This morning, Hondurans woke up with a big surprise when soldiers overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, democratically elected. Reminiscent to what happened in Haiti some 18 years earlier, Honduran parliamentarians quickly named a successor. The coup was swiftly condemned by governments across the world, including the United States. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denounced what he called an illegal coup and vowed to return Zelaya to power.
The coup interrupted a 16-year quietness in Central America. President Manuel Zelaya was awakened Sunday by gunfire and detained while still in his pajamas. This happened hours before a constitutional referendum many saw as an attempt by him to stay in power beyond the one-term limit. The wind of leftist governments sweeping Latin America has many caudillos worried. Within the military establishment, nostalgia for the old status quo is strongly felt. Many observers think that if the coup stands, it could trigger a chain of reaction that might threaten to undo what the Social Democracy movement has been trying to build for some time.
It has been reported that an air force plane flew Zalaya into forced exile in Costa Rica as armored military vehicles with machine guns rolled through the streets of the Honduran capital and soldiers seized the national palace. “I want to return to my country,” Zelaya said in Costa Rica. “I am president of Honduras.”
Opportunist legislators voted to accept what they said was Zelaya’s letter of resignation. Congressional leader Roberto Micheletti was sworn in to serve until Jan. 27 when Zelaya’s term ends. Micheletti belongs to Zelaya’s Liberal Party, but opposed the president in the referendum.Zelaya denied resigning and insisted he would serve out his term, even as the Supreme Court backed the military takeover and said it was a defense of democracy. Micheletti was sworn in at a ceremony inside the Congress building with cheers and chants from fellow legislators of “Honduras! Honduras!”
In Havana, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez vowed to work with allies to push for Zelaya’s return to power. He said Cuban Ambassador Juan Carlos Hernandez was held briefly in Tegucigalpa after he and other foreign diplomats tried unsuccessfully to prevent soldiers from taking away Honduran Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas. Chavez said troops in Honduras temporarily detained the Venezuelan and Cuban ambassadors and beat them.
President Barack Obama said he was “deeply concerned” and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Zelaya’s arrest should be condemned. “I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter,” Obama’s statement read.
Coups were completely abolished in Central America since military officials forced President Jorge Serrano of Guatemala to step down in 1993 after he tried to dissolve Congress and suspend the constitution., although it was a common practice in the 1950s. “We thought that the long night of military dictatorships in Central America was over,” said Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who sat beside Zelaya at a news conference.
Zelaya said he would attend a scheduled meeting of Central American presidents in Nicaragua on Monday and that Chavez, who also plans to attend, would provide transportation. From Costa Rica, Zelaya launched a plea to resist and called on Honduran soldiers to back him, urged citizens to take to the streets in peaceful protests, and asked Honduran police to protect demonstrators.
Although the bourgeoisie and its allies did not support the referendum, many union and peasants organizations supported Zelaya’s push for the referendum — which he said was aimed at changing policies that have excluded the nearly three-quarters of Hondurans who live in poverty.