Showdown in Honduras


In a day full of dramatic events, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya attempted to return to home to Tegucigalpa, Honduras capital, July 5.

However, his plane was not allowed to land.

As Zelaya approached Honduras in the plane, he asked the soldiers occupying the airport to return their allegiance to him, 'in the name of God, in the name of the people, and in the name of justice,' according to The Associated Press.

'I am the commander of the armed forces, elected by the people, and I ask the armed forces to comply with the order to open the airport so that there is no problem in landing and embracing with my people,' Zelaya said while en route. 'Today I feel like I have sufficient spiritual strength, blessed with the blood of Christ, to be able to arrive there and raise the crucifix.'

But coup leader and Interim President Roberto Micheletti refused to withdraw his order to prevent the plane from landing, and said he would not negotiate with anyone until 'things return to normal.'

Zelaya supporters entered the airport earlier and made their way to the terminal to confront the soldiers and demanding permission be given to land the planes.

The AP reported, 'Thousands of protesters descended on the airport in the Honduran capital in anticipation of the showdown, pressing against about 250 officers with riot shields as they waved Honduran flags and posters of Zelaya, chanting 'Honduras! Honduras!'

Police helicopters hovered overhead. Commercial flights were canceled, and each private plane landing was met on the tarmac by armed police.'

But the soldiers attacked the protestors, according to TV reports.

'People are running. Smoke is being seen at the airport. Reports of gunshots. Tear gas is being launched against the protestors. People are throwing themselves on the ground, seemingly to avoid being shot. Looks like shots are being fired into the air, though there are reports of rubber bullets and teargas. Telesur is reporting three dead, Radio Globo is saying they have confirmed two,' reported Nuestro Mundo Editor Jose Cruz in an e-mail.

Telesur is the Venezuelan-based TV station is showing live coverage in Spanish of the Honduran crisis.

Micheletti also alleged that Nicaragua was moving troops to their border in an attempt at psychological intimidation, and warned them not to cross into Honduras, 'because we're ready to defend our border.' Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega called the allegation 'totally false.'

Zelaya won wide international support after his military ouster a week ago, but the only prominent escort aboard his plane was the U.N. General Assembly president after Latin American leaders backed out, citing security concerns.

At least three other planes left the Washington area separately, carrying Latin American presidents, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States and journalists. They were trailing Zelaya to see what happens in the skies over Honduras before deciding where to land. Flying with Zelaya were close advisers and staff, two journalists from the Venezuela-based network Telesur, and U.N. General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, AP reported.

The Telesur crew enabled Zelaya to speak in a live interview from the air. 'No one can obligate me to turn around,' Zelaya declared.

But with their safety not guaranteed, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa pleaded with the Honduran military forces to avoid bloodshed. 'If there is violence the whole world must clearly know who is responsible,' he said.

After Zelaya's plane was forced to turn around and land in El Salvador, Correa, the presidents of Paraguay and Argentina and Jose Miguel Insulza, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, also landed in El Salvador.

Honduras' coup government has vowed to arrest Zelaya for 18 alleged criminal acts including treason and failing to implement more than 80 laws approved by Congress since taking office in 2006.

Despite a Supreme Court ruling, Zelaya had also pressed ahead with a referendum on whether to hold an assembly to consider changing the constitution. But instead of prosecuting him or trying to defeat his referendum idea at the ballot box, other Honduran leaders sent masked soldiers to fly Zelaya out of the country at gunpoint.

The military solution prompted condemnation from the United Nations and OAS. Many called it a huge step back for democracy, and no nation has recognized the new government, including the United States.

Its membership suspended by the OAS, the isolated interim government now faces trade sanctions and the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidized oil, aid and loans.

The immediate concern, however, was avoiding bloodshed.

'We have to defend our rights in a way that is personal but peaceful. Against the bayonets, we must put forth our conscience and our patriotism,' Zelaya said as Venezuelan pilots flew him toward home.

Zelaya supporters said they got the message as they converged on the airport, where at least five soldiers with binoculars and high-powered rifles watched from the roof with their weapons trained on the protesters.

'We have no pistols or arms, just our principles,' organizer Rafael Alegria said. 'We have the legitimate right to fight for the defense of democracy and to restore President Zelaya.'

Large crowds of Zelaya's critics also have staged daily demonstrations to back Micheletti, the congressional president who was named by lawmakers to finish out the final six months of the Zelaya's term. However, government workers at the pro-Zelaya march said they were forced to go to the pro-coup demonstration wearing white shirts.

Most of the ousted leader's supporters come from the working and middle classes of this impoverished nation, while his opponents are based in the ranks of the well-to-do, according to the AP.

Teachers' organizations have declared there will not be a return to classes tomorrow, according to various reports.