Honduras Restricts Liberties To Prevent Rebellion
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
When the deposed president of Honduras slipped back into his country last Monday, that set off a series of demonstrations - also crackdowns by the government that ousted him. President Manuel Zelaya is still holed up in Brazil's embassy, and in anticipation of widespread street marches today in the nation's capital, the de facto government of Honduras has suspended key civil liberties. NPR's Jason Beaubien has this report on what the turmoil means for Hondurans.
JASON BEAUBIEN: In the lush tropical mountains outside the Honduran capital, Luisa Antonia Gomez is walking up a winding dirt road. On her head is a wicker basket, packed with warm cookies. She's going to the village of Santa Lucia at the top of the hill to sell her baked goods on the street.
Ms. LUISA ANTONIA GOMEZ: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: I work to support my grandchildren, Antonia says. We have 13 people in the house to feed. She says on a good day she can make about 300 lempiras or roughly $15. But over this past week she didn't work at all. She says she was afraid to go into Tegucigalpa to get supplies.
The de facto government of President Roberto Micheletti has slapped in place nationwide curfews that have gone into effect at different times each day. Saturday was the first day that she ventured back onto the streets at all. Antonia says she wants the two presidents to reach an agreement.
Ms. GOMEZ: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: They need to worry more about the poor people, she says. This is what we need.
Every day since Zelaya's return, there have been protests in the streets of the capital, both against and for Zelaya.
(Soundbite of protestors)
BEAUBIEN: Zelaya was ousted by the military in June, after the Honduran Supreme Court issued an order for his arrest. The military put him on a plane at gunpoint and dropped him, in his pajamas, at the airport in Costa Rica. Roberto Micheletti, who was next in line to the presidency, was sworn in to take his place. Last Monday, Zelaya snuck back into the country and is holed up at the Brazilian embassy. Honduran soldiers and riot police now surround the building.
(Soundbite of bell ringing)
BEAUBIEN: A few blocks from the Brazilian compound, ice cream vendors frantically ring their bells trying to attract customers, and cab drivers lean against their cars at a taxi stand.
Mr. ALFREDO BENITEZ: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: All of this affects everyone, says cab driver Alfredo Benitez - taxi drivers, people who aren't taxi drivers, people who work in businesses. We are living in chaos here in Honduras, he says.
Business groups say the country is losing tens of millions of dollars a day because of the crisis.
Honduras stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic, so every time it closes its borders for a curfew, it shuts down trucking routes up and down Central America. And the social disruption has been more than just protests and curfews. Human rights groups say people have been beaten by the security forces and arbitrarily detained. Shops have been looted.
Daniel Ferrera(ph) is the manager of a supermarket in the tough Pedragal(ph) neighborhood of the capital. His store was sacked last week. Ferrera says the looters took everything.
Mr. DANIEL FERRERA: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Including the cash registers, Ferrera says. They even took the credit card machines. He smiles and says he has no idea what they're going to do with them.
Mr. FERRERA: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: For us, it's a shame, Ferrera says, standing in the empty aisles of the supermarket, but we will repair this.
But so far, there's been little progress in resolving the political standoff between Zelaya and Micheletti. Both sides say they want to talk yet both sides call each other terrorists. Over the weekend, Micheletti's administration gave the Brazilian government ten days to decide what to do with Zelaya. They say Zelaya is inciting civil unrest from inside the embassy. Zelaya has been calling for both peaceful protests and for his supporters to join the battle for his reinstatement as president.
In a village near where Luisa Antonia sells her cookies, Alberto Cruz is the national director of a group of evangelical churches called Iglesias Vision Cristiana.
Mr. ALBERTO CRUZ (National Director, Iglesias Vision Cristiana): (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: The instability of the government mainly affects the children, he says, who are unable to go to school.
The public school teachers are strong supporters of Zelaya. Even before the ousted president returned, the teachers would often take to the streets on Thursdays and Fridays, thus cutting the school week practically in half.
Mr. CRUZ: (Spanish spoken)
BEAUBIEN: There are kids without food, single mothers who have been abandoned, men without work, he says. And while we're looking for how we can help them, the politicians are fighting. Cruz says that in this battle of egos, it's the people who suffer.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Tegucigalpa.
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