Was there a coup in Honduras? The answer divides a nation.
How one political party president tries to keep his organization from splintering.
Tegucigalpa, Honduras — Was it a coup – or not?
The answer to this question is a jagged new fault line that is tearing through Honduran political parties, government and social organizations, and families.
Congressman Jorge Aguilar, the president of the Innovation and Unity Party (PINU), finds himself straddling the divide, desperately trying to keep his political party from fracturing further.
On a recent morning, he interrupts an interview to take an urgent call: the executive director of the PINU party has just been on the air condemning the June 28 removal of President Manuel Zelaya as a "coup."
Mr. Aguilar calls the radio program immediately, to clarify that the comments are not official party line, but one party member's personal opinion.
PINU has two members in Congress and each – like many of the PINU voters – have lined up on the opposite side of this issue. And suddenly Aguilar, whose job once centered on campaigns and internal party affairs, is now more of a mediator, a buffer, and a damage controller.
"This situation is polarizing everyone," Aguilar says, a heavy look on his face. "Some people think what happened was a coup, others don't. This could fracture our party."
Honduras is a nation divided. After its president was unceremoniously flown out of the country, a new government was sworn in hours later. On Monday, the airport was shut down for 48 hours and protest marches continued in the capital. The Associated Press reported that Mr. Zelaya was flying back to Washington Tuesday to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But if the crisis centers at the highest levels of government, it has also spilled down into the nation's entire political establishment. And from the vantage of a social democratic party president, who fields concerns from members who support the ouster, condemn it, and all the shades of gray in between, the repercussions of this division could be felt for far longer than the immediate crisis itself.
Emergency party meeting
Like the rest of society, Aguilar awoke a week ago Sunday to find out that his president had been deposed and sent to Costa Rica in his pajamas after refusing to back down from plans to set up a constituent assembly, which many claim had the ultimate aim of removing term limits for presidents.
As Aguilar voraciously devoured the news that morning – going out to listen on his car radio when the electricity went out – his first thought was of PINU, one of the smaller parties on the Honduran political scene that includes members whose ideologies veer right and left.
Aguilar called an emergency meeting, and hours later the party issued a declaration condemning the events, though refraining from calling it a coup. Within hours he had an angry call from Congressman Toribio Aguilera, one of two congress members representing PINU.
"I was going to resign," says Mr. Aguilera, who voted in congress to support the new interim government and maintains Zelaya's ouster was not a coup. "His removal had to be done for respect of the law and the Constitution."
While Aguilera sticks to his position, the executive director of PINU, Wilfredo Mendez, is calling for his resignation.
"For me, it was a coup. They took the president out by force and expelled him from the country," says Mr. Mendez. "We are not a party that supports a coup, and we cannot have congress members who think differently from the party."
Mendez says the far majority of the party supports his view: It was a coup. But Congressman Aguilera says most are behind him.
Aguilar, the party president, says: "I am stuck in the middle."
The only way out is dialogue
In many ways, the divisions forming within PINU are a microcosm of what the rest of the nation is facing. Two men are calling themselves president. Competing street protests are forming each day. "This has divided the entire country, friends have been lost over it, even families are divided," says Roger Marin, a columnist for the local newspaper El Heraldo.
Aguilar, whose father was a founding member of PINU, took on his first role in the party at age 14, delivering food to party representatives on election day. Since then he has worked as a photographer, a driver, and errand boy. He rose in 2002 as a congressman, and has presided over the party, a four-year stint, since 2006.
He says he has never seen such polarization. Several, on both sides, say they refuse to participate in upcoming elections. Some are calling for dialogue with the interim government. Others say that will legitimize the government and want civil disobedience instead. Some say Zelaya must stay away, others that he must come home. Aguilar's phone has not stopped ringing for a week.
He called a second emergency meeting last Tuesday – and twice as many party members showed up as normally do. He asked all to share their views, taking copious notes of each viewpoint. "I wanted to show how diverse the opinions are in the party," he says.
Aguilar says the only way forward is dialogue, both within the party and the nation overall. "Let's sit down and talk. All sectors. No one can be left out. This is a crisis. But it is an opportunity, too," he says.