Leadership Standoff Leaves Honduras In Limbo

Supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya i i

Supporters of ousted and deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya march during Independence Day in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Tuesday. Zelaya has vowed to return to the country and reclaim his office. Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images
Supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya

Supporters of ousted and deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya march during Independence Day in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Tuesday. Zelaya has vowed to return to the country and reclaim his office.

Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Honduras continues to rebuff international demands that it reinstate deposed President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a coup in June.

Even before the coup, the global financial crisis and a significant drop in money being sent home by Hondurans working in the United States were squeezing the country's economy.

Now, the impoverished Central American nation is also losing hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance from the international community. Nicaragua and Guatemala temporarily closed their borders with Honduras. And the coup has been universally denounced throughout Latin America.

After the coup, the U.S. blocked millions of dollars in aid, much of it intended to build roads and develop the country's agricultural sector. The World Bank froze almost $300 million in loans.

It is being felt in poor neighborhoods like La Cuesta, tucked into a series of crevices in the steep, lush hills that ring Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. In this tough barrio, cement shacks are strung along deeply rutted dirt roads, and many of the houses lack running water.

The Atlanta-based aid group CARE runs several programs in the area. They help fund a shelter for sexually abused children. And they work with the local school to try to improve the level of education and keep the poorest of the poor from dropping out.

On a recent afternoon, two CARE employees held a class on conflict resolution. Two dozen girls, ranging in age from 10 to 14, had a heated debate about who is to blame if a teacher gets one of his students pregnant.

Conditions Worsening

The public schools in Honduras lack many things, and international aid groups assist with everything from classroom supplies to teacher training.

Under international sanctions imposed on Honduras, the work CARE is doing at this school will continue, but the organization has been forced to shut down another program that would have worked with schools nationwide.

And CARE isn't the only group that's had to suspend some activities.

De facto Honduran President Roberto Micheletti (right) i i

De facto Honduran President Roberto Micheletti (right) takes part in a ceremony at the military academy in Tegucigalpa on Tuesday. The former president of the Honduran congress says Zelaya's removal was not a coup, because he violated the constitution. Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images
De facto Honduran President Roberto Micheletti (right)

De facto Honduran President Roberto Micheletti (right) takes part in a ceremony at the military academy in Tegucigalpa on Tuesday. The former president of the Honduran congress says Zelaya's removal was not a coup, because he violated the constitution.

Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Juan Sheenan, who runs Catholic Relief Services' operations in Honduras, says the group has shut down two programs as a result of the new U.S. sanctions.

"Honduras is probably one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere," Sheenan says, with some of the lowest indicators in literacy and education, and access to health care and schools.

The coup has made conditions worse, Sheenan says.

Micheletti: Zelaya Violated Constitution

Honduras' de facto president, Roberto Micheletti, is a big, feisty, grandfather of a man with a crushing handshake.

"We found out it's very hard to rule a government alone," says Micheletti. "Nobody in the whole world believes us. But the Hondurans believe that the thing we did is correct."

On June 28, the Honduran military seized Zelaya, forced him onto a plane and deported him to Costa Rica in his pajamas. Micheletti says this was not a coup, because Zelaya had violated the constitution.

Micheletti, then the president of the National Congress, was next in line to the presidency; he was quickly sworn in to office.

He says Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez controlled Zelaya, who was plotting to impose a communist dictatorship in Honduras. It's a claim Zelaya — who has been trying unsuccessfully to return and reclaim power — denies.

Zelaya's ouster has exposed a deep fissure in Honduran society, with some people taking to the streets in support of the deposed president and others marching in favor of Micheletti.

Asked how Hondurans resolve this conflict, Micheletti says the important thing was that Zelaya and his supporters had to be stopped.

"The Zelaya people, they are our brothers, our sisters. We love them. But we are going to let them rule this country because they believe in communism, and we are not? We are democratic people, and we are going to sustain our democracy," Micheletti says.

Conflict Ruptured Social Fabric

But many Hondurans haven't seen results from this "democracy," says Jose Rolando Bu, head of Foprideh, a coalition of nonprofit development groups in Honduras.

Roughly two-thirds of the population still lives in poverty, Bu says. The country each year "expels" thousands of its young people, who head north to the U.S. in search of economic opportunities. Corruption and impunity are rampant, he says.

Bu says that since the coup, Honduras has been in limbo. It is unclear whether Zelaya is going to return. Public school teachers have been taking to the streets every Thursday and Friday in favor of Zelaya, thus shutting down their classrooms.

Some families are split between the Zelaya and the Micheletti camps — two groups that appear unable to reach common ground.

Bu says the social conflict in Honduras is very strong.

"When the fabric of a society is ruptured, it's very complicated," Bu says.

And he says fixing the deep political polarization in Honduras won't be easy. But he adds that in every social conflict, eventually the parties come to a point where they sit down and work out their differences.

But the military ouster of Zelaya only underscored that the parties aren't yet ready for that.

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