Manuel Zelaya: Democracy Has a Price and I Am Prepared to Pay It

When the Managua embassy press conference of the constitutional president of Honduras Manuel Zelaya Rosales ended, I was able to get into the president’s vehicle along with his Minister of the Presidency, Enrique Flores Lanza, to go to an interview with international media.  In just a few days — or perhaps hours — President Zelaya was to set out on his return trip to Honduras.  In the intimacy of the vehicle we began this exclusive interview for Sirel.

Giorgio Trucchi: In the last few days you’ve announced your intention to return to Honduras, no matter the cost.  Is this a definitive decision?

Zelaya Rosales: This is not a question of something that goes against the stability of the country; rather it is a solution in the search for stability.  We hope that this will be the best way to undertake an internal dialog that solves the conflict and end the repression under which the Honduran people are suffering.

G.T.: Dialog with whom?

Z.R.: With the people because the people command in a democracy.  The powerful sectors who have taken up arms are repressive groups, and they have to give up the exercise of command that the people have not granted them.

G.T.: What has most saddened you about this coup against your person and your government cabinet?

Z.R.: What pains me is that the country is being destroyed.  Society is suffering, and they are trying to destroy the progress we have achieved and the efforts of so many generations through the use of arms.

G.T.: The de facto government is totally isolated on the international level and is facing a strong and tireless internal resistance from grassroots movements.  Despite that, it is carrying on with a totally intransigent attitude.  The question arises: is this just a matter of insensitivity, or are they placing their confidence in support from foreign actors?

Z.R.: They are like wild animals from the jungle clutching their food.  They think Honduras is their personal ranch.  They’re a group of ten families who want to consolidate their economic wealth and privileges.  Their fear is groundless because no one is trying to get at them.  Nevertheless, they believe that democratic development will affect them negatively and so do not accept democracy.

G.T.: At the press conference you said that there are political sectors of the US Right that supported and continue to back the coup.  Are you convinced of the involvement of those sectors?

Z.R.: These people have made public demonstrations of their support for the coup, including US senators and members of Congress.  Mr. Otto Reich is the former Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere and he came out in support of the coup.  Many people in the United States have done the same.  Hence, there is proof and evidence that ex-president George W. Bush’s hawks are behind this coup.

G.T.: What importance has the grassroots, social, and union movement had in blocking the progress of the coup?

Z.R.: They are protagonists in defense of democracy because they think that democracy is an instrument that enables them to make social conquests.  They are combating the coup and won’t give up until the effects of this attack against the Honduran people and against democracy are reversed.

The coupsters are defying the world and we have to set a precedent before it is too late.

G.T.: UITA [International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association] has been following events from the optic of grassroots movements, before, during, and after the coup.  For these organizations there are two elements that cannot be negotiated: rejection of amnesty for the coupsters; and continuation of the process toward a fourth ballot box [in the coming elections that would consult voters about whether or not a constitutional reform process should be undertaken] and the establishment of a Constituent Assembly.  What do you think about those points?

Z.R.: It would be ridiculous to award a prize to the coupsters for carrying out a coup.  I think the position of the social movements is to seek a solution to the conflict, but without any prizes or pardons for committing criminal and common offenses.  At the same time, I think that the seven points put forward by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias speak about political amnesty but not for criminal and common offenses.  Regarding social reforms, I think that finding a new strategy to carry on with these reforms must be part of a broad process of discussion throughout Honduran society.  Social reforms should not be ended, nor should the people’s rights to political participation be blocked, because they are constitutional rights.  In that sense, Oscar Arias’s points were not discussed in their breadth because the coupsters do not accept restitution of a democratic system.  They want a de facto regime that is lawless; they want to maintain it with violence.  We cannot accept that.

G.T.: It’s been said that there are two basic elements in trying to find a solution to the conflict: the position of the United States and the role of the armed forces.  What’s your opinion on that?

Z.R.: Today we sent a letter to President Barack Obama, respectfully asking him to stiffen measures not only against the repressive state, but also against those individuals who conspired and carried out the coup.  We hope for a quick response so that the measures undertaken will really restore a system based on law and order.  If that does not happen we are all in a precarious situation, not just myself — a victim of a coup for defending society’s rights — but the whole population.  I believe that President Obama not only has diplomatic mechanisms to exercise pressure but also has other powerful options that I hope he applies; and so should other countries in Latin America.

Regarding the armed forces, if they are going to serve to carry out coups, then logically we have to evaluate their role.  However, I believe that, in this case, it was the high command that ordered the coup.  The officers and the new generation that is going to receive blood-stained armed forces do not agree with this coup.

G.T.: Is it getting close to the moment of your return to Honduras? Aren’t you afraid of being arrested or assassinated?

Z.R.: I have no fear.  But I am taking precautions and being careful.  When life demands, you have to live with a sense of effort and of its rewards.  Sometimes sacrifice is necessary to bring about social conquests, and I am ready to make the effort for people’s liberty, democracy, and peace.

G.T.: Did you ask the media to accompany in your attempt to return to the country?  Are you really proposing to go back?

Z.R.: I’ve asked them to accompany me.  I am going to risk everything and the world is taking the same risk with my return.  I’ve said that if there is an assassination General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez will be responsible for my death

The original interview “Con el presidente Manuel Zelaya Rosales: La democracia tiene un precio y estoy dispuesto a pagarlo” was published by Sirel (Latin American Regional Secretariat of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations) on 19 July 2009.  Translation by Felipe Stuart Cournoyer.