Honduras: Regime Gives Signs of Easing Up after Stiffening Stance

 (IPS) – The electoral authorities and allies of Honduras’ de facto government in Congress have criticised the suspension of key civil liberties, while the top military chief called for talks between de facto President Roberto Micheletti and ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who has been holed up in the Brazilian embassy since early last week.

In response, Micheletti said he would discuss lifting the emergency measures issued Sunday, suggesting that it could happen by the end of the week.

The head of the joint chiefs of staff, General Romeo Vásquez, declared that the authorities had control of the situation and had curbed outbreaks of "insurrection."

"However, dialogue is necessary to find a solution to the crisis," added the general, who played a key role in the Jun. 28 coup that overthrew Zelaya. "I believe that very soon there will be a fruitful dialogue that will bring about a peaceful solution, within the framework of the country’s laws."

The Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) and the influential media association (AMC) urged Micheletti Tuesday to revoke the decree that suspended several constitutional guarantees for 45 days on Sunday.

The National Resistance Front Against the Coup d’Etat (FNR), meanwhile, condemned and refused to recognise the measures.

In a lengthy meeting late Monday, the president of Congress, Alfredo Saavedra, and legislators from four of the five political parties represented in the legislature called on Micheletti to lift the state of siege, which banned protests, made it easier for the police and army to arrest people without a warrant, and allowed authorities to shut down media outlets on the argument that they were inciting rebellion.

Left-wing lawmaker César Ham, the presidential candidate of the left-wing Democratic Unification (UD) party, reappeared in Congress Monday. He had gone into hiding following the coup.

Ham told the legislature that "the de facto government is stiffening its positions in order to yield in an eventual dialogue, so that the situation will stay the same."

Congressman Edmundo Orellana, Zelaya’s former defence minister, said "the situation is out of control; this country is falling apart. How can it be that intelligence and rational thought have fled our fatherland?"

Referring to the tension and uncertainty in the country, he said "No one is safe now, not even in their own home, with a semi-paralysed educational system, an increase in unemployment, closed down businesses, and irreparable damages that will take decades to recover from." He also called on Micheletti and Zelaya to engage in dialogue to solve the crisis.

The members of the FNR tried Monday and Tuesday to continue their protest marches outside the teachers college, but were surrounded by police and army troops and decided to gather instead in the soft drink workers’ union hall, one of the central headquarters of the pro-Zelaya movement.

The deposed president had urged his supporters to converge on Tegucigalpa Monday, the three-month anniversary of the coup, for a "final offensive" against the de facto government.

Karla Posas, a student at the National Autonomous University of Honduras who has been an active participant in the FNR’s three months of protests, expressed concern over the direction taken by events.

"It hurts to see such an important social movement aimed at bringing about changes in Honduras be absorbed by the neo-liberal followers of Zelaya who led us into a dead-end street," she said.

The protest movement began to emerge immediately after Zelaya was pulled out of his home in his pyjamas at gunpoint and bundled onto a plane to Costa Rica by the military on Jun. 28.

The movement, which spread from Tegucigalpa to other cities, picked up steam after the ousted leader made his surprise return to Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy on Sept. 21.

Micheletti also agreed to meet with a delegation of Latin American foreign ministers and Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza on Friday, after authorities refused an OAS team entry to Honduras over the weekend.

Two media outlets sympathetic to Zelaya were shut down on Sunday by police and soldiers: Radio Globo and TV station Canal 36. The director of Radio Globo, David Romero, and another journalist, Ronnie Martínez, were arrested during the raids on the stations but were later released.

Since Zelaya reappeared in the Brazilian embassy last week, the compound has been hemmed in by a police and military cordon, with concrete barriers and armoured vehicles aimed at preventing demonstrations by the ousted president’s supporters.

The embassy has had its water, power and telephone services cut off, and has been targeted by shrill noises and non-lethal gases that have caused health problems for the people in the compound.

At a Sept. 25 meeting on Honduras, the U.N. Security Council condemned the "acts of intimidation" and called on the de facto government to stop "harassing" the embassy.

According to sources with the de facto government, Zelaya slipped into Honduras as part of a plan supported by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

He reportedly first flew to El Salvador, where he met with lawmakers of the governing left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), and then went on to Guatemala. From there, he apparently flew across the border by helicopter, and was picked up in Honduras by a vehicle belonging to a Honduran member of the Central American Parliament, managing to slip past the regime’s intelligence and security services.

In Tegucigalpa, Zelaya first sought refuge at the United Nations building, but was taken in by the Brazilian embassy, which was immediately surrounded by thousands of his supporters celebrating his return and pressing for his reinstatement. However, the demonstrations there and around the city were violently repressed.

U.S. ambassador to the OAS Lewis Amselem criticised Zelaya’s return to Honduras as "irresponsible and foolish."

But the U.S. administration of Barack Obama denied Tuesday that the statements by the representative to the OAS indicated a change of policy towards the situation in Honduras.

"We have said throughout this process that all sides need to act constructively, avoid the kind of provocative statements or actions that would precipitate violence and inhibit the resolution of this situation," said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley.

According to the FNR, more than 100 people have been killed since the coup. But the regime only recognises the death of 19-year-old Isis Obed Murillo, who was shot by the security forces at Tegucigalpa airport on Jul. 5 when the ousted president’s attempt to return to the country by plane was thwarted by the military.

The deaths of two protesters over the weekend – a teacher and a student – were also blamed on the crackdown by the security forces.

But police chief Danilo Orellana refuted the allegation, and said the teacher was killed by unknown aggressors as he was leaving a church and the young woman died of swine (H1N1) flu, rather than an asthma attack brought on by tear gas, as was widely reported.

Orellana did admit that more than 100 people injured in clashes with the police in the last three months have been treated in public hospitals.

It was reported that in his closed-door meetings on Sunday and Monday with the four presidential candidates running in the Nov. 29 elections, business leaders and former political leaders, Llorens insisted on the need to reinstate Zelaya as president, and to begin talks towards that end.

In the meantime, assistant bishop of Tegucigalpa Juan José Pineda said his mediation attempts to bring about a dialogue between Zelaya and Micheletti were moving forward.