A military-backed coup toppled Zelaya on June 28 and flew him to a forced exile in Costa Rica the same day. Zelaya’s opponents said it was necessary to remove him because he was trying to muster support for changing Constitutionally-backed presidential term limits. Zelaya denies this, arguing that a referendum he planned was intended only to gauge Hondurans’ attitudes toward constitutional reform.
On Sept. 21, Zelaya was able to travel back into Honduras to rally his supporters, and sought refuge at the Brazilian Embassy, where he remains. Negotiations between Zelaya’s representatives and the interim government, brokered by the Organization of American States, restarted in Honduras on Tuesday.
Following is a portion of a telephone interview with Zelaya:
QUESTION: You have demanded that the international community and United States do more to push for your reinstatement. What more can they do, other than imposing sanctions and isolating the interim government, which they already have done?
MANUEL ZELAYA: The international community has done plenty. It has acted energetically like never before in its history. There are no precedents for this situation, we are trailblazing. We are all working together to teach the coup leaders a lesson, with the world as witness. Both the United Nations and the Organization of American States have condemned the coup, which is unprecedented. The United States could do more, but I am grateful for what it has done up to now.
QUESTION: In negotiations this week, it’s possible that your negotiators will strike a deal with the side representing interim President Roberto Micheletti and return you to the presidency.
MANUEL ZELAYA: That’s a very hypothetical scenario. There are a whole series of obstacles and pitfalls that need to be surmounted before that could happen.
QUESTION: What will you do if negotiations fail?
MANUEL ZELAYA: That’s the more probable scenario. Not because I lack the will to come to an agreement, but because the de facto government doesn’t desire it. Basically, my position will remain the same, I will insist with my efforts. I want to show the de facto government that staging a coup is not a game, it’s a serious matter. Anyone who stages a coup has serious problems with their perception of reality. I want to send a message to the coup leaders, and the world as a whole, that this kind of thing just isn’t acceptable.
QUESTION: Your critics say that before the coup toppled you from power, you planned to transform Honduran society much like President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has changed his country over the last decade.
MANUEL ZELAYA: To begin with, President Chavez has been used as a scapegoat to justify this coup. Invoking his name is not a valid justification for a coup, it’s an irrational one. Secondly, in a 30-year political career, I have always defended democracy. I have participated in 12 elections. Reaching the presidency has been my life’s work. I have never broken a law in my life. The coup organizers are simply an ambitious group of powerful people who want to hang on to their privileges and accumulate even more power.
QUESTION: Media accounts of your political trajectory say you began your presidential term as a conservative politician from a wealthy background who had a change of heart in office and became a populist.
MANUEL ZELAYA: That’s not true. When in office, I didn’t do anything I had not announced when on the campaign trail. I campaigned on direct, participatory democracy, a fair economy, dignified employment, anti-poverty programs, and global engagement. Everything I said I would do in my campaign I followed up during my presidency. The elite business interests became angry with me when I increased the minimum wage (in March 2009), and lowered interest rates. But I achieved more economic growth than Honduras had seen in a long time. Even in the middle of the financial crisis our economy was growing by 4.5 percent annually.
QUESTION: Your critics believe that if you are returned to power you may somehow try to remain as president, despite the elections scheduled for Nov. 29, and the end of your term in late January.
MANUEL ZELAYA: I think that’s silly. It’s silliness the size of Mount Everest. A person like me, a proven pacifist and democrat with thirty years experience, but who doesn’t have the backing of the economic powers in Honduras, the big media, and the army, which is allied with the economic elite, how could I carry out a plan of that nature? I’ve never planned to remain in office for a single day longer than what is allotted by law, I wouldn’t stay longer for all the money in the world, or if Pope Benedict XVI asked me to do it. I’m fighting against a government that usurped power. I’ve never usurped power. I’m only fighting for a right that is mine.
QUESTION: Costa Rican mediator Oscar Arias recently called the Honduran Constitution a “travesty.” Do you consider the Constitution a travesty?
MANUEL ZELAYA: If you followed the events over the course of the three or four months that preceded the coup, you would know I was championing a popular referendum to find out what the people thought about the Constitution and its reform. I believed this to be necessary. I know the Constitution well. It has been continuously and flagrantly violated over the last 30 years. It fences politicians in to such a degree they see themselves obligated to skirt its provisions in order to advance their interests. However, only the Honduran people can request a reform to the Constitution. I can’t do it. That’s why I created the idea of the fourth urn (the referendum), which would have asked Hondurans what they thought about the idea of Constitutional reform.
QUESTION: Along with a few dozen of your supporters, you have been refuged in the Brazilian Embassy for exactly three weeks as of this evening. Please tell us about the conditions inside the embassy, and the mood and morale inside its walls?
MANUEL ZELAYA: Spiritually, we feel very strong, because of the solidarity and support we’ve had from the international community and the Honduran people. But we’re living under military siege, with soldiers surrounding the embassy at all times.
QUESTION: In the 1950s radical Peruvian political leader Victor Haya de la Torre was refuged in the Colombian Embassy in his own country for five years. Would you be willing to persist for that long to advance your cause?
MANUEL ZELAYA: On the one hand it’s a good question, but it’s also captious. It contains a masochistic component. I am not a masochist. I came here to resolve a problem, and that’s what I intend to do.
QUESTION: What else can you tell us about American involvement in the events that took place in Honduras?
MANUEL ZELAYA: There are U.S. politicians who pretend to be champions of democracy but in reality have an antidemocratic vocation. The American voters should watch their politicians, because some are hypocrites, they express themselves in one manner to their voters, but send a different message to the rest of the world by supporting a coup. Several members of the U.S. Congress have visited the de facto government in Honduras, and some former officials … have made statements supporting the coup. That’s worrisome.
Editor’s Note: Reporting from Honduras is a partnership between the NewsHour and New America Media. More interviews and coverage to come.