras “to be calm, but defend democracy and your rights."
In Honduras the state run television station has been shut down as well as other media outlets, including Radio Progresso, with little news being broadcast from remaining media outlets. Electric and phone service in the country have been intermittently shut down throughout the day. These measures are being used to hide what may be going on, to assure that the referendum doesn’t happen, and provide insulation from violations of rights by the police and army.
Leaders from all over the world, including President Obama have condemned the coup. Acting Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs, Tom Shannon, called Zelaya assuring him that the United States is not aiding the coup and does not support what is happening in Honduras. The Organization of American States held an emergency meeting this morning and has condemned the coup. The European Union and MERCOSUR also rejected this disruption of Constitutional order and called for a return to power of President Zelaya.
This morning President Ortega, president pro tem of Central American Integration System (SICA), called for an emergency meeting of SICA in response to the crisis in Honduras. By late this afternoon the ALBA countries had called for an emergency session to begin in Managua as soon as leaders can arrive. Secretary General Insulza of the OAS also announced that he would be traveling to Managua to attend the emergency meetings.
Today’s events in Honduras are a stark reminder of the not so distant past in Central America, where military and business elites ran roughshod over democratic processes. However, the strong and immediate regional and international condemnation of today’s coup, including by the United States government, sets a new precedent. Without international acceptance, it is unlikely that this coup will be successful.
Right now the people of Honduras are at risk for a violent internal crackdown; arrest warrants have been issued for cabinet members and mayors who supported the referendum, news outlets are silenced, and a curfew has been issued. Some reports estimate as many as 20,000 people gathered in front of the presidential palace attempting to block the new president from entering. The international community will need to be vigilant and stand with the people of Honduras at this critical juncture.