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In a Democracy Now! global broadcast exclusive, we take you on the plane of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya as he and his family return home after almost two years in exile. We speak with Zelaya, ousted Honduran foreign minister Patricia Rodas, Honduran exile René Guillermo Amador, and former Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba, one of the many representatives of Latin American countries who accompanied Zelaya home. We also speak to Father Roy Bourgeois of School of the Americas Watch on the role U.S.-trained generals played in the 2009 coup. “This military coup had real connections to the School of the Americas. The two top generals, the key players in this military coup—the head of the air force, the head of the army—were graduates of the School of the Americas,” said Bourgeois. [includes rush transcript]
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Thanks to you, I was able to return to the land that witnessed my birth. Thanks to your fight. Thanks to your effort, comrade. Thanks to your effort, comrade. Thanks to your demands. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Honduran President Manuel Zelaya returned to his country this weekend after being ousted at gunpoint in a military coup on June 28th, 2009. In a U.S. broadcast exclusive, Democracy Now! takes you on Zelaya’s flight home. Our journey began in the Nicaraguan capital on Friday.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ve just landed in Managua. We have two people who just came in from Spain. Interestingly, one of them is from Honduras. He is a leader of the grassroots movement in Honduras.
RENÉ GUILLERMO AMADOR: [translated] My name is René Guillermo Amador. Twenty months in exile. After the coup d’état, I had to leave, and that’s why we’ve been in Spain this whole time. I wrote an email to President Zelaya some time ago saying that he should go back to Honduras. And we made the commitment that we would be there with him at the moment at which he would do that.
It’s very difficult to do it at this time because the points that the resistance front has been pushing for have not been complied with. And to give a vote of confidence to a regime that has not complied with the minimum respect is something that causes us great pain. But there are over 200 compañeros and compañeras who have not been able to return from exile, so this is one of the points that is not consistent.
AMY GOODMAN: René, why did you have to leave?
RENÉ GUILLERMO AMADOR: [translated] Because the situation to guarantee the safety of our lives was no longer guaranteed within Honduras.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Father Roy Bourgeois, you have just landed in Managua, Nicaragua. Why are you here?
FATHER ROY BOURGEOIS: Well, you know, the SOA Watch movement that so many in the United States are a part of—
AMY GOODMAN: School of the Americas Watch.
FATHER ROY BOURGEOIS: The School of the Americas Watch. When the military coup took place close to two years ago, we were very, very upset by this, as so many were here in Honduras. And we came just a few days after the coup to express our solidarity.
AMY GOODMAN: To Honduras?
FATHER ROY BOURGEOIS: To Honduras.
AMY GOODMAN: After Zelaya was forced out.
FATHER ROY BOURGEOIS: Yes, just a few days after, we came here to meet with our friends, counterparts, we had met years—you know, during these years. And I must say, we were very, very alarmed at the seriousness of the situation. This military coup had real connections to the School of the Americas. The two top generals, the key players in this military coup—the head of the air force, the head of the army—were graduates of the School of Americas, which did not really surprise us. It’s been a pattern throughout the years.
So we came back then, and we are back now to express our support and solidarity with the people of Honduras, who really are living under intense repression. We were in Honduras just a month ago to follow up our visit after the coup, to meet once again with our friends here to get an update on what’s going on. And we met with many campesinos, the small farmers way out into the countryside, teachers, labor leaders. And we were quite surprised to see, once again, that fear, that repression, that’s still very alive in Honduras.
What saddens us, though, is that—well, first of all, when the coup happened, what we heard was President Obama, immediately after the coup, did say that it was a military coup and that the President, President Zelaya, must return with no conditions. He was the democratically elected president. But I must say, these were words only that lasted, I would say, about 24 hours. And something happened, Amy. They got to President Obama, and he did not use that word ever again, along with Secretary of State Clinton and others. Those who used that word “coup” when it actually—what do you call it when the president, democratically elected president of a country, at 5:00 in the morning is awakened with his pajamas at gunpoint and put on a plane and flown out of the country and could not return? What do you call it other than a military coup? And actually, a few days later, we came here, where we met also with our U.S. ambassador, Llorens. And he also referred to it as a military coup, and he said the same thing as we were saying: what do you call it if this is not a coup? But something happened. They stopped using that word “coup.”
And we were very, very disappointed in President Obama. There was such an opportunity, as President Zelaya expressed and so many of the people in Honduras, that our president—you know, we have such influence and power in this region, throughout the world, and especially in this small country, Honduras. We really could have done something, within a short while, to bring President Zelaya back to this country—cut off military aid, withdraw our U.S. ambassador. But none of this happened. But now we see this as somewhat of a historic moment here with the return of the democratically elected president, Zelaya, Mel, as he’s known by so many.
AMY GOODMAN: The delegation that will accompany Zelaya greets him at a hotel across the street from Sandino International Airport. I ask Zelaya how he feels.
How do you feel right now?
MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] I feel very full of hope and optimism and just very good feelings. The dialogue that we have yet to come, and the political action, is possible instead of armaments. No to violence. No to military coups. Coups never more.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I can’t believe who I’m seeing right now here across from the airport in Managua, Nicaragua. The last time we saw each other was in Port-au-Prince when you greeted President Aristide, who was ousted and returned home in Haiti. Now here are about to get on a plane with President Zelaya to return to Honduras. Piedad Córdoba, why are you here?
PIEDAD CÓRDOBA: [translated] I am Piedad Córdoba. I am the spokesperson of Colombians, both men and women, for peace. This is a process that we have been accompanying since the coup d’état itself some time ago.
AMY GOODMAN: You yourself had been kidnapped.
PIEDAD CÓRDOBA: [translated] Yes, I was in fact kidnapped by the paramilitaries.
AMY GOODMAN: For how long?
PIEDAD CÓRDOBA: [translated] Sixteen days.
AMY GOODMAN: And this was when you were a state legislator?
PIEDAD CÓRDOBA: [translated] Yes, it was when in the Senate of the Republic, and that was some 10 years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean that it was President Santos, the Colombian president, and President Chávez of Venezuela who witnessed this accord between the current president of Honduras, Lobo, and the ousted president, Zelaya, for Zelaya’s return?
PIEDAD CÓRDOBA: [translated] The message is very, very clear, and it has to do with politics. It is the triumph of politics against war. It was very much easier to have confrontation and to have war than to have dialogue and sensibilities. And so, it is an absolute, overwhelming triumph of this kind of politics. It gives the possibility for the people to really witness and be involved in differences and to be witnesses of the true change that comes with that process.
AMY GOODMAN: Piedad Córdoba, former Colombian senator, one of the many representatives of Latin American countries who accompanied ousted president Zelaya and his family on their historic trip home. When we come back, we take you on the flight to Honduras and sit down with President Zelaya to talk about the day the military kidnapped him at gunpoint and why he believes the U.S. is behind the coup. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue our special on the return of Manuel Zelaya.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re coming onto the tarmac right now, where President Zelaya, his family, his supporters have all gathered to get on the flight to go home to Tegucigalpa, to Honduras, for the first time in almost two years. It’s hot. It’s windy. And it’s a historic occasion. As one ambassador said to me, this is Latin America’s moment. President Zelaya just said, as I was interviewing him, this means no war, no violence, no more coups. We’re getting on the flight.
PATRICIA RODAS: [translated] I am Patricia Rodas, ex-president of the Liberal Party of Honduras. And also I am the ex-foreign minister of the citizens’ power of the President, José Manuel Zelaya Rosales.
AMY GOODMAN: When were you last in Honduras?
PATRICIA RODAS: [translated] I was expelled from my country by the military. They came to my house. I was taken prisoner by the air force of Honduras. And then, later, they deported me at midnight, and they transferred me in the airplane. Apparently, this airplane belonged to Miguel Facussé, the plane in which I was transferred. I was transferred forcibly and expatriated forcibly. And at that moment, I was received by the Republic of Mexico.
AMY GOODMAN: And your feeling right now?
PATRICIA RODAS: [translated] It is absolutely indescribable. These are absolutely feelings that are bittersweet. And what we will miss in this new struggle, this new step of the struggle, we will miss the compañeros, the men and women whose lives were lost by the repression, the persecution.
AMY GOODMAN: The family of President Zelaya has now just gotten on the flight, and now President Zelaya himself, in his signature cowboy hat, is coming onto the red carpet. This is the beginning of another journey that began for President Mel Zelaya two years ago in Honduras. He was driven out of the country at gunpoint in a military coup. What happens next is not clear. The flight from Managua to Tegucigalpa is expected to be about half an hour. We hear that tens of thousands of people are waiting for him in his home country.
We have just flown from Nicaraguan airspace into Honduran airspace. President Zelaya and his wife Xiomara, they’re in the front row. And actually, the President has flown over Tegucigalpa before, but he was not able to land. It was a very fateful day when hundreds of thousands gathered at the airport in Tegucigalpa to greet him. Andrés Conteris, with Democracy Now! en Español, has been translating for us.
Talk about that day. The date was…?
ANDRÉS CONTERIS: The date was July 5th, 2009, Amy, and it was a very, very fateful day. It was the day when the people of Honduras went in massive force to the Toncontín airport in Tegucigalpa, one of the most dangerous airports in the world, I might add, and we’re about to land there. This airport is the place where President Zelaya first attempted to return into his country after the coup on June 28th, 2009. He was not allowed to land. They blocked the airstrip with military trucks. And then, there were 250,000, it is estimated; that many people, a quarter million, were there to receive their president. And I was there, as well. And we all wanted that plane to land. We could see the plane in the air, just as when we approach in about 15 minutes they will be able to see us. And what happened is that that plane was not allowed to land.
And what happened after that? The people continued in a very peaceful protest. And that peaceful protest turned violent, not by the demonstrators, not by those who were protesting, but by the military and the police who started shooting at the crowd. And there were several victims who were wounded, but one who was killed. His name is Isis Obed Murillo, 19 years old at the time on July 5th, 2009. And there is a monument in his honor very near the airport where he died. I have been at that monument at a moment when there have been ceremonies in honor of the martyrs of the coup d’état of Honduras. It’s actually the very first place that I saw Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the wife of President Zelaya, who stayed in Honduras after he was expatriated in the coup.
AMY GOODMAN: President Zelaya has landed in Honduras with his family. He is just about to step out of the plane. We saw thousands of people on the outskirts of the airport waving flags. We also saw riot police. Now, a small gaggle of press is going to document his arrival.
When President Zelaya walks off the plane, he kneels down and kisses the ground. After greeting family and friends, many of whom he hadn’t seen for years, his motorcade slowly made its way through massive crowds to the rally to thank his supporters. It was held at the memorial to the young man killed by Honduran security when Zelaya had attempted to land in Honduras a week after the coup. President Zelaya addressed the crowd. Zelaya then went to the presidential palace and had a ceremonial banquet with the delegation that accompanied him on the flight, as well as the current Honduran president, Porfirio Lobo, and OAS Secretary General Insulza. President Zelaya then went home for the first time in 23 months. Friends and family gathered throughout the house, including his bedroom, singing songs and greeting each other.