Hondurans against Zelaya, but for the rule of law

Young professionals are struck with uncertainty. They want any political transition to be based on democratic principles.

Miguel Alvarez/AP
Ousted Honduras' President Manuel Zelaya gestures during a press conference Monday at the Honduran embassy in Managua, Nicaragua. Zelaya was kept from landing in Honduras' main airport Sunday because the runway was blocked by soldiers with military vehicles.

Alejandro Alvarez is no fan of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. The Internet consultant joined a group of young business leaders, lawyers, and analysts that formed weeks ago to stop Mr. Zelaya from operating outside the constitutional framework.

The group, called Generation for Change, formed as self-appointed guardians of the rule of law. They were so angry at the prospect of Zelaya scrapping term limits that they staged an outrageous protest: four men – wearing nothing but underwear, boots, large cowboy hats, and mustaches - marched on the presidential palace in a clear mockery of their president.

But when Mr. Alvarez awoke June 28 to the news that a coup had taken place in his homeland, his heart thumped. "No, it can't be possible," he thought. "They made a huge mistake."

The Honduran conflict is mostly painted in black and white. On the one hand is a deposed leader, sent to Costa Rica in his pajamas, with a base of supporters at home and world leaders calling for his reinstatement. On the other is a de facto interim government, led by Roberto Micheletti, defending its government as constitutional.

But many young citizens, such as Alvarez, fall somewhere in the middle, a group of undecideds who worry that moves by both Honduran leaders have caused irreparable damage to democracy in their country.

"There are many who think Zelaya put himself on the margins of the law, but unfortunately the way it was addressed shows the inability of our political class," says Miguel Calix, a political analyst in Honduras.

But was it a coup?

Generation for Change began as a small political discussion between friends. But it grew so quickly that they gave themselves a formal name and set up a website. Anywhere from 30 to 50 members attend weekly meetings; 1,000 have signed up online. Because of their previous hard stance against the actions of Zelaya, known as "Mel, they have been pegged as supporting the coup. But many are now ambivalent. "Mel and Micheletti will pay for their mistakes" is what one new member writes on the group's website.

Among these young professionals many share a preoccupation with the way events were handled. "We don't want him [Zelaya] to return, but we do not want a coup either," says Mauricio Reyes, a young businessman. "A lot of us feel things could have been done better."

A group founded as guardians of legality finds itself in a unique position now that the world is condemning their government for carrying out an illegal coup. On a recent day, when asked whether a coup had actually taken place, many members of the group pause. It is clearly something that they have debated, but have not reached a conclusion about. Mr. Reyes and Alvarez say, for exampley, say they are unsure about whether it was a coup. Regardless, Alvarez says, he firmly believes Zelaya should not have been sent out of the country. "He should have gotten due process here," he says.

"Which is the worst crime here?" Alvarez asks. "We will not know for years."

Can undecideds demonstrate?

Even street protesters here aren't completely clear on their positions. Mr. Calix says many protesters who show up in favor of the interim government are actually undecided about Mr. Micheletti: They are there to cast a vote against Zelaya. At a recent protest, Rodolfo Sierra, a computer vendor, is asked if he supports the new government. He laughs. "No," he says. "I just wanted Mel gone."

Calix says views like his are probably more common than is quantifiable. But he asks: "How do people in the middle demonstrate?"

Generation for Change was created with the single purpose of keeping Zelaya within the boundaries of the law. Now that he is gone, they see a new role as champions of a principled transition. Micheletti has promised to hold presidential elections in November, and that a new president will take over in January.

Guardians of a principled change

But these young professionals are not going to let their guard down. "We have to be very vigilant that elections come and that power is changed," says Alvarez.

They hope this serves as a wake-up call for future generations of politicians. "We want them to know they cannot play with the laws. We want more transparency and more participatory democracy," says Mr. Reyes.

In the meantime, there is an upshot in the midst of a nation's worst political crisis in decades. "Young people here were completely indifferent," says Cossette Lopez-Osorio, a young lawyer. Now new social movements, on both sides of the issue, are forming daily. Even their group would not have existed a year back, she says. "Now more young people want to get involved."

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