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Coup drives deep divide in Honduras

Supporters of ousted President Zelaya blocked streets Wednesday, vowing to protest until he is reinstated.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 2, 2009

Supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya gather items to block a road during a protest near the presidential residence in Tegucigalpa Wednesday.

Eduardo Verdugo/AP

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Tegucigalpa, Honduras

The leftist president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, has managed to bring together world leaders of all stripes in a rare show of unity against his ouster Sunday.

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But he has also left this Central American nation as polarized as ever – and the signs of division abound all over the capital city, in graffiti splashed across walls and streets snarled by ad hoc protests.

At a march in favor of Mr. Zelaya Wednesday, where protesters blocked off streets with large rocks and screamed "We want Mel," – their nickname for Zelaya – Mari Cruz Amador, a school teacher, says her wish is simple: "We want our elected president, not the president who put himself as president."

As they marched by, Rolando Salgado, a vendor of construction products, shook his head. "Manuel Zelaya cannot come back as president because he broke the law," he says. "The person responsible for all of this tragedy is Manuel Zelaya."

Critics of Zelaya, who was arrested early Sunday morning and sent to Costa Rica, say he was pushed out in the name of democracy after forging forward with his bid to let presidents seek re-election beyond a single four-year term, despite widespread rejection of the move that even the Supreme Court deemed illegal. Those supporting Zelaya, however, say they will stay on the streets until their president has been reinstated. The result is an increasingly tense standoff that shows no signs of abating.

A longstanding class divide

Honduras, one of the poorest nations in the region, has long been divided along the same class lines that characterize most of Latin America. The elite have historically had a tight grip on the political scene, but Zelaya vowed to empower the poor, raising salaries and supporting single mothers. "He is the only person generating change in this country," says Angel Castro, a hospital administrator in Tegucigalpa.

But many say he become too closely aligned with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and other leftist leaders, particularly in his bid to change the Constitution to allow presidents to run for more than one term, and it ultimately cost him control – at least for now – of his country.

Many Zelaya supporters, who tend to lean to the left and come from the poorer segments of society, say they find themselves in the rare position of being supported by such unlikely characters as leaders from the US, which has condemned Zelaya's ouster. "I am thankful to the world, that they are supporting our country so that we have a good democracy," says Ms. Cruz.

Many Hondurans against Zelaya, however, say they are both surprised, and dismayed, that the world has not come to their side. Mario Cruz, a manager for an auto parts company, says that he just returned from a trip to France, Germany, and Mexico, and says it is clear that the world is against his country's new leadership. "But they do not understand what is going on here," he says. "Zelaya is not the person he is presenting himself to be to the world."

Curfews, protests, anger

It has been four days since Hondurans awoke Sunday morning to find that instead of voting in a nonbinding referendum to consider drawing up a constituent assembly, their president no longer was in power.

Since then, curfews have been put in place. Warring street protests have clogged the streets. Anger is palpable.

As two soldiers walked toward the pro-Zelaya march Wednesday, protesters rushed at them screaming, "Soldiers, get out of here!" They toppled the stands where newspapers, which heavily favor the new government, are sold, placing them in the middle of the road as barricades.

When will Zelaya return?

Zelaya has pledged that he will return to Honduras possibly as early as the weekend to retake power – a plan backed by the Organization of American States.

The coup leaders vow that he will be arrested on multiple charges for breaking the law.

Tensions could remain high for days, and possibly weeks. But Ricardo Calix, a gas attendant, says he is hopeful that unity will find its way to Honduras. He does not agree with Zelaya nor the protesters. "But they are my neighbors," he says. "We will have to move on."

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