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Honduras braces for confrontation ahead of Zelaya's return

Ousted President Manuel Zelaya is set to arrive back in the country Sunday, a move some say could provoke violence.

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In fact, it is the shadow of Mr. Chávez that scared so many here. Fear – real or perceived – of Venezuelan airplanes full of arms landing in the country, of guerillas coming from El Salvador and Nicaragua, and even the coming of communism is whispered about in any conversation with those who say Zelaya's ouster is justified.

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And so, while the international community condemns a coup, many Hondurans say his ouster, although perhaps not entirely legal, was the better of two evils. After all, Zelaya was breaking the law by pushing for a nonbinding referendum to survey voters on their support to call a constituent assembly. Many say that was the first step toward dissolving term limits for presidents. "If he had not been kicked out, we would have had Al Capone as president indefinitely," says Jesus Simon, an engineer attending a recent protest march against Zelaya.

Many, such as Mr. Simon, have expressed frustration that the world seemed unaware of the threat to democracy before June 28. Not a few times has the name Richard Nixon been floated, as an example of a president who broke the law and faced impeachment. Here, Hondurans say, the level of institutional maturity does not allow for such recourse.

Was it even a coup?

Besides, Mr. Micheletti, in a half-empty presidential palace that he claims as his office despite the rebuff of the world, maintains Zelaya's ouster was not a coup, but was within the bounds of the law.

Zelaya clearly disagrees. On Saturday, he called upon his supporters to greet him at the airport for his return. "I ask all farmers, residents, Indians, young people, and all workers' groups, businessmen, and friends ... to accompany me on my return to Honduras," he said in a taped statement. "Do not bring weapons. Practice what I have always preached, which is nonviolence. Let them be the ones who use violence, weapons and repression."

Cardinal warns of a 'bloodbath'

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez appeared on state television imploring Zelaya to stay abroad. Daily protests have grown in size in the capital, and while most Hondurans say they want peace, tensions are running high. Leading to the presidential palace, fast-food chain restaurants have been shattered, their walls splashed with graffiti calling Micheletti a fascist and coup leader. "We think that a return to the country at the moment could provoke a bloodbath," Cardinal Rodriguez said.

For Mr. Marin, this crisis was bound to play out sooner or later, after years of tension formed by extreme poverty – more than 70 percent of Hondurans live below the poverty line – and a lack of political will to address real reform.

The climax could come at any minute. Resolution, however, is far away – a task that Marin says had been made harder because the world has already taken a stance without listening to both sides. "Everyone has their own agenda," he says. Venezuela: political alliances. Nicaragua: an ideological neighbor. The US: an attempt to say it no longer acts unilaterally in the region. "Honduras could be left to its own luck."

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