How long can the Honduran crisis drag on, with President Manuel Zelaya, ousted in a military coup more than three months ago, trapped in Tegucigalpa’s Brazilian Embassy? Well, in early 1949 in Peru, Víctor Haya de la Torre–one of last century’s most important Latin American politicians–sought asylum in the Colombian Embassy in Lima, also following a military coup. There he remained for nearly six years, playing chess, baking cakes for the embassy staff’s children and writing books. Soldiers surrounded the building for the duration, with Peru’s authoritarian regime ignoring calls from the international community to end the siege, which was condemned by the Washington Post as a “canker in hemisphere relations.”
So far Roberto Micheletti, installed by the coup as president, is showing the same obstinacy. Shortly after Zelaya’s surprise appearance in the Brazilian Embassy on September 21 after having entered the country unnoticed, probably from El Salvador or Nicaragua, the de facto president ordered troops to violently disperse a large crowd that had gathered around the embassy, using tear gas, clubs and rubber bullets, killing a number of protesters and wounding many. Amnesty International has documented a “sharp rise in police beatings, mass arrests of demonstrators, and intimidation of human rights defenders” since Zelaya’s return.
The government has suspended civil liberties and shut down independent sources of news, including the TV station Cholusat Sur and Radio Globo. In response to rolling protests throughout Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, security forces continue to round up demonstrators, holding some of the detained in soccer stadiums–evoking Chile in 1973, after Augusto Pinochet’s junta overthrew Salvador Allende, when security forces turned Santiago’s National Stadium into a torture chamber. The Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH) says Hondurans are indeed being tortured, burned with cigarettes and sodomized by batons, and that some of the torturers are veterans of Battalion 316, an infamous Honduran death squad from the 1980s. Police and soldiers raided the offices of the National Agrarian Institute, capturing dozens of peasant activists who had been occupying the building. Police also fired tear gas into COFADEH’s office, which at the time was filled with about a hundred people, many of them women and children, denouncing the repression that had earlier taken place in front of the embassy. “Honduras risks spiraling into a state of lawlessness, where police and military act with no regard for human rights or the rule of law,” said Susan Lee, Americas director at Amnesty International.
Back at the embassy, Honduran troops have tormented Zelaya and his accompaniers, including the Catholic priest Father Andres Tamayo, with tear gas, other chemical weapons and sonic devices that emit high-pitched and extreme-pain-inducing sounds. This high-tech assault has largely been ignored by the international media, though George W. Bush’s former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, told Fox News that Zelaya’s description of this harassment indicated “delusional behavior.”