Zelaya Returns to Honduras: Micheletti Government to Block Zelaya Plane

Ousted former Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya says he will return to Honduras today, but the BBC is reporting that the interim Micheletti government will not allow Zelaya’s plane to land should he try to enter the country. Updates below.

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Foreign Minister Enrique Ortez said that any plane carrying Mr Zelaya would not be allowed to land.

Mr Zelaya says he will fly back to the country from Washington, arriving between 1300 and 1400 local time (1900 – 2000GMT).

While the Zelaya family awaits the return of their husband and father, they are residing in the home of the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras.

The Organization of American States (OAS) has suspended Honduran membership, following the seemingly everlasting suspension of Cuba in 1962, and the 1990 suspension of Haiti. OAS gave the new government a 72-hour deadline to reseat Zelaya as president. Violence in the streets is expected from Zelaya supporters. It’s important to note that many of the protesters against the new government were the Honduran poor and union members who appreciated the 60% increase in minimum wage that Zelaya bestowed upon them. In the short six months or so since the implementation of the increase, business leaders say 150,000 jobs have been lost.

People are afraid. The immense majority of people don’t want problems, they just want peace. But there is so much risk of violence when he comes,” says Roger Marin, a columnist for the Honduran newspaper El Heraldo. “If he does not come today, he will come tomorrow. He is going to arrive. … That is the kind of man he is, stubborn.

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.

In the meantime, unless there is something the world doesn’t know, the new Honduran government is trying to keep democracy and the Republic of Honduras from joining the bevy of non-democratic constitutional republics who are republics-in-name-only.

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.

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.

Roberto Micheletti, the new president installed by the Honduran Congress has said he is open to early elections – earlier than the slated November 2009, but a warning sign for those supporting Zelaya’s outster: Micheletti is reported to willing to hold a “referendum asking citizens if Zelaya should return to carry out his final few months in office.”

A senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution’s Latin America Initiative says he will not be surprised if the Micheletti government backs down under global pressure:

Honduras is too small, too poor, and too vulnerable to pull it off,” he says

Update 7-5-09 1:40 p.m. CDT:
Confirmation that the military will or has refused to allow Zelaya to land in Honduras

The interim government said it ordered the military to prevent the landing of a plane carrying Zelaya or any unidentified plane.

The government of President (Roberto) Micheletti has order the armed forces and the police not to allow the entrance of any plane bringing the former leader,” the foreign minister of the interim government, Enrique Ortez, told The Associated Press on Sunday.

At the main Tegucigalpa airport, soldiers outnumbered travelers and commercial flights were canceled after a final morning departure. Access roads were cut off by police checkpoints, with soldiers standing guard alongside.

Update 7-5-09 4:20 p.m. CDT:
Zelayas’ flight was diverted to El Salvador

Update 7-5-09 9:50 p.m. CDT:
Zelaya’s plane carrying him to Honduras was prevented from landing by blocking the runway with military vehicles and soldiers. “His Venezuelan pilots circled around the airport and decided not to risk a crash.” Zelaya vowed to try again early this week, but Micheletti said there will be no entry for Zelaya until the country “calms down.” After the plane flew off, police cleared the streets of his angry supporters and declared a sunrise-to-sunset curfew.


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