San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Police, Protesters Clash In Honduran Conflict

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Under mounting international pressure and internal unrest, the acting Honduran government held firm this week in its refusal to restore ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to power.

Acting President Roberto Micheletti called for Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to send a special commission “to see what’s really going on” in Honduras. The Organization of American States (OAS) agreed to send a special envoy.

After cutting military aid, the United States threatened this week to suspend the remainder of Honduras’ Millennium Challenge Account, about $30 million, to pressure for a compromise, according to Hugo Llorens, U.S. ambassador to Honduras.

The political standoff between Micheletti and Zelaya, who toured Mexico and Brazil this week in an effort to shore up support for his return to power, languished as police clashed with protestors here.

On Wednesday, at the National Autnonomous University here in the capital city, rock-throwing protesters shattered windows at a Burger King and other restaurants and rallied around a burning car as riot police used tear gas in attempts to disperse them.

When police charged the university’s entrance, protestors showered them with rocks. One policeman picked up a rock and threw it back.

Andy Escobar, a 22-year-old microbiology student, rallied protestors around the charred skeleton of a car that had been burned during the protest.

“They’ve taken away the president elected by the people. If they’re not willing to restore him, we can keep this up for a long time,” he said.

A riot policeman was caught by local TV cameras shoving the university’s director, Julieta Castellanos, to the ground. Red Cross worker Manuel Moncada said that at least four injured protestors were sent to a hospital.

“This is getting more complicated each day,” said Andres Pavon, director of the non-profit Honduran Human Rights Commission. “Authorities are getting more aggressive and so are protestors. This is out of our control.”

Five weeks of unrest in Honduras since Zelaya was ousted on June 28 have resulted in the deaths of at least three protestors.

Teacher Roger Vallejo died Saturday after being shot in the head during a protest Thursday in which police clashed with Zelaya supporters here.

Police spokesman Daniel Molina said Pedro Hernández was shot and killed Sunday when soldiers fired on his car for refusing to stop at a military highway checkpoint near the Nicaraguan border.

Military generals denied responsibility for any killings during an interview on TV Channel Televicentro Tuesday. Radio Globo, one of a few media outlets still critical of the Micheletti government, said the military has requested that the country’s telecommunications commission close the station for fomenting insurrection.

The country’s business elite, whom Zelaya supporters accuse of having financed the June 28 coup, maintain staunch opposition to the leader’s return.

“No one would allow him back,” said Eduardo Kafati, head of Grupo Intur, a consortium that employs 5,000 workers and owns 14 restaurant chains – including Burger King, Popeye’s and Dunkin Donuts – with 200 outlets. His fast-food joints have felt the brunt of unrest.

“How ugly, our country, full of violence,” said student Angelica Tercera, 22, standing in front of a Burger King with a storefront that looked like Swiss cheese after protestors pierced its windows with volleys of rocks and chunks of concrete.

National AutonomousUniversity professor Jorge Alberto Palma said the coup has stoked latent class differences in Central America’s second poorest country, which is also the region’s second biggest exporter. The export-based economy of the quintessential “banana republic” has diversified under trade deals such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) in recent years, but the nation’s wealth has remained concentrated in the hands of a few families.

Kafati said the business elite backed Zelaya’s ouster for fear his socialist policies were exacerbating the economic crisis and taking the country down the same path as President Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela.

For Palma, a Zelaya supporter and editor of the university’s economic journal, the Central American Economic Review, the business class miscalculated.

“Our economy will be affected seriously because we participated in this coup,” he said in an interview in his Tegucigalpa office, “as long as constitutional order isn’t restored, these protests will continue.”


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