Ousted President Returns To Honduras

Deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya made a dramatic return Monday to the country's capital. Zelaya took shelter from arrest at Brazil's embassy, and called for talks with the leaders who ousted him from power. Zelaya was flown out of the country on June 28.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Central America today, the post-Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, surprised his supporters and enemies alike by resurfacing in the Honduran capital. The de facto regime in Tegucigalpa had blocked Zelaya's previous efforts to return and said that he would be arrested if caught on Honduran soil. He has now taken refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa.

NPR's Jason Beaubien has been covering the fallout from the June 28 coup for months, and he joins us now from NPR's Mexico City office. Jason, how much of a shock was this, that Zelaya turned back in the Honduran capital?

JASON BEAUBIEN: There was quite a bit of shock, and a lot of people didn't believe it at first. Even the de facto regime initially just completely denied it, said it's not true, said it's completely a hoax and lies by his supporters. Previous efforts to keep him out have been quite successful. He tried to fly back in in a plane at one point, and Honduran soldiers blocked the runway.

At this point, he is inside the Brazilian embassy. He said he plans to work from there to try to regain the presidency. The de facto regime of President Roberto Micheletti, they say that he should be handed back over to the Hondurans. That he's a criminal. That he should face charges. And they're calling for Brazil to hand him over. And they say that if Brazil doesn't, Brazil will be responsible if there's any violence in the streets of Tegucigalpa or elsewhere in the country.

SIEGEL: Jason, tell us about Zelaya's politics and what led to his ouster.

BEAUBIEN: Zelaya is a leftist. He aggravated many people in part by putting in place some policies that shifted more of the country's resources towards the poor. But his opponents say he was basically trying to put in a Hugo Chavez's Venezuelan style socialist state.

And on the morning of June 28, he was about to hold a referendum on whether or not the president could run for a second term. The military came in, took him at gunpoint, took him out of the country, dumped him in Costa Rica on the tarmac in his pajamas, and he was out of power.

SIEGEL: And how did he get back into Honduras?

BEAUBIEN: It is still not entirely clear. It appears that he came over the border from Guatemala in a car. It took him several hours to get through Honduras back to the capital, evading checkpoints. He's very well known, and obviously would - if he'd been stopped at any of these checkpoints, he would have been arrested. The government had said that they would do so if they spotted him. And he came with his wife, and he's now taking up residency in the Brazilian embassy.

SIEGEL: Now, you cited Micheletti raising the specter of violence in Honduras. Have there been crowds out in the streets, pro-Zelaya and con-Zelaya?

BEAUBIEN: As soon as rumors came out that he was back, thousands of people took to the streets of the capital, and they mass around the U.N. building because there were rumors that that's where he was, although that was untrue.

The Micheletti government has now slapped in place a curfew that started at 4 p.m. local time in the afternoon and runs all the way through till seven in the morning. It's also after dark there at this point, and it seems like that has reduced the crowds. But, yes, thousands of people took to the streets initially.

SIEGEL: So if Manuel Zelaya now in the Brazilian embassy in Honduras, what does that do to all of the inter-American diplomatic efforts that have been underway to try to undo the coup of June 28th?

BEAUBIEN: After three months, diplomatic efforts to get Zelaya back into power seemed to be going nowhere. Everyone is saying, he should be put back in place. The government in Tegucigalpa was saying no way. Now, we've got a new sort of crisis on our hands. People are worried that there could be violence in Tegucigalpa with him there, with his supporters rallying for him riled up.

Oscar Arias, the president of Costa Rica, was meeting with Secretary of State Clinton. He said he's ready to fly in there in the morning, as well as the head of the Organization of American States. So it has really put a fire under diplomatic efforts that seemed to be waning.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Jason.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: It's NPR's Jason Beaubien in Mexico City.

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