Jul 5, 2009

Near Convergence Point: Marchers, President, Armed Forces Move toward Airport

Three lines of force move to converge at the Toncontin International Airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

One force—police and military units at the service of the coup—is charged with preventing the other two—a President and the people who support him—from connecting in a powerful circuit to reinstate the President. The march is now blocked by police contingents in a face-off at the entrance to the airport. Neither side will disperse.

As these two forces converge on land, the third is airborn and approaching the Caribbean. Telesur reports that at 3:00 p.m. a plane carrying President Zelaya, UN president Miguel D'Escoto, Honduran OAS Ambassador Carlos Sosa, the Foreign Minister, security personnel and members of the international press took off from Washington. In a Telesur interview from the airplane, Zelaya said he expected an atmosphere of joy on being reunited with his people. As Commander in Chief, he called on the armed forces to obey orders and stated his intention to begin a process of national reconciliation.

Meanwhile, at the airport, military and police forces have taken position to prevent demonstrators' access to the airport. Various media report that helicopters overfly the zone, a barricade has been formed of soldiers and police, and snipers are positioned on the rooftops.

Commercial flights have been canceled as the drama unfolds. The coup leader, dubbed foreign minister, Enrique Ortez, has announced that the plane will not be permitted to land. The coup has issued an arrest order against President Zelaya on 18 charges.

Coup leaders held a press conference at 4:15 eastern time denouncing troop movements on the Nicaragua side of the border and saying that Venezuela is attacking them in the media. The coup stated that it is willing to appoint a delegation for dialogue with the OAS and reasserted that Micheletti is the only president. Members called for Nicaragua and Venezuela "to stop distorting the peace in this region". It has not offered specific evidence of intervention or made concrete accusations. When asked if Nicaragua was preparing an invasion, Micheletti replied that "It is a psychological invasion."

Members of the coup directive also criticized the OAS decision to suspend Honduras and reiterated that the de facto government is legitimate despite the lack of recognition of the OAS.

Outside, the march of tens of thousands of people shouting "We Want Mel!" has up to now been peaceful and non-violent, following the instructions of President Zelaya. They are demonstrating a high level of organization and self-discipline, and have decided to move forward one step at a time. It appears that the police are backing up. Radio Globo interviewed representatives of the Taxi Drivers Association prepared to back up the march and receive the president and reports that the marchers have appointed people to watch for provocateurs and defuse any actions to provoke violence.

Nicaragua warned yesterday that it had news that the coup would attempt to provoke a violent response to discredit the marchers, as well as launching a media campaign to blame Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela for the confrontation.

For now, a tense calm prevails as marchers gain ground from a police seemingly unwilling to relaunch all-out repression of the crowd. In the morning, Radio Globo reporter Gustavo Ramos reported murmurs from within the ranks of both the police and the military that given the size of the crowd some units will not confront the marchers.

The atmosphere is heating up notably, despite the over three hours left until the president´s scheduled arrival. Diplomatic efforts failed to avoid this moment, and yet diplomacy continues to play a major role in pushing for a peaceful outcome. The presence of D'Escoto and other international figures on the plane raise the international political cost for the coup of violently intervening to stop the plane. The eyes of the world continue on the small nation.

President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Cristina Kirchner of Argentina and Fernando Lugo of Paraguay and the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) José Insulza—originally thought to accompany the Honduran president—are flying on a separate flight to El Salvador to back up Zelaya's return.

It's always possible that the point of convergence could shift at the last minute. When asked about alternative landing plans, Zelaya responded elusively, "We have many options for arriving in our country and we have many mechanisms for doing it and for communicating with the people on the ground to receive us."

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