Under Siege at the Embassy
Honduras’ legitimate president, Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, made a spectacular return after being ousted and driven from the country in a military-led coup at the end of June. But the coup regime, led by Roberto Micheletti, is threatening to attack the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, where Zelaya remains–and police and soldiers are carrying out assaults on pro-democracy demonstrators gathered outside the embassy.
The confrontations mark a new stage in the struggle that has gripped the country since Zelaya’s ouster. Masses of Hondurans have defied the violence of the coup government to stand up in defense of Zelaya and democracy.
Oscar Estrada is a member of the Honduran resistance, and a filmmaker and independent journalist with HablaHonduras. Here, we republish his account of the events on September 25 from the Quotha Web site, a blog run by Adrienne Pine, author of Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras.
AS I write, I am speaking to a person who is inside of the Brazilian Embassy and reports that the building is being attacked with chemicals. They have the impression that the military is preparing to break in. This is the beginning of a new stage of the conflict which seems to get more violent with every passing day.
Yesterday was long, many things happened, and I am still trying to understand fully the consequences of the day. Certain fears around the march of the “whites” [supporters of the coup] in the end did not come to pass, and the morning was uneventful.
I will describe the march of the whites. They came in buses to the Palmira neighborhood, totaling approximately 5,000 people. This time, as always, the army and the police provided security following the threat that a few members of the resistance would boycott the march.
It was the usual mix: women and men from the upper class, who parked their luxurious cars half a block from the starting point; veterans of war and reservists from the army; public employees, mostly city employees; poor men and women who believe wholeheartedly in bourgeois democracy.
They convened in front of the United Nations, clamoring for the world to respect their disrespectful postures. “Dignity,” yelled one elegant woman. “The best Melista [supporter of Zelaya] is a dead Melista,” shouted another, who seemed to be an army official.
Later, they moved on toward the Brazilian Embassy, where the army blocked their access a block away, and they turned toward the American Embassy. The slogans were the same ones used by the resistance, but inverted: “People join us,” “Whoever doesn’t jump is a Melista,” “We will get that mule out of the embassy,” etc. Their signs, contrary to previous marches, looked poor and faded–handmade, without the usual slick graphics.
Something that caught my attention was an Israeli flag that was waving among the hands of the marchers, in thanks for the support provided for Honduran “democracy.” And they are right to thank Israel, since the weapons utilized in the recent protests–the screamer, the chemicals and the training–were provided by the Israeli military.
Since nothing was happening at the rally in support of regime, I decided to move to the protest organized by the resistance at the National Autonomous University.
When we arrived, we saw five army trucks and their respective elements. They were exhausted, reclining on their shields or sitting on their helmets in front of the fast food restaurants; with little desire to become involved in a confrontation with the protesters. Fifty meters up the road, some 1,000 young people, mostly from neighboring barrios, waited impatiently, prepared with stones, water and sticks for the battle that, much to their disappointment and the relief of their repressors, never happened.
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AT ANOTHER level, yesterday was a day of meetings. The first one that circulated in the media was of the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Juan José Pineda, representing Cardinal Rodríguez, with President Zelaya. Later, the four presidential candidates for the oligarchy met with Roberto Micheletti.
I had never been inside the press room at the presidential palace. It’s not very comfortable, and I thought it was interesting that on the television, there was a program about sharks for the journalists’ entertainment.
After several hours of waiting, the candidates arrived and read, badly, a statement that said the same as always: that the candidates support dialogue to resolve the present crisis, that the elections should occur in the best conditions, that the elections should occur out of respect for popular will, that the elections are the way out of the present crisis, that the elections and more elections…
A couple of interesting details from the press conference: Felícito Ávila [the candidate for the Christian Democratic Party], after talking about his openness to dialogue, said that for the security of the Honduran people, it was necessary to finish with the violent actions (in clear reference to the resistance protests).
His tone was threatening and gave the impression that the offer they are making to the resistance was simple: Accept the elections and stop talking about restitution, and stop the protests and marches, or the repression will get stronger.
Carol Cabrera, a journalist known locally for her sharp tongue and little respect for President Zelaya, and who seems now to be working for the national television channel’s news program, made poor use of one of the three questions allowed to the national press to ask if the candidates weren’t worried about their own security when entering the Brazilian Embassy, where they planned to later meet with Zelaya. Apparently, Cabrera hasn’t had a chance to walk near the zone and see that the army has total control of access to the avenues around the embassy.
Finally, in what was the last question by the international press, which seemed to have more intelligent questions as a result of not being controlled by the government, a journalist asked the candidates to clarify their positions. Answer me–yes or no–do you accept the restitution of Zelaya to the presidency?
The microphone jumped around from one candidate to another like a hot potato, until it finally fell into the hands of Elvin Santos [the Liberal Party candidate], who would have liked to have thrown the thing out into the parking lot. Our commitment is to the elections, said Santos, to which the journalists said “yes or no to restitution?” “The elections…,” he repeated, and the mocking laughter began to emanate from the press.
Finally, the candidates answered. Ávila said no, [Innovation and Unity Party candidate Bernard] Martinez shouted that his commitment was to the constitution, and [National Party candidate Porfiro] Lobo, who seemed to be the only one with any lucidity among the candidates, said they would accept the San José accord and if that meant that Zelaya would be reinstated, they would accept it.
The candidates later went to the embassy to meet with Mel. The photos show the hypocritical embraces and cold handshakes. The most alarming one was between Mel and Elvin Santos, who just hours earlier had asked the president to leave the country for everybody’s good, and who, days earlier, accused Mel of conspiring against his life. Today, he was hugging him, and his embrace reminded many of the kiss of Judas.
The candidates in general maintained the same posture as always, except for Santos, who, according to Mel Zelaya’s accusation later on Radio Globo, said inside that he would accept Mel’s restitution as a solution to the crisis, while outside, in front of the television cameras, said he would not accept this. “What game are you playing?” said Mel, “be clear.”
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WHAT GAME are we playing now? The news of the meeting of the UN Security Council and the threat of an intensification of sanctions that could even lead to a multilateral invasion has the governing caste scared. In this sense, the meetings could be to soften the posture of the Security Council and buy time.
On the one hand, they speak of a willingness to dialogue, while in the urban neighborhoods, the military repression continues against resistance members and the general population threatening even to get worse. At this moment, from within the Brazilian Embassy, people are reporting serious health problems from the chemicals being used on the president, his family and the rest of his companions.
Santos recognizes, finally, that half of the Honduran people are with the resistance (I personally believe it’s more, but recognizing that only a few weeks ago, they were saying we were only 10 percent of the population, half is an improvement).
However, he does not recognize the resistance as an actor worthy of dialogue, and demands in a threatening tone that the elections be recognized as the only solution to the crisis. He refuses to talk about restitution. They discuss the San José accord, but it’s as if they were talking about two different accords. They talk about dialogue, but really, they are talking about punishment.
The great fear of the resistance now revolves around those closed-door meetings. Would Mel Zelaya betray us? It is a legitimate question coming from a people who have many times been betrayed by their leaders. That possibility is lessened in the degree that the regime continues to harass him.
First published at the Quotha Web site. Translated from Spanish by Camille Collins Lovell.