Honduras: Military vs Democracy

It’s not exactly ideal when you’re backpacking across a foreign land and the president is kidnapped in a military coup. Border crossings are lined with protestors, nationwide curfews are imposed and streets are deserted.

Everywhere I went in Honduras people asked me why I was there – tourists had fled the country as soon as the political crisis unravelled back in June 2009 and a month later the country was still under military rule. Aside from the minor inconvenience of reuniting with home friends in a city bursting with angry demonstrators, I was glad I had been alerted to the political crisis.

On 28 June 2009 soldiers stormed the presidential palace in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, arrested President Manuel Zelaya and sent him into exile in Costa Rica. The President, who was elected in 2006 and due to leave office in January, wanted to hold a referendum that could have led to an extension of his non-renewable four-year term in office. Congress, the military and conservative rivals opposed his proposed constitution and so the night before the polls opened they expelled him from power.

Depending on who you speak to, the President’s removal was either an illegal act by rightwing elite or it was a necessary move to stop a power hungry man on the brink of becoming a dictator.

The media attention that Honduras attracted throughout the summer meant the country’s tourist destinations became ghost towns: hotels stood empty, hostels closed down and it seemed as though my friends and I were the only backpackers venturing between Guatemala and Nicaragua. Many locals told us they’d been out of work for the past few months. Holiday-makers had avoided the troubled country leaving the natives with no form of income during what was usually their busiest period. There was a depressive atmosphere in the towns we visited; residents lined the streets saying they had nothing else to do.

It doesn’t look as though tourists will be returning any time soon either – Honduras’ political crisis has only intensified.

When Zelaya secretly returned in September and sought refuge in Tegucigalpa’s Brazilian embassy, where he still remains, the city erupted in violence and supporters were shot dead. Many Hondurans believe that if Zelaya really cared about his people then he would stay away as his presence continues to stir up anarchy.

Last Sunday (29 November) a new president was elected, Porfirio Lobo, which has divided the international community. While US, Costa Rica and Panama have backed the vote, Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela say they will not recognise any government installed after the election as this would legitimise the coup.

Zelaya himself has accused the polls of being fraudulent and so it remains to be seen if the elections are a show of democracy or a continuation of the military coup. Congress has voted against allowing Zelaya to serve out his two remaining months in term.

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