Honduras Coup: Troops Deployed To Oversee
By Rory Carroll, Guardian.co.uk
Thousands of soldiers have been deployed
across Honduras to oversee a controversial
election which will cement the overthrow of
President Manuel Zelaya.
The de facto government has militarized the
capital, Tegucigalpa, and other cities to
deter pro-Zelaya protests and ensure that
Central America's first coup since the end
of the cold war prevails.
The authorities blanketed media with
patriotic footage of army manouevres and
football matches – Honduras recently
qualified for the World Cup – to try to stir
passion for what it termed an "electoral
They hope the election of a new president –
Zelaya, 57, is not on the ballot – will
consign the toppled leftist to oblivion and
pressure the international community to let
the 28 June coup stand.
But apathy and resentment may keep turnout
low, throwing into doubt whether the poll
will resolve a five-month old crisis that
has made Honduras a pariah state.
Security forces have suppressed dissent by
beating and arresting hundreds of Zelaya
supporters in recent weeks, leaving an edgy
calm. A state of emergency has been declared
for the vote and 5,000 army reservists
The head of an Amnesty International
delegation expressed concern that security
forces had stockpiled 10,000 teargas
canisters. "There's an environment of fear
and intimidation in Honduras," said
Amnesty's Javier Zuñiga. "We have seen an
increased level of harassment against those
who are seen as opposed to the de facto
Zelaya's supporters plan to boycott the
election but, exhausted and cowed, cannot
stop it. "The vote is a farce, a pantomime,
but the coup has won," said Miguel Alonzo
Macias, a leader of the "resistance" in
Siguatepeque, outside the capital.
But Zelaya's foes are not jubilant. Honduras
has paid dearly for turning the clock back
to an era of military-led overthrows,
curfews and repression.
Foreign aid and investment have evaporated,
hitting jobs and relief efforts for the half
of Honduras's 7 million population who live
on less than $2 (£1.21) a day. The country
is dangerously polarized between Zelaya's
mainly poor, working-class base and the
conservative elites and middle class who
cheered his fall.
"It's been a tough few months but worth it,"
said Ricardo Cortes, a taxi driver in
Tegucigalpa. "Mel was crazy for power; we
had to get rid of him," he said, referring
to Zelaya's nickname.
Zelaya, a wealthy logger elected in 2005,
became an unlikely champion of the poor when
he veered left and embraced Venezuela's
President Hugo Chávez. The switch alienated
congress, the army, the supreme court and
his own Liberal party.
When he tried holding a non-binding
referendum on changing the constitution they
accused him of plotting to extend his rule –
a charge he denied – and ousted him.
Soldiers rousted the president in his
pyjamas and bundled him into exile. Coup
leaders calculated they could ride out the
storm until Sunday's election.
Zelaya snuck back into Honduras in September
and from the refuge of the Brazilian embassy
called supporters on to the streets. But
repression and limited popularity meant no
wave of people power swept him back to the
faux-colonial presidential palace, leaving
him marooned in an embassy surrounded by
"To a certain extent the coup leaders have
won. Zelaya was ousted and has not returned
to power," said Peter Hakim of the
Inter-American Dialogue thinktank.
The president's plight has exposed regional
faultlines and missteps. Chávez's call for
Honduran revolt went unheeded. The
Organization of American States' attempt to
mediate flopped. The US condemned the coup
but then undermined a power-sharing proposal
by saying it would recognize the elections
even if Zelaya was not first restored.
"That is very bad for the United States and
its relationship with Latin America," Marco
Aurelio Garcia, a foreign policy adviser to
Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da
Silva, told Reuters.
Apart from soldiers on street corners, and
clouds which cast a grey pall over the
tropical city, Tegucigalpa looked normal .
Shops were open, traffic clogged downtown
and office workers packed Burger King, Pizza
Hut and Dunkin' Donuts. The media, which is
largely pro-coup, praised preparations for
5,360 polling stations.
"We just pray that this election will let us
start over," said Carlos Mejia, a street
vendor. "We need to move on."
The two main candidates are from the
traditional ruling elite. Pofirio Lobo, 61,
a wealthy rancher and congressman from the
National party, is favoured to win. Elvin
Santos, 46, is a businessman from Zelaya's
Liberal party, which is badly split. In the
hope of wiping the slate clean both have
sidestepped mention of Zelaya, leaving him
like Shakespeare's Banquo, a political
De facto president Roberto Micheletti is not
a candidate. As the coup figurehead he has
stepped down for a week to bolster the
poll's credibility. He is due to return on 2
December and is expected to remain until
handing over to the new president, on 27
Whoever takes over will inherit a mess. The
economy is slumping, Latin America has
scorned the election's legitimacy and Zelaya
supporters, defeated but defiant, are
expected to push for a new constitution.
"Under the rock that has been lifted there
is a lot of intense anger," said Julia Sweig
of the Council on Foreign Relations
thinktank. "This is a society that needs
Allowing the coup to stand sent a worrying
signal to a region with fragile democracies
and weak institutions, she said. "This sets
a terrible precedent for other countries in
Honduran soldiers stand guard as supporters
of ousted president Manuel Zelaya
protest outside the national congress in
Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP