A Telenovela Nightmare
A true Central American political telenovela unfolded in the weeks following the June 28 coup d’état. President Mel Zelaya attended meetings at OAS, UN, ALBA and gained international support and commiseration from international community.
Honduras united the international community more then global warming did: everyone agreed that the ousting of president Zelaya was an unlawful coup. Honduran authorities in power asked for an Interpol warrant which for president Zelaya’s arrest. De facto president Micheletti announced he would arrest President Zelaya if he returned to the country, then had an about turn. When president Zelaya announced and attempted to return to Honduras on July 5, his plane was refused landing permits, and trucks were driven on the runway and Toncontin International airport was closed for 48 hours.
Protester were shot dead by military and police guarding the Tegucigalpa airstrip from thousands of pro-Zelaya demonstrators who wanted to see their president back. As this was taking place the de facto president Micheletti warned of “Nicaraguan troops maneuvering at Honduran border.”
Honduran army raided the offices of radio and TV stations loyal to Zelaya, shutting down their signals. Honduran daily ‘El Tiempo’ had been prohibited to broadcast information about the coup and Canal 11 and Channel 8 were shutdown immediately following the coup. On Roatan, Island Cable, a cable provider to the majority pro Zelaya Latino community of Los Fuertes has suspended CNN en Español channel for over 30 hours of signal directly after the coup. Honduran media largely “slanted coverage” to favor Micheletti government, said Carlos Lauría of the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists.
In Honduras, the country’s new leaders, the security forces and the clergy argued that Zelaya’s removal had legal justification the rest of the world does not understand. Micheletti government investigations produced evidence of Zelaya’s government corruption, indiscriminate spending, even Zelaya’s ties to drug smuggling with “Venezuelan help.” Honduras’ Catholic Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga has been involved in lobbying for implicating Zelaya in drug trafficking.
As Zelaya quickly lost ability to govern inside Honduras if he returned, the Micheletti government never gained an ability tu govern on an international stage. On July 7, US suspended Military aid to Honduras ($16.5 million), and several development aid projects ($1.9 million). Another $180 million in US aid is at stake, and threat of sanctions loom in the background.
The European Union has suspended all its aid to the country ($80 million), including a desalinization plant project on Roatan. The World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank have frozen credit lines. The Cuban government announced a withdrawal of 143 professionals working in the country.
The 34-member Organization of American States (OAS) in a 30-0 vote, decided to suspend Honduras, refusing the Micheletti government the right to leave OAS, which they attempted.
US policy, while hard to accept for some, is quite simple. President Obama said that he supports the return of Zelaya, despite him strongly opposing American policies. “We do so not because we agree with him. We do so because we respect the universal principle that people should choose their own leaders,” Obama said.
In the US some Republicans have voiced concern over the Obama administration rush to side with likes of Raul Catro and Hugo Chavez. “It’s clear that the people of Honduras were defending the rule of law,” said Senator Jim DeMint (R).
Nobel Laureate and President of Costa Rica Oscar Arias agreed to mediate talks between president Zelaya and de facto president Micheletti. As President Zelaya flew to Washington to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Micheletti government went on the offensive. Enrique Ortez Colindres, Honduras’ de facto foreign minister said that El Salvador “is so small that it can’t even play football in,” and accused President Obama of not knowing “nothing about anything” and at least three interviews called the US president “el negrito del batey” (a little black man from a sugar plantation).
The effects of the coup on the Bay Islands were felt immediately. Dozens of Honduran soldiers were posted at Roatan airport, Utila and Guanaja landing strips in case President Zelaya would decide to return to Honduras via Bay Islands.
On June 29 US Embassy advised against any “non essential travel to Honduras,” and tourists took heed. A week after the coup, the Blue Panorama charter flights from Rome were suspended after all European Union ambassadors withdrew from Honduran in protest for the coup. HM Resorts, Roatan’s biggest hotel network had to close down two of their hotels: La Sirena and Paradise Beach Club, and fire personnel.
Both pro-Micheletti and pro-Zelaya groups organized demonstrations in Los Fuertes and Coxen Hole. On July 1, the pro-Zelaya supporters organized a march with around 70 supporters walking from the airport to Roatan Municipality. The July 3 pro-Micheltti ‘Peace March’ became by far the biggest event with perhaps 2,000 people attending. Still, neither Governor Arlie Thompson, nor congressman Jerry Hynds, nor Roatan Mayor Jackson showed up to the march.
While the organizers personally invited protestant and evangelical church leaders, the Catholic priest in the Bay Islands was not invited as he was perceived to be siding with the ‘other side.’ “Originally we decided to not protest against Zelaya, but it turned out that way,” said Fernando Santos, a local business owner, who along with vice-mayor Delcie Rosalas organized the event.
On Utila, the carnival organizers postponed their annual July Carnival and the island hotels remained virtually empty in what is usually a backpacker high season. The true affects of hotel cancellations wont be felt until about three months after the coup as tourists who don’t want to lose their reservation money continue to come. Sally Bowen, owner of West End Coco Lobo hotel, has seen a noticeable decrease in reservations. “For two weeks we hadn’t had a single inquiry,” said Bowen, who had some guests postpone their visits after the coup. [/private]