Ousted Honduran leader calls for 'insurrection'

Manuel Zelaya's rhetoric may make this weekend's talks more difficult and could spark violence in the tense and divided country, analysts say.

Rodrigo Abd/AP
Supporters of Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya protest outside the US consulate in Tegucigalpa Tuesday.

Heading into a new round of dialogue this weekend, ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is not mincing words. Hondurans "have the right to insurrection," he said on Tuesday during a visit to Guatemala.

His supporters back his calls for more action against the interim government, led by Roberto Micheletti. But his words are also raising concerns that Mr. Zelaya, who has received support from around the world for his reinstatement after he was forced out of the country in a military ouster June 28, is doing little to foster resolution.

"This is a colossal mistake calling for insurrection," says Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, headquartered in New York. "He has just painted a picture of himself in the same way the opposition always said he was, verifying their worst fears that he is someone who will take any action to change the politics in Honduras. Calling for insurrection is pretty serious stuff, particularly in the Central American context."

Call to rise up against 'usurper government'

At a news conference with Guatemala's left-leaning President Álvaro Colom on Tuesday, Zelaya said that "insurrection is a legitimate process" and that "nobody owes allegiance to a usurper government." He said a day earlier that attempts to resolve the situation will have failed if mediation talks to restore him to power are not under way this week.

Some Hondurans are concerned that such rhetoric could spur violence in the tense and divided country, especially given that one protester was shot dead at Tegucigalpa airport when the military blocked Zelaya's attempted return the week after the ouster.

But supporters say his calls for protest are not intended to instigate further conflict. "The only thing the president is doing is motivating the people to follow Article 3 of the Constitution," says Omar Rivera, a Zelaya ally who worked in his government, in a phone interview.

Article 3 of the Honduran Constitution states that no one should obey a "usurper government."


The interim government, meanwhile, has said that it is willing to consider offering amnesty to Zelaya, who is charged with 18 crimes including treason, but has said that he cannot return as president. "The ideal result would be for Zelaya to agree to stop the demonstrations that are causing disorder in the country," Honduran lawmaker Marcia Facusse de Villeda told Bloomberg news in a telephone interview.

Patience urged

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who is mediating the conflict, has urged patience, after talks broke down last week. "I understand the desire of President Zelaya to return and reinstate himself as president of the Honduras people as soon as possible, but my experience tells me that one has to be a little patient."

The US has also urged patience. "All parties in the talks should give this process some time. Don't set any artificial deadlines," US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said this week.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, meanwhile, has blasted the US for what he says is a tepid response to the crisis in Honduras.

Will Zelaya lose international support?

Zelaya's boldness, though, could ultimately cost him some international support.

"Those people who want to be supportive of Zelaya, not necessarily because they support Zelaya, but the bigger issue of democracy in Honduras, are going to think twice," says Mr. Farnsworth. "What they did, the military bundling him and sending him out of the country, that was the original sin. But now, if you are trying to resolve it peacefully, it does not help for one party to say people should be thinking about insurrection."

Does Zelaya feel that time is running out?

Farnsworth says Zelaya might feel pressure because the longer the interim government stalls talks or refuses to budge, the more time stays on their side. They might not have to agree to restore Zelaya before they hold new presidential elections, presently scheduled in November, if not earlier. "They are trying to run out the clock," says Farnsworth. "Right now they have possession of the [ball]."

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