The Latin American crisis in Honduras escalated yesterday as deposed president Manuel Zelaya attempted to force his way back into the country, despite the Honduran government warning to stay out. The military blocked runways, forcing Zelaya to fly to Managua, Nicaragua instead. Zelaya’s supporter showed in force at the airport and clashed with the military, leaving one dead and 30 injured:
In a high-stakes standoff that played out in the skies over Honduras, the airplane carrying ousted president Manuel Zelaya was forced to circle the nation’s main airport twice before flying away Sunday evening after coup leaders who deposed Zelaya blocked his landing with troops on the runway.
The turn-back of Zelaya’s white jet left thousands of his supporters shouting in disappointment and anger. Minutes earlier, security forces fired tear gas and bullets at the crowd to keep demonstrators away from the airport, which was surrounded by soldiers and military vehicles.
The Red Cross said people 30 people were wounded in the melee, but there were conflicting reports about fatalities. An Associated Press photographer reported that one man was shot in the head.
Why not let him land? Apparently, the military and the new government worried about making an arrest on the tarmac with Zelaya’s traveling companion, U.N. General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, and a second plane carrying the the presidents of Argentina, Ecuador, Paraguay, and the Secretary-General of the OAS. A show of military force aimed at foreign heads of state would be a cassus belli, a handy excuse for an invasion by foreign troops. Unfortunately, the decision on that strategy shut down air traffic across Honduras.
Rumors had Nicaraguan troops approaching the border, presumably in an attempt to reinstall Zelaya by force. Later in the day, though, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega denied it, and Roberto Micheletti acknowledged that only a few troops “without their commanders” had drifted towards the border. Micheletti warned Nicaragua and other nations not to interfere with what Micheletti deemed an internal matter, or the interference would produce “bloodshed.”
Many people may not have known that Zelaya’s flight started from Washington, where he apparently has set up his office in exile. White House officials told the Washington Post that they expect him to return to Washington after the aborted attempt to return to Honduras. However, Zelaya says he’ll try landing in Honduras again instead, perhaps as early as today. Micheletti said that they would allow Zelaya to land when the former president was ready to turn himself into authorities “quietly”, and not before then. It looks like we’ll see another standoff soon, and more demonstrations by Zelaya supporters at the airport.
The Right Scoop has photos of the protests, including one graphic pic of the protester allegedly shot by the military or the police in the head.