TEGUCIGALPA – The Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa erupted into demonstrations amid reports ousted president Manuel Zelaya has returned.
The interim government, led by Roberto Micheletti, issued denials that Zelaya was in the country. But the U.S. State Department confirmed Zelaya was in Honduras, and he now has shown himself to the public from the Brazilian embassy.
The latest development threatened to reignite demonstrations that broke out earlier today after reports of Zelaya’s return. Police helicopters, possibly informed that Zelaya had revealed his whereabouts, flew close to the Brazilian embassy, although the police and military seemed to be keeping some distance.
The Obama administration has shown strong support for Zelaya despite widespread criticism that the former president was leading the country down a path eerily similar to that of Venezuela under its leftist president, Hugo Chavez.
Zelaya declared he was in the capital during a broadcast today on Venezuela’s government-owned Telesur network.
“I’m here in the Honduran capital, in the first place carrying out the people’s will, which has insisted on my restoration,” Zelaya said.
Demonstrations centered around Colonia Palmira, the upscale Tegucigalpa neighborhood where diplomatic missions and some of the city’s native and foreign elite reside behind towering walls topped with razor wire and electric fencing.
Crowds here marched and drove down Palmira’s streets, which have been choked off to traffic, chanting pro-Zelaya slogans and waving the red and white flag of the former president’s Liberal party in celebration of his return.
Some reports claimed Zelaya was harbored inside the American embassy, in Palmira, drawing the demonstrators to that part of the city.
Obama siding with Chavez-like politician?
Chavez’s recent support for Zelaya, including congratulations issued today by the Venezuelan president, underscored belief Zelaya was attempting to move the country sharply to the left, using unconstitutional methods.
Many in Honduras are puzzled and frustrated by White House involvement in what they consider to be an internal Honduran matter, particularly since Zelaya was removed not by the military, as the Obama administration has publicly claimed, but by the Honduran congress and courts.
While today’s demonstrations have not been violent, police helicopters circled the area, and the loud bangs of fireworks punctuating the shouts, horn honking and drone of the hovering choppers.
According to local sources, demonstrations of this kind have been fairly common since the summer coup that ousted Zelaya; however reports of the former president’s return to the city despite warnings of arrest from the Micheletti government intensified the reaction.
All this comes on the heels of very serious political and social polarization in Honduras, particularly in the capital. Both opponents and advocates of Zelaya say the divide has been exacerbated by Washington’s decision to cut aid and revoke the visas of Honduras’ diplomatic mission and even some of its federal judges.
Despite Honduras’ noticeable history of peace in the context of near-constant Central American political violence, today’s demonstrations and Zelaya’s return indicate the country’s current instability is not abating.