By Medea Benjamin
Tegucigalpa, July 5, 2009 -- The day started out full of joy, as thousands of
Hondurans converged in front of the National Institute of Pedagogy,
intent on marching about three miles to the airport to greet the plane
that was supposed to bring deposed President Zelaya back to Honduras.
"Our president's coming home today, this is going to be a great day",
said Jose Rodriguez, a campesino who came from Santa Barbara with his
farmer's group to join the anti-coup movement. The military tried to
stop them from getting to the capital, so they had to divide up and
take local buses from town to town. "It took us two days to get here,
and we slept outside in the forest last night, but we had to be here",
A group of young girls came with their church from Olancho. They were
determined to greet Zelaya, who they said was sent by God to be
president. "The Cardinal is against our president, but he doesn't
represent many of us in the religious community. Our pastor is against
the coup and so are we", said Alejandra Fernandez, a 23-year-old
I asked why she supported Manuel Zelaya, or "Mel", as his supporters
call him. "The government said he broke the law and is guilty of 18
crimes", she said. "Do you know what they are?" She pulled out her cell
phone and started to read from a list: He raised the minimum wage, gave
out free school lunches, provided milk for the babies and pensions for
the elderly, distributed energy-saving lightbulbs, decreased the price
of public transportation, made more scholarships available for
students." Suddenly a crowd gathered around us and started chiming in.
"He fixed the roads", said one. "He put schools in remote rural areas,
like my little village, that never had them before", added another. "He
let anyone go into the Presidential Palace and converted it from an
elite residence to the people's house", said another.
"You see?", Alejandra smiled. "He is guilty of even more then 18
crimes. That's why the elite classes can't stand him and why we want
him back. This is really a class struggle."
The march wound its way through the streets of Tegucigalpa, gathering
more and more people along the way. The massive crowd sang and chanted
slogans like "No somos cinco, no somos cien. Prensa vendida, cuentenos
bien" (We're not five, we're not 100, you sold-out press, count us
well") -- referring to the fact that the mainstream press has been
ignoring or grossly undercounting the movement that had been holding
street demonstrations every day since the June 28 coup.
"I've never had anything like this in my lifetime", said an ecstatic
Miriam Nunez, a 46-year-old teacher from Tegucigalpa. "Look around
you-you can't even see the beginning or the end of this march! It's
full of teachers, students, campesinos, union workers, indigenous
people. One thing the coup succeeded in doing is bringing together the
social movements in a way that never exited before in this country."
What made the march particularly exciting is that as it approached the
airport, there were rows and rows of soldiers and police in riot gear
blocking their path. Each time the security forces tried to stop the
crowd, there would be negotiations with the police, who would finally
back down and allow the protesters to get closer and closer to the
Luis Sosa, a university professor and anti-coup leader, was one of
those negotiating with Police Commissioner Mendosa. "Mendosa and I went
to school together 20 years ago and we play soccer together every
Sunday. So he knows that if his men get rough with us, there will be
hell to pay next Sunday", laughed Sosa. "But seriously, we're trying
hard to maintain discipline among our ranks -- taking sticks and rocks
away from people who want to provoke violence -- and the police say that
as long as we are peaceful, they'll let us go all the way to the
Sure enough, the crowd made it to the airport peacefully and waited
patiently for Zelaya's plane to arrive. Suddenly, a plane flew in low
and circled around the airport. The crowd went wild, cheering and
jumping up and down, but became angry when they saw that the plane was
not able to land. Military vehicles and soldiers were on the runway,
making it impossible for the pilot to maneuvre safely.
On the far end of the airport, a group of mostly young people tried to
get through the fence to make their way to the tarmac. According to Al
Jazeera camera operator Alfredo Delara, some of them started throwing stones
and bottles at security forces. The troops responded by lobbying tear
gas and then firing their weapons in the air. Suddenly, at least one
soldier pointed his weapon directly at the crowd.
"A young boy was hit right in the head, his brains gushing out. He was
killed instantly", said Delara. "His mother came running, screaming
hysterically, ‘My son, my son, they've killed my son.'" Others in the
crowd were wounded and it was reported that another person was killed.
Between the violence and the fact that President Zelaya was forced to
fly on to El Salvador, the crowd became despondent. The organisers
tried to keep up their hopes. "Perhaps the United Nations will send
peacekeepers", one of the leaders shouted through the sound system. The
crowd cheered and yelled, "We want the blue helmets, we want the blue
"Can you believe this?", asked Indigenous leader Berta Caceres, her
eyes welling up with tears. "Now they are killing our people. Where
will this end? We need the international community to step in and stop
the crazy people who have stolen our country."
Meanwhile, another piece of news circulated -- that the government had
just moved up the curfew from 10pm to 6.30pm. The crowd rushed to
disperse, fearing they could be arrested for violating the curfew. But
they vowed to keep up the fight. "We will be marching again tomorrow,
come join us", the leaders announced. "This struggle is not over."
"If they think that were are going to give up, they are badly
mistaken", said Caceres. "The events of today make us more determined
than ever to overthrow this terrible coup."
[Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange
and CODEPINK: Women for Peace
. She is part of a delegation an International Emergency Delegation to
Honduras that includes members of Nonviolence International, Global
Exchange, CODEPINK and Rights Action.]