After a night that exploded in looting, gunfire and teargas and a day of “absolute chaos” in the capital city, events on the ground in Honduras are escalating dangerously out of control, Patrick Ahern, a U.S. journalist based in Tegucigalpa told America today. Thousands of demonstrators organized by the resistance movement are marching this evening toward the Brazilian embassy where deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya has taken refuge. Ahern believes it is likely that the Honduran military will step in to prevent them from reaching Zelaya. At 6 pm EST “a very large march,” in fact, was dispersed by the police and army using tear gas and water cannons.
All sides appear to have been caught off-guard by Zelaya’s return to Honduras, and de facto President Roberto Micheletti has so far simply refused to speak with Zelaya, who was removed in a June 28 coup by Honduran military allegedly acting on an “arrest warrant” issued by the Honduran Supreme Court. Zelaya was subsequently flown into exile. There appears to be little room for either side to negotiate out of the current impasse.
Zelaya’s return has led to street confrontations between his supporters and Honduran police and military. Hundreds were arrested yesterday and taken to a local baseball stadium for processing in an ominous evocation of previous military clampdowns in Latin America.
Ahern worries that Honduras is teetering on the brink, not necessarily of civil war, but of Tehran-like police and military violence against the large number of Honduran poor and union members who comprise the unarmed foot soldiers of the coup-resistance movement. “Micheletti is missing the boat by not dialoguing now, and if he doesn’t there will be violence.”
“Both of these guys are stubborn as mules and both of them are going for the whole enchilada,” Ahern says—Zelaya holding out for complete restoration without the conditions of the San Jose Accords and Micheletti for the November 29 elections that he believes will legitimize the removal of Zelaya and pave the way for an internationally recognized presidential transition on January 27, 2010.
According to Ahern, local political power brokers appear to be waiting for the attention of delegates at the United Nations General Assembly, but he doesn’t think the nation can hold out until the end this week of the current UNGA. “This is unsustainable.” Already supermarkets have been looted, protestors killed, and panic in Tegucigalpa has led to runs on banks, supermarkets and gas stations.
A suspended curfew will be restored in just a few hours meaning thousands will be on the streets of the capital in defiance of the de facto government. While the two political leaders risk it all in this apparently inevitable showdown, the people of Honduras appear most likely to pay the consequences.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly issued this statement yesterday:
“The United States calls on all parties to remain calm and avoid actions that might provoke violence in Honduras, and place individuals at risk or harm. We urge that all parties refrain from actions that would lead to further unrest.
“We stress the need for dialogue; the United States supports the proposed mission by the Organization of American States to promote this dialogue. We encourage the parties to sign and implement immediately the San Jose Accord, which remains the best approach to resolve this crisis.
“We stress the importance of respecting the inviolability of the Embassy of Brazil in Tegucigalpa and the individuals on its premises. We note with appreciation the de facto authority’s statement last night promising to respect the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, to which Honduras is a party. Respect and protection for the inviolability of diplomatic premises is a universally accepted principle of international relations.”
The United States suspended more than $30 million in aid to Honduras earlier this month as part of its strategy to pressure coup leaders into accepting Zelaya’s restoration. The State Department has also warned it could not recognize the upcoming elections because of Zelaya's ouster.
The Honduran Catholic church has been deeply divided by the political stand-off.