MANAGUA – Time is not on the side of Honduras or deposed President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya.
With the country in upheaval following last week’s coup, each day that passes without a clear and peaceful resolution pushes the impoverished country closer to economic ruin and political chaos. And each passing day also makes it harder for Zelaya to return home to the presidency, analysts say.
The June 28 military coup is already projected to cost Honduras nearly half a billion in suspended international financing and tens of millions in lost trade. Oil from Venezuela has been suspended, businesses are closed in the capital and the country’s investment climate just went down the drain.
That situation poses a serious problem to both men who claim Honduras’ presidency.
For the de facto government of “President” Roberto Micheletti, the danger is economic and political. For Zelaya, the problem is more basic: no matter how many people call him “presidente” in exile, he has not been allowed to return home or assume his functions, making his title appear more like an honorific the longer he remains deposed.
Zelaya’s anticipated return July 5 – a homecoming that was frustrated by the military – illustrated that no matter how many foreign governments recognize him as president, in Honduras it’s the men with the guns who decide who’s in charge. At least so far (TT Daily News Online, July 6).
In Tegucigalpa, the new self-proclaimed government, which is not recognized by any other country in the world, has its hands full, too. The threat of economic collapse in a paralyzed nation with pariah status is real and imminent, according to analysts.
Once the economy falls through the floor, the stage could be set for revolution, warns Nicaragua’s ex-Foreign Minister Emilio Alvarez.
Honduras, unlike its neighbors, has not lived through a popular insurrection. The country is considered the most conservative and traditional in Central America. Until recently, Honduras was run by right-wing military governments and has no serious experience with left-wing political movements.
But the combination of economic collapse and military repression against civilians could serve to radicalize the tens of thousands of supporters Zelaya still has in Honduras, creating fertile grounds for insurrection, Alvarez warned.
That possibility of war or larger regional conflict is being called the worst imaginable outcome for Honduras and all of Central America.
“Once you start a guerrilla movement, it’s a hard to stop,” Alvarez said.
Francisco Aguirre, another ex-foreign minister and current head of Nicaragua’s legislative commission on foreign affairs, agrees that an insurrection in Honduras would be the “worse possible scenario” for the region.
Still, Aguirre says he thinks Honduras will be able to hang on economically longer than most people think. The goal of the de facto government, he said, is to outlast Zelaya until new elections are held in November, or sooner. And each day the de facto government of Honduras can dig in and hold on “Is one day less likely that Zelaya will return,” Aguirre said.
“If Zelaya is not back by July, he’s never going back,” Aguirre predicts.
Ortega on Hot Seat
Some fear that if Zelaya’s loyalists become increasingly agitated they could be pushed toward insurrection by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who has already promised to overthrow Micheletti’s government (NT, July 3).
So far, however, it’s Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega who’s being accused of stirring up trouble in Honduras and along the border.
In a speech July 5, Micheletti, who was appointed the interim president by the Honduran Congress following the coup, blamed Nicaragua with amassing troops along the border as part of a “psychological invasion.”
“We are informed that in Nicaragua they are moving some troops toward the border,” Micheletti said, adding that Nicaragua is trying to “intimidate people, especially those who live along the border.”
The Honduran government has reportedly detained some 70 Nicaraguans inside Honduras, allegedly for involvement in protests there. Others have reportedly been deported or turned back at the border.
President Ortega denies that Nicaragua is mobilizing troops near the border.
Moments after Micheletti’s accusation July 5, Ortega made a national radio address calling the claims “totally false.” He said it was part of a maneuver by Honduras to divert attention away from the real issue of the coup.
“The idea is to divert attention by creatingthe idea that the conflict is with Nicaragua,” Ortega said.
Ortega said, “Nicaragua has no intention of firing a single shot on Honduras.” He called on the Honduran military to not fall for the lie that Nicaragua is planning an attack.
“I assure you in the name of God and the patria that Nicaragua is not sending troops into Honduras and not preparing any attack on the border,” Ortega said. “We want a peaceful solution to this conflict so that Zelaya can return to Tegucigalpa.”
Nicaraguan military spokesman Gen. Adolfo Zepeda confirmed Ortega’s claim, saying, “We haven’t sent a single extra troop to the border.”
Zepeda said that the Nicaraguan troops along the border are conducting routine drills.
The general stressed that the Nicaraguan military has received direct orders from Ortega to “not fall into any provocations from Honduran territory.”
Twenty-four hours before Micheletti’s accusation, the Nicaraguan government denounced before the Organization of American States (OAS) an alleged plot by the de facto government of Honduras to arm paramilitary groups and attack Honduran targets to then blame the violence on Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela.
Nicaraguan Ambassador to the OAS Denis Moncada preemptively denounced what he called “prefabricated evidence” that Honduras is allegedly going to present against the three other countries.
Nicaragua denies any meddling in Honduras’ international situation.
Plenty of Blame
According to Nicaraguan philosopher and political analyst Alejandro Serrano, the situation in Honduras has gone from bad to worse and stronger measures need to be taken before the country falls apart completely.
Honduras, he said, has been in a de facto political crisis ever since Zelaya first broke the law by pushing forward on his efforts at constitutional reforms – which in Honduras is punishable by immediate removal from public office.
Still, he said, Zelaya’s actions did not justify a military coup, which he called “reviving ghosts that had dissipated.”
“The de facto situation started by Zelaya continues today,” Serrano said.
The analyst says the Organization of American States (OAS) must play a stronger role in negotiating a way out for Honduras.
He said the country is already in a situation where it can’t be put back together the way it was before, but the OAS has to be more proactive “to avoid a war.”
“They can’t repair the damage that has been done, but they can prevent more damage from happening,” Serrano said.
Worst is Over?
Former leftist guerrilla leader Facundo Guardado, of El Salvador, said he thinks “the worst is over” in Honduras and that the situation will soon “normalize” … under President Micheletti.
Despite last weekend’s violence, Guardado said that both the military and the protestors showed a “certain respect for limits.”
He said that past street protests in El Salvador and other countries in Central America usually spawned more violence than was seen Sunday in Honduras.
Facundo predicts Zelaya will not return to Honduras, rather he’ll “keep traveling the world giving speeches.”
Zelaya, however, says he plans to return to Honduras at any moment, and this time unannounced.
Zelaya, who made another surprise appearance in Nicaragua Monday evening before departing for Washington, D.C., urged his supporters on the ground in Honduras to “sustain” the protests. He promised he’d return home “in the coming hours.”