In the midst of the international isolation faced by the new government named by the Honduran Congress to replace President Manuel Zelaya who was ousted Sunday, the courts issued an arrest warrant for the leader Tuesday. Attorney General Luís Rubí told a press conference that the arrest warrant was based on 18 charges, including abuse of power, contempt of court and corruption. If Zelaya returns to Honduras, "as he has announced, have no doubt that we will arrest him," he said.
(IPS) – In the midst of the international isolation faced by the new government named by the Honduran Congress to replace President Manuel Zelaya who was ousted Sunday, the courts issued an arrest warrant for the leader Tuesday.
Attorney General Luís Rubí told a press conference that the arrest warrant was based on 18 charges, including abuse of power, contempt of court and corruption. If Zelaya returns to Honduras, "as he has announced, have no doubt that we will arrest him," he said.
Zelaya said he would return to Honduras Thursday accompanied by a delegation of authorities from several countries, headed by Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza.
The president, whose terms ends in January, was pulled out of bed at gunpoint early Sunday morning by the military, when at least 200 troops surrounded his residence, and put on a plane to Costa Rica, still in his pajamas.
Within the next few hours, the judicial and legislative branches officially backed the military coup, and Congress named its head, Roberto Micheletti, as acting president.
The coup followed an attempt by Zelaya to hold a non-binding referendum Sunday on whether or not voters wanted to elect a constituent assembly to reform the constitution.
The courts, electoral authorities and Congress declared the vote unconstitutional because referendums cannot be held in an election year, and the military refused to distribute the ballot boxes.
Zelaya, arguing that the vote was merely a survey aimed at increasing public participation in decision-making, sacked the commander of the armed forces last week. After the military chief was reinstated by the Supreme Court, the president refused to accept the decision.
The opposition argued that Zelaya was trying to change the constitution to be elected to a second term.
On Tuesday, Zelaya described the events to the United Nations General Assembly. "The power groups want to remain untouchable in the country," he said.
The U.N. General Assembly unanimously condemned the coup "that has interrupted the democratic and constitutional order and the legitimate exercise of power in Honduras" and adopted a resolution demanding Zelaya’s "immediate and unconditional restoration."
Attorney General Rubí said the U.N. resolution was "to be expected; they have a great deal of misinformation, and should know that Honduras is a country built on laws and the rule of law. What happened here was the application of the law to a leader who thought he was above the constitution.
"If former president Zelaya returns to the country Thursday, that’s great, but he should know that he will be arrested on his arrival, because there are warrants out for him, and he will be prosecuted in the courts for the crimes committed," he said.
The army and the police used tear gas, clubs and water hoses to break up protests Monday outside the presidential palace. After dispersing, the demonstrators regrouped, to continue demanding Zelaya’s return to power.
On Tuesday, an enormous anti-Zelaya demonstration was also held in Tegucigalpa in favour of "respect for the constitution" and in support of the new regime led by Micheletti, who has begun to name a new cabinet.
Evangelical pastor Evelio Reyes, one of the organisers of the march, said "it is time to begin building a Honduras marked by honour. President Zelaya must be tried for his crimes, if he committed them, and here we must reestablish peace and order, with the constitution above everything else," he told IPS.
Similar marches were held in several cities in support of the acting president named by Congress.
However, the protests against the coup continued, and were backed by the teachers’ union, which announced an indefinite strike in primary and secondary schools.
Marvin Ponce of the left-wing Democratic Unification party, the only one of the five parties represented in Congress that did not support the coup, told IPS that "we are starting to launch peaceful resistance, but we are at a disadvantage because we do not have timely access to the media."
Since Sunday, radio and TV stations have been closed down or censored, and reporters have complained about difficulties in getting out the news on the events of the last three days. Power and telecommunications have also been cut off and on since Sunday, including the broadcast signals of international news channels.
Social movements opposed to the coup announced traffic blockades in western Honduras, and the mayor of the western city of Santa Bárbara, Dennis Sánchez, said that despite the wide deployment of military troops, "we are mobilising strategically to join the protests in the capital."
Ponce said that "many of our peaceful protests have been repressed by army troops, but that is not being reported. Yesterday they punctured the tires of several buses that were carrying protesters to the capital from Olancho (in the northeast) and so far we count more than 140 people arrested."
But National Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio, a government official, told IPS that his regional delegates had instructions to verify arrests of social activists and demonstrators, "but our reports, so far, indicate that this is not happening."
"The constitution is in effect, and none of the constitutional guarantees or fundamental rights have been suspended, with the exception of free circulation between 9:00 PM and 6:00 AM from Sunday the 28th to Tuesday the 30th," said Custodio, referring to the curfew imposed by the regime.
Lina Pineda, with the teachers’ union, told IPS that the strike "is gaining in strength, and we have heard about cases of repression of colleagues in the northern part of the country. I believe a solution to this crisis is becoming more and more complex."
In the meantime, the Democratic Civic Union, a coalition of business leaders, politicians, churches and social organisations opposed to Zelaya, announced new marches and praised the military for "restoring peace," in the words of María Martha Díaz of the governing Liberal Party.
After his election as the Liberal Party’s candidate, Zelaya alienated the party by taking a turn to the left.
Amílcar Bulnes, the president of the Honduran Private Business Council – the main business association – said Tuesday that the international boycott of the new regime "will have serious repercussions for the country in an economy that Zelaya had already brought to a standstill.
"But we back the new government and are prepared to resist the pressure over the next five months, using our own funds if necessary, until the (November general) elections," he said.
The coup was condemned by the OAS, the Central American Integration System (SICA), the European Union and the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) bloc.
Diplomatic and economic sanctions were also taken against the new authorities in Honduras, accused of violating international conventions like the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
The members of ALBA announced that they would withdraw their ambassadors from Honduras and freeze diplomatic ties until the constitutional order was restored.
The declaration was signed by presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Raúl Castro of Cuba, and by the foreign ministers and other officials of Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Zelaya also signed the statement issued by ALBA, of which Honduras is a member.
The SICA, meanwhile, decided to immediately suspend all loans and disbursements to Honduras from the Central American Economic Integration Bank (BCIE) until Zelaya was reinstated.
In addition, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic announced the cancellation of all political, economic, financial, cultural, sports, tourist or cooperation meetings with those who took part in the coup.
They also said they would immediately recall their ambassadors for consultations and that they would not recognise any ambassador or other representative named by the de facto government in Honduras.
The CA-4 initiative, which allows visa-free circulation between its four member countries – Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua – decided as well to close its land borders with Honduras for at least 48 hours, threatening to extend the measure until Zelaya was restored to power.
The Rio Group – the main regional political forum – also held a meeting that condemned the coup and demanded the return of the constitutional president.
Zelaya will visit Washington, DC Wednesday to meet with representatives of the government of Barack Obama.
*With additional reporting by José Adán Silva in Managua.