A conversation with Manuel Zelaya

Manuel Zelaya was deposed as president of Honduras in a June 28 coup amid a dispute over the country's constitution. The ousted leader slipped back into his country last week and is holed up in the Brazilian Embassy with about 40 family members and supporters. The CBC's The Current reached Zelaya in Honduras. The following is a transcript of the interview between host Anna Maria Tremonti and Zelaya, which was conducted with the help of a translator.
Manuel Zelaya was ousted as president of Honduras in a coup in June. ((Esteban Felix/Associated Press))

Manuel Zelaya was deposed as president of Honduras in a June 28 coup amid a dispute over the country's constitution. The ousted leader slipped back into his country last week and is holed up in the Brazilian Embassy with about 40 family members, supporters and journalists.

The CBC's The Current  reached Zelaya in Honduras. The following is a transcript of the interview between host Anna Maria Tremonti and Zelaya, which was conducted with the help of a translator. 

Good morning, President Zelaya.

Good morning.

You are currently inside the Brazilian Embassy. Can you tell us your mood today and what your plans are?

The situation has not been easy. However, we have been able to overcome most of the crises that we have faced in our search for a dialogue and in our search for a solution to the problem of Honduras.

There are reports that you will be meeting with the man who has taken charge — Roberto Micheletti. Can you confirm that, and what will you be talking about?

I would only accept a face-to-face meeting when he [Micheletti] agrees to sign the Arias Plan, which he has yet to accept. [The Arias Plan, proposed by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, calls for the ousted leader's return to power and the formation of a national unity government.]

You were forced out of the country, and you snuck back into the country. As the leader of the country, give us a sense of how you see this crisis, and I'm guessing you must be pretty outraged that you have to hold out in someone else's embassy?

We are engaged in a fight, which is to reverse the coup d'état, a nd I feel accompanied by the international community and by the people of Honduras in that struggle.

And you say that about the international community.  A number of people in the hemisphere and around the world have been involved in trying to resolve this crisis. What do you make of the role Canada has played so far?

Well, I feel that the most important thing at this time is to sign the Arias Plan. To sign it here at the Brazilian Embassy, where my life and my security are guaranteed. And, in light of the visit by the foreign ministers and representatives, including Canada's, I hope that they could witness that signing. Canada has been there for the resolutions at the United Nations and the Organization of American States. So, I see Canada's role in a good light, but there is more to do. And I hope that Canada remains firm in its support for democracy and for the reversing of this coup d'etat.

And as you wait for this, you are holed up in another country's embassy. Are you going stir crazy; are you angry about this? Is there a humiliation factor to the fact that you must hide behind those walls?

I have been a politician for 25 years involved in a struggle to reach the presidency. I am not unfamiliar with pain and suffering because I had to climb up from the bottom. And this serves me now as an experience that strengthens my spirit.

And what are your conditions of your exile? I understand that you had accused the interim government of using toxic gas on people inside the embassy. What is it like in there?

This has become like a concentration camp in the sense that we are totally under siege and restricted in our movements. We have a constant fear that an invasion by the military is imminent. We are surrounded, but we are resisting with firmness and faith.

Am I correct in understanding that the military surrounds the compound on the outside, [that] there are armed soldiers on the outside?

Yes. In fact, there is a military-police encampment, which is very strict. They are not allowing anything to pass, not even the basic necessities for people here. We are hoping, for example, to have 30 mattresses brought in so that people here can stop sleeping on the floor. That has been denied. We have restrictions on visits. I have not been able to meet here with any members of the resistance or of the opposition parties

So, how many supporters are there with you inside the embassy?

The day that I arrived, given the level of persecution and repression that existed, more than 300 people came in with me. Now, there are barely 40 or so people with me here, including foreign journalists.

Can you take us back to June 28 when you were forced out of office at gunpoint? Can you tell us what that moment was like for you? What happened?

Well, that day was a tragedy for Latin American democracy. A step backwards for Honduras, which takes us back 40 years. The emotions were, and are, very strong but very sad. That day was a tragedy for the people of Honduras and for myself personally, a tragedy I'd rather not remember or recall

Can you tell us how you managed to get back into the country?

Yes. First of all, I did it with the help of Hondurans only. There has been a lot of speculation that foreigners co-operated, but only Hondurans helped to make my return possible. To give names and details would put people's lives in danger.

Would you be able to tell me at least if you had to go in in disguise?

Well, I can speak only in general terms. Doubles were used, disguises were used, and several strategies of distraction, so as to get around the many police and military barricades that have been up since the coup and are present throughout the entire country.

If they had managed to capture you before you made it to that Brazilian Embassy, did you think about that?

Yes, but the nature of my worst fear was to imagine myself left in exile outside Honduras, forever. Or to be the target of a criminal assassination plot, which is what I was threatened with when I was outside Honduras. Given all that, I preferred to run those risks inside my country and to face up to those dangers in person.

And, Mr. President, what do you say to the criticism of your opponents that you were moving toward an illegal change in the constitution to extend your stay in power? How do you respond to their allegations?

To them, I say that they were unable to maintain their strategy of deception and lies against the people of Honduras, and that's why they had to launch their coup d'etat. If I had truly faced some sort of legal problem, had I committed some wrongdoing, it would have been easier to take me to the courts than to launch a coup d'etat. The coup d'etat proves that they used force in order to avoid a debate that they obviously lacked the courage to face.

And so, what is your response to the intern government's crackdown on civil liberties and press freedom in the wake of that coup d'état?

For me the coup d'etat is a crime. The repression proves that the coup d'etat does not have popular support. And the crackdown on civil liberties, press freedom and the closure of media outlets proves that a dictatorship is being entrenched. A dictatorship that has yet to be defined as such by the international community.

Now, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Mr. José Miguel Insulza, is coming for talks on Wednesday. What do you expect from that visit?

I see it as a good opportunity to stop the military dictatorship in Honduras, given the international isolation it faces and given the international condemnation generated by the coup d'état.

And so, at the end of negotiations, do you want to be reinstated with full powers? Would you be willing to share power in a different way in order to come to some sort of agreement and resolution to this crisis?

The proposal from Oscar Arias deals with that issue in general terms. The San Jose Plan, as it is known, or the Arias Plan, has determined both the limits and the reach of my reinstated presidency.

What would you like to see a country like Canada do at this point, to help end this crisis?

Well, I am grateful for what Canada has done until now, and I think Canada could still do more in terms of condemning the closure of media outlets and condemning the human rights violations occurring right now in Honduras. And, in addition, to qualify or label the type of coup d'état [that] took place in Honduras, which has yet to be classified as a military coup d'etat.