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LIVE FROM HONDURAS: Interview with Zelaya


Zelaya with Andrés Thomas Conteris, Founder of Democracy Now! en Español, at the Brazilian embassy. (Photo: Milton Benitez)

This is the write-up of an interview I conducted with Mel Zelaya, first published in The Brunei Times, 29 October 2009.

In an October 26 interview via Skype instant messenger, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya assured The Brunei Times that there was still hope for a resolution of the Honduran political crisis despite the fact that the dialogue intended to resolve the crisis had been suspended. Zelaya was currently on his 36th day of confinement to the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, following 86 days of exile from the country that had begun when the Honduran military removed him from his home in his pajamas and deposited him in Costa Rica on June 28.

When a decisive international reaction to the coup proved less than forthcoming, Zelaya repatriated himself in the trunk of a vehicle on September 21 with the aim of initiating a process of dialogue.

The current suspension of negotiations between his representatives and those of coup president Roberto Micheletti is thus presumably favourable to the party to the dialogue that is not interested in talking.

Other recent interruptions of dialogue resulted from the fact that The Brunei Times’ Skype interview with Zelaya was conducted in the restaurant of a Tegucigalpa hotel where the television set was tuned very loudly to a Harry Potter movie and an elderly restaurant patron was intent on discovering the definition of Skype. Zelaya explained that noise interference had also been ongoing in the environs of the Brazilian embassy — especially on October 21 when the Honduran military and police had blasted music all night — but that quieter psychological operations had also been undertaken, such as a tear gas attack on September 22 and the shining of lights into embassy rooms after dark.

Soldiers outside the embassy denied to The Brunei Times that any sort of music had occurred on October 21, a claim that was however countered by de facto defence minister Adolfo Sevilla, who had declared that Zelaya should be thankful he was on the receiving end of music and not of bombs as was the practice in other countries. Sevilla had meanwhile apparently failed to take into account the country of Panama, where the United States had forced President Manuel Noriega out of the Vatican embassy in 1990 by playing loud rock music.

Zelaya stressed via Skype that the militarisation of diplomatic headquarters was in violation of the demands of the international community, and appealed to said community to maintain a policy of isolation of the Honduran coup regime. He additionally reiterated that the holding of elections in November without a prior restitution of the legitimate national president would only favour those political sectors linked to the illegitimate government — as those sectors supporting legitimacy would boycott the event — and that the failure to restore democracy in Honduras would set a negative example for the resolution of political conflicts worldwide.

Aside from unpleasant music, Zelaya and his companions in the embassy had also been on the receiving end of a sonic device paraded back and forth in front of the building in a police pickup truck following the president’s return to Tegucigalpa.

The device appears in a September Miami Herald article by Frances Robles, who notes its description by witnesses as “a device that looked like a large satellite dish [and] emit a loud shrill noise.”

The description is juxtaposed with a quote from police spokesman Orlin Cerrato denying the existence of such an apparatus, despite the fact that pro-coup Channel 10 TV had featured video footage of it and described it as “torturous” — thus providing literal support for the title of Robles’ article despite her sarcastic intentions: “They’re torturing me, Honduras’ Manuel Zelaya claims.”

As for Robles’ contention that Zelaya had claimed “Israeli mercenaries” would like to assassinate him, she counters the contended claim with the information that “Israeli government sources in Miami said they could not confirm the presence of any ‘Israeli mercenaries’ in Honduras.”

Robles fails to specify, however, whether she or her sources understand that the term “Israeli mercenaries” can indicate either mercenaries from Israel or mercenaries trained by Israel and whether her sources would also neglect to confirm previous Israeli training of Nicaraguan paramilitaries in Honduran territory. Contemporary implications of the term in question might meanwhile consist of Israeli training of Colombian paramilitaries and the admission by the president of the Congressional Security Commission of Honduras that former members of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia are currently employed in the Honduran private security sector.

One thing Robles may have learned from her informants in Miami is the utility of anti-Semitic charges in distracting audiences from a particular subject matter, such as the restitution of legitimate presidents to their posts. The anti-Semitic label is more difficult to pin on mainstream Israeli newspapers, however, and Zelaya tactfully limited his response to a The Brunei Times question regarding current Israeli influence in Honduras to the following excerpt from a October 9 article in Haaretz:

“According to sources in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, a few dozen Israelis living in Honduras are involved in agriculture, fish-farming and security. Some had maintained close ties with Zelaya and thereafter with Micheletti. “The latter has also consulted with local Israelis on issues involving governing the country and solving the crisis.”

Zelaya refrained from addressing another passage in the article concerning coup regime allegations that “Honduras is like Israel because it is surrounded by enemies” — with the fabrication of ubiquitous enemies naturally serving as an excuse not to negotiate — and instead expressed a far more magnanimous attitude, declaring that he respected the claims by the US President and Secretary of State that they would not recognise the November elections if Zelaya was not reinstated first. When The Brunei Times raised the issue of the statement by US Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens that it was not a wise idea to boycott elections — made at a meeting with a human rights delegation at the US embassy in August — Zelaya responded that the US government was composed of a variety of viewpoints.

As for the variety of viewpoints contained in the current Honduran Constitution, Zelaya explained that the document had been consistently manipulated by the country’s elite — the disproportionately small number of which made it necessary for individual characters and families to own more than one major national institution or company — in order to usurp power from the Honduran people.

Obstacles to usurpation had included Zelaya’s raising of the minimum wage, as well as his plan to conduct a nonbinding public survey in order to gauge the desire to rewrite the Constitution in accordance with the interests of the majority of the population.

The claim that Zelaya’s real intention was to remain president for eternity was invoked to legitimate the coup against him, based on the fact that the Constitution currently prohibits the reelection of presidents. Not explained by the architects of the coup, however, was how Zelaya’s real intentions were inferred when he would not have been eligible for election in November regardless of the outcome of the survey, and when the survey question itself was merely whether or not the respondents wanted to install a separate ballot box at the November elections in order to vote on the possibility of convening a national constituent assembly to rewrite the Constitution.

As for his current intentions, Zelaya informed The Brunei Times that the Honduran Resistance would maintain its strategy of peacefully protesting the coup in the streets.

When The Brunei Times requested that Zelaya respond to a certain pro-coup argument according to which poor people did not understand national constituent assemblies, Zelaya attributed the notion to further constitutional manipulation by the wealthy. The possibility that Honduran coup presidents do not understand the Honduran Constitution is meanwhile raised by the fact that, as a Congress member in 1985, Micheletti attempted to extend the presidency of Roberto Suazo Córdoba past his allotted term.

(Many thanks to Andrés Thomas Conteris, Founder of Democracy Now! en Español, for making this interview possible.)


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