Arriving at Toncontín airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras last week, I asked the customs official processing my US passport how long I was permitted to stay in the country. The woman looked up from her desk at me and replied icily: “One day.”
Fearful that this was a sign of diminishing US influence in Latin America, I squeaked: “Por qué?”, at which point the woman burst into laughter and welcomed me to Honduras for 90 days. Other versions of the Honduran welcome had been experienced by ousted President Manuel Zelaya in early July, when the Honduran military blockade of Toncontín airport had not been removed amid a fit of laughter and the military had instead fired at the crowd of Zelaya supporters that had gathered to watch his plane circle overhead.
Zelaya has since transferred his intended point of homeland penetration to the Nicaraguan border, where the “reckless behavior” of which he has been accused by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has included stepping briefly into Honduran territory. According to Clinton, an elected president’s attempts to remain president do not at the moment “contribute to the broader effort to restore democratic and constitutional order in the Honduras crisis.” She refrains from discussing whether the prohibition of public consultations on the issue of constitutional reform is a more effective contribution to democracy.
The danger of public consultation has been spelled out to me by a number of citizens in Tegucigalpa, one of them a taxi driver who announced that he shared the name of a popular Venezuelan musician but quickly clarified that the musician had no ties whatsoever to Hugo Chávez. Chávez’ intention, according to the musician’s namesake, was to convert Honduras into a narcotrafficking outpost.
Zelaya’s conversion of Nicaragua into an outpost of insurrection has meanwhile been addressed in Thursday’s edition of the Honduran daily La Tribuna, which has managed to confine Zelaya’s name to the bottom left-hand corner of the front page, with more prominent space reserved for the swine flu and a large picture of a murder in the city of San Pedro Sula. An entire column on page 67 is, however, devoted to explaining that Zelaya and his followers are now violating the Nicaraguan constitution in addition to the Honduran one.
The allegation is based on Article 27 of the Nicaraguan document, which states that foreigners in Nicaragua have the same rights as nationals except when it comes to derechos políticos. The column lists nine constitutional articles pertaining to the political rights of Nicaraguans, from which we can infer that itinerant Honduran presidents will not be considered Nicaraguan citizens at age 16, nor will they be entitled to the right of “reunión pacífica.” Zelaya has presumably violated the ban on the latter right for foreigners by calling for peaceful resistance.
An article to one side of the Nicaraguan constitutional analysis consists of the testimony of ex-Sandinista military officer Víctor Boitano Coleman, who takes advantage of article 52 of his country’s constitution authorizing constructive criticism of authority by denouncing abuses of power by President Daniel Ortega and violations by Zelaya of the ley de Migración y Extranjería. According to the ex-officer, violations include the maintenance of a foreign base of operations on Nicaraguan soil, although he does not delve into what sort of violations took place when the US converted Honduras into a base of operations against Nicaragua.
Belén Fernández can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.