Honduras: Zelaya Returns; Crisis Continues

Deposed President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya returned to Honduras on Saturday, May 28, (see Al Jazeera report) almost two years after he was first removed from power by Honduran security forces and flown into exile. Zelaya was greeted by thousands of red-shirted supporters at the Tegucigalpa airport. By some estimates as many as 900,000 to 1.5 million people met the one-time president at the airport, an indication of how popular Zelaya remains among members of the self-described “resistance” movement.

In an agreement brokered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos with current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, all charges against Zelaya were dropped, permitting his re-entry, and allowing the Organization of American States and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare the presidential succession crisis in Honduras over. That in turn permits the Central American state its own re-entry to the O.A.S., which had condemned Zelaya’s ouster and suspended Honduras’ membership. That took place on June 1.


But many indications remain that the nation is far from recovered from the internal conflict provoked by the June 2009 deposing of Zelaya. In the early morning of June 28, 2009, in a move backed by the Honduran Supreme Court and National Congress, the Honduran military detained a pyjama-clad President Manuel Zelaya and escorted him into exile in Costa Rica, ending 27 years of uninterrupted elected civilian democratic rule in Honduras. (A report released June 8 by a team of researchers from the Harvard University Law School finds that both the actions of former President Manuel Zelaya that lead to his overthrow on June 28, 2009 and the overthrow itself were illegal and unconstitutional.)

Over the past two years, agricultural workers and members of the resistance movement and labor and agricultural organizers and rural activists have been killed. Human Rights Watch reports ongoing attacks against human rights defenders and political activists. In 2010 ten journalists were killed in Honduras, making it the most dangerous duty station per capita for journalists in the world. The U.S. State Department is tracking a lengthy list of reported human rights infractions, including unlawful killings by police and government agents; killings committed by vigilantes and former members of the security forces; violence against detainees; violence and discrimination against women and against persons based on sexual orientation; and discrimination against indigenous communities.

Meanwhile a major showdown between two powerful Honduran forces, its business class and elements within the Catholic church which remain highly critical of the nation’s political and economic oligarchy and the ousting of Zelaya, is taking shape. The outspoken Luis Alfonso Santos, Bishop of Santa Rosa de Copán, is being sued for defamation and calumny by Miguel Facussé, the nation's most prominent land and business owner and supporter of the coup against Zelaya. In a May 11 speech, Bishop Santos alleged that Facussé was responsible for the death of 14 peasants in Bajo Aguan in northern Honduras.

According to a John Donaghy, a lay volunteer with the Catholic diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, “Facussé claims ownership of large tracts of land in this northern part of Honduras where he and associates have planted plantations of African palm for the production of palm oil. Unfortunately this land is claimed by a number of campesinos who have been rendered landless.” As many as 35 have been killed in the region because of conflict over the land as well-armed private security forces confront the region’s campesinos. 

Last year, Andrés Pavón, director of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras brought a suit against Facussé for the deaths of 14 campesinos in Bajo Aguan. Donaghy writes, "Not surprisingly, for Honduras, the proof he presented disappeared." Now another suit has been brought by Facussé's attorny against Pavón, likewise for defamation. The day before the June 6 filing of that action, three more campesinos were killed in Bajo Aguan.

It will be interesting to see where the lawsuit takes us. Bishop Santos is offering no indication that he intends to back down and his priests are supporting him.

In an open letter released June 3, Bishop Santos writes:

I am a defender of human Rights and my words were motivated by the compassion that the poorest and the defenseless inspire in me; in this case the campesinos in the Bajo Aguan who defend their lives and the right to land to produce food for themselves and their children.

The document Gaudium et Spes of the Second Vatican Council affirms that the human being is the end (purpose) of all human action and at the same time has as ultimate end (purpose) Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word. The government, presided over by Porfirio Lobo Sosa has as its motto Christian Humanism; I hope that, based in this humanism, justice will be done for all those assassinated in the Bajo Aguan, at the very least after their death.

In his letter Bishop Santos suggests the lawsuit could be the basis for clarifying "the death of campesinos in the Bajo Aguán and that the lands which belong to the State of Honduras be put at the disposition of INA, the National Agrarian Institute, with the purpose of handing them over to the campesinos."

It could be that by the time this lawsuit is resolved, even if he wins, Mr. Facussé will lose because of what court testimony reveals about the state of land rights and plantation politics in Honduras.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 7 months ago
Nothing like a military coup to advance democracy.
7 years 7 months ago
There was no military coup or anything like that.
Mark Harden
7 years 7 months ago
''a team of researchers from the Harvard University Law School finds that both the actions of former President Manuel Zelaya that lead to his overthrow on June 28, 2009 and the overthrow itself were illegal and unconstitutional.''

If the actions of Zelaya were illegal and unconstitutional, then the people of Honduras had the natural right to overthrow him (assuming Constitutional methods under Honduran law were of no avail). Perhaps the Hahvahd researchers need to reacquiant themselves with our Declaration of Independence:

'' That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. ''
ed gleason
7 years 7 months ago
I see the usual posters think that the Bishop, US, Clinton, OAS, lay volunteers, Harvard, are all backing the wrong people again. And who are the people the posters are backing? I think the red shirts are frightening the the horses. Commies,commies everywhere! 
Say hello to El Salvador 1980.
Gabriel Marcella
7 years 7 months ago
Please, let's tone down the rhetoric. and let's hope that the return of Zelaya will lead Honduras, once a peaceful country, to a process of reconciliation.  Beset by an enormous crime wave, the country badly needs it. The OAS action helps, and it will be the Honduran people who will solve their own problems. Note also that the Harvard Law School report agrees with the analysis done by Hugo Llorens, the American Ambassador, whose cable was released by Wikileaks.
7 years 7 months ago
''I see the usual posters think that the Bishop, US, Clinton, OAS, lay volunteers, Harvard, are all backing the wrong people again''

Did someone remove some comments because I didn't see anything like that. 
ed gleason
7 years 7 months ago
Cosgrove; 'There was no military coup or anything like that.'

the Honduran military detained a pyjama-clad President Manuel Zelaya and escorted him into exile in Costa Rica,

and ...'Did someone remove some comments because I didn't see anything like that'. 

7 years 7 months ago
A military coup is when the military takes over the government.  In many Latin American countries the military acts like a police force.  When I was in Rio one time some friends took us to a soccer game at Maracana and the streets on the way to the game were line with soldiers with machine guns.  They were the local police force for the soccer game.  In Belfast, the military patrolled the train stations with machine guns when my wife was there on business.

In Honduras,  the military was ordered by the Supreme Court to get Zelaya and take him to the border with Costa Rica.  They did as they were told like any other police action and that was it.  No coup, no military usurping any power.  Honduras then appointed an interim president and went ahead with elections as originally planned

So calling this a coup or anything like that is absurd.  Anyone suggesting it was has an agenda that does not fit the facts.
ed gleason
7 years 7 months ago
Cosgrove has found me out . I have an agenda about Military governemts in  the countries he has visited e.g Brazil [1965-1986] No Ireland last week.
7 years 7 months ago
I have been in Brazil four times, 2000, 2002, 2006 and 2010.   There was no military government at any time I was there and no one inhibited our movements at any time anywhere we went.  But we did see soldiers with machine guns providing crowd control.

From Wikipedia about Rio Military Police

''The Military Police of Rio de Janeiro State  like other military polices in Brazil is a reserve and ancillary force of the Brazilian Army, and part of the System of Public Security and Brazilian Social Protection.[1] Its members are called ''State Military'' person.[2]The primary mission of PMERJ is ostensibly preventive policing for the maintenance of public order in the State of Rio de Janeiro.''

From Wikipedia about Honduran military

''Since 2002 soldiers have been involved in crime prevention and law enforcement, patrolling the streets of the major cities alongside the national police.''

If anyone can justify that a coup took place, then provide the evidence or let it go.
Eugene Palumbo
7 years 7 months ago

JR Cosgrove wrote, “If anyone can justify that a coup took place, then provide the evidence or let it go.''

The following evidence is taken from a classified cable (released by Wikileaks) written on July 9, 2010 by Hugo Llorens, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras.  The cable is titled “OPEN AND SHUT: THE CASE OF THE HONDURAN COUP.”
The Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch, . . .    There is equally no doubt from our perspective that Roberto Micheletti's assumption of power was illegitimate. 

- the military had no authority to remove Zelaya from the country;  
- Congress has no constitutional authority to remove a Honduran president;  
- Congress and the judiciary removed Zelaya on the basis of a hasty, ad-hoc, extralegal, secret, 48-hour process;  
- the purported ''resignation'' letter was a fabrication and was not even the basis for Congress's action of June 28;
- Zelaya's arrest and forced removal from the country violated multiple constitutional guarantees, including the prohibition on expatriation, presumption of innocence and right to due process.

Micheletti himself should be forced to resign following the logic of the (Article) 239 argument . . . and National Party presidential candidate Pepe Lobo, who endorsed the idea, should be ineligible to hold public office for 10 years.  [NB: Lobo was later elected president].
. . . the actions of June 28 can only be considered a coup d'etat by the legislative branch, with the support of the judicial branch and the military, against the executive branch.  . . .  No matter what the merits of the case against Zelaya, his forced removal by the military was clearly illegal, and Micheletti's ascendance as ''interim president'' was totally illegitimate. 
7 years 7 months ago
The Harvard Report said

''Zelaya Rosales most likely acted unconstitutionally when he proposed the Fourth Urn “consultation” or “poll,” and when he pushed forward with that project despite judicial orders to the contrary. At the same time, Zelaya Rosales was probably not removed from office by a legal process.''

He was ordered by the supreme court not to proceed with a poll to change the constitution.  He proceeded anyway breaking into a military installation where the illegal ballots were stored.

The military arrested him at 6 AM under orders of the Supreme Court, The Assembly and the Attorney General.  He was deported to avoid arm clashes but this was probably not legal.  He should have been held to stand trial. 

The next in line assumed the presidency.  Five months later elections proceeded as planned and a new democratically elected president was installed the following January.  On Dec. 2 the democratically elected National Congress voted against the restitution of Zelaya 111 to 14 for even a short time before the new president took over.

Hardly sounds like a coup to me when three independent parts of the government agreed and a fourth, the military arrested Zelaya on their order.  Especially when Zelaya led a mob into a military barracks to try and force a referendum by trying to get the ballots.

Zelaya was sort of an unsavory character and here is a wikileaks cable by the ambassador to Honduras in 2008


A few comments from the cable 

''In the first of 16 points, Ambassador Ford describes President Zelaya as, ''Ever the rebellious teenager'' whose ''principal goal in office is to enrich himself and his family while leaving a public legacy as a martyr who tried to do good but was thwarted at every turn by powerful, unnamed interests.'' In his fifth point, Ambassador Ford observes that ''Zelaya has no real friends outside of his family, as he ridicules publicly those closest to him.'' The eighth point notes that there ''also exists a sinister Zelaya, surrounded by a few close advisors with ties to both Venezuela and Cuba and organized crime.'' Point 16 focuses on the future under President Zelaya: 'His pursuit of immunity from the numerous activities of organized crime carried out in his Administration will cause him to threaten the rule of law and institutional stability. Honduran institutions and friendly governments will need to be prepared to act privately and in public to help move Honduras forward.' '' 

It sounds like the Honduran government acted in a very responsible way. 
Mark Harden
7 years 7 months ago
I wonder if the supporters of Zelaya are also supporters of Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro? Dictators all.
Mark Harden
7 years 7 months ago
''I see the usual posters think that the Bishop, US, Clinton, OAS, lay volunteers, Harvard, are all backing the wrong people again.''

Are you saying that some association of Catholic bishops condemned the ouster of Zelaya? If so, please cite, thanks.

There is a deep irony in that the same people who have all their lives reflexively condemned each and every US involvement in Latin America as ''imperialism'' and ''colonialism'' turned around and supported the Obama Administration's interference with the Honduran government in the Zelaya situation. Somehow, not imperialism or colonialism when we are throwing our weight around to defend a Socialist...
7 years 7 months ago

I find the use of the term conservative interesting.  Why use it or bring it up?  The term conservative can mean something different in each country.  It also implies that one uses an innate bias as the basis for one's judgments.  Maybe that applies to some here but they should not assume it applies to others they disagree with.  Why would anyone defend Zelaya given his extremely erratic behavior and his defiance of the laws of Honduras?
It was Zelaya's own political party that threw him out of office and they were designated the Liberal Party which could mean anything depending on where that term is used but from what I understand in Honduras it means center left.  The Liberal Party must have had help from other political parties because I understand the decision was almost unanimous.  So I do not understand the use of the term conservative here other than to create some artificial but irrelevant point.  If someone who was identified as ''conservative'' did what Zelaya did, I would personally say good riddance and be embarrassed he was one of mine if in fact he was one that I supported in the past.  And if he acted illegally especially in what had all the appearances of trying to extend his rule, I would applaud his removal.  Of course a true conservative could never act as Zelaya did, only a demented one.   And I believe a true liberal would also not support what Zelaya did.  So the use of the term ''conservative'' has no relevancy.
Zelaya was pushing for a change in the Constitution through a special constitutional assembly and the only important things that it could affect was his eligibility to be reelected or the very process of the government.  Nearly all the Constitution could be amended with a vote in the Congress but reelection was not able to be amended in this way.  He said he would have a plebiscite on the issue in June 2009 on whether to have a vote on the constitution as part of the regular election.  So most saw his call for a vote for a change to the Constitution only as a way to maintain power.  There was no other reason for it and nothing else could explain his insistence to have it.  He was told the plebiscite would be illegal but he went ahead anyway.  He was ordered to stop by the Supreme Court but he arranged for a mob to go into a military barracks and seize the ballots and means for conducting the plebiscite.  It was this breech of the law and his use of force and intimidation that set off the process of removal.  What was the purpose of such illegal and provocative behavior?  It was thought he had some plan to use the plebiscite as step to change the constitution so he could be reelected.
The Supreme Court, The National Assembly with his own party as the largest part and the Attorney General agreed he would be seized and tried for his illegal actions and defiance of the Country's processes.  The military fearing there would be bloodshed decided to take him out of the country instead of dealing with armed supporters of Zelaya.  As indicated by Ambassador Ford, Zelaya was very erratic and was influenced by ultra left wing leaders such as Chavez and Castro who had seized power in their own countries.  He had arranged for armed mobs to support his positions before and it was likely it would happen again.  Rather than face what that might lead to, he was exiled.  The Honduran government went through a process that was unanimous to remove him and in the process probably saved the country a lot of turmoil and lives.
 The people then voted a few months later for a new president and essentially a continuation of the rule of law.  If this was a coup, who did the coup, the entire government?  Who got power, the people?  It would have been the first coup in the history of mankind where there was no benefactor other than the voters.
He is now back in Honduras and it will be interesting to see what he does.  His track record has not been a positive one and involved drugs, corruption and flirting with foreign dictators and for anyone to claim him as their own or a good leader seems ludicrous.  If Zelaya was truly one who wanted to help the poor, he would have taken a completely different tack.  He would have organized a political party that had that objective and supported others for the Assembly and the president.  NO!!!   He started a process that could have only one objective to have him remain in power.  Were the poor just pawns in his game?
Here is an article written 4 weeks before the removal of Zelaya
Mark Harden
7 years 7 months ago
I think the actions of Zelaya in attempting - however awkwardly and haltingly but still undeniably - to extend his power cannot be judged outside the context of the large shadow of Hugo Chavez and his ongoing power grabs. It's easy for armchair warriors in Cambridge, Mass to review the legal aspects of the situation today, but given the limitations of Honduran democracy, I think it is pretty shortsighted to claim that Zelaya's ouster was an injustice. But then, this was a law review, so it makes sense for them to have a purely legalistic view, I suppose. I would say those arguing here in favor of the ouster just have a bigger perspective of the issue of justice in the situation.
7 years 7 months ago
''My vision of justice does not include a de facto oligarchy that maintains control through violence and intimidation. Not all the bad guys in the world arrive wrapped in socialist slogans. ''

I never said that all bad guys in the world arrive wrapped in socialist slogans.   To imply that I did or ever did is disingenuous.  What I said was a ''bad guy'' was gotten rid of by a process that included the supreme court, the National Assembly and the Attorney General and it was done in steps and when Zelaya disobeyed direct orders, another process was taken.  It had to be done quickly because he set up the poll in a couple days and there would probably had been riots when he was incarcerated and the poll eliminated.  He had a history of using armed supporters and the likelihood of violence and death was great.  So you could look at the action to remove Zelaya was one to save lives.

The people voted for Lobo and the Assembly dominated by Zelaya own party voted not to seat him again.  I do not know the origin of the current violence and maybe that can be a discussion in the future but your attempt to portray the change of government as an extra judicial affair when the whole government was involved seems at best stretched.  The center left assemby was elected before and could be elected again.  The people have voted.  Some may not like the vote or be emboldened by the vote but that is common in all the world including here in the US.  I wish the world used the same standards as we do here in their reactions to voting but that is in the future and the current situation in Honduras is less violent as it is in most of the underveloped world.  Just look at the whole Arab world.  And is Honduras more violent than Venezuela or Detroit where murder seems a common every day affair.


The latest from america

“We will just do what we need to do to help people in need,” said Antonio Fernandez, C.E.O. of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of San Antonio.
Emma Winters January 18, 2019
The study found Latina immigrant women in Arizona who were pregnant during the contentious S.B. 1070 passage had babies with lower birthweight compared with those in prior years. Average birth weights did not decrease among U.S.-born white, black or Latina women during the same time.
J.D. Long-GarcíaJanuary 18, 2019
This week's guest is Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of New Wave Feminists, a pro-life feminist organization dedicated to changing the divisive language surrounding the abortion debate.
Olga SeguraJanuary 18, 2019
Psychedelics can blur the line between science and spirituality—but Christian mysticism cannot be studied.
Terrance KleinJanuary 17, 2019