The military coup of Honduras president Manuel Zelaya has overwhelming support from citizens living in the Cayman Islands even as pressure from government around the world mounts to return the exiled president to power.
Most locals Hondurans say Zelaya was taking steps to put the country on a Communist track and set himself up as a dictator, following the footsteps of Venezuela president Victor Chavez and Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro.
But in spite of a poor economy, high inflation, rampant drug trafficking and high crime rate, most local Hondurans think the country is still better off with a democratic government.
One local Honduran says the Zelaya’s government took 100 hectares of his family’s land, only paying a small fraction of what it was worth. Then poor farm workers moved onto the land and his family could only stand by and watch it happen, says Honduran Lester Scott.
Poor farm workers attacked a neighbouring family with guns and machetes for their land and burned their house down, he added. Ten of the 11 family members were killed in the attack.
“The police don’t do nothing about it,” says Scott. “A lot of people have lost their land under Zelaya.”
Scott is now waiting for the upcoming election in November. He already knows he will be voting for candidate Pepe Lobo Sosa.
Another citizen Evelyn Goodman believes if Zelaya was returned to power, he would find a way to rig the upcoming election in his favour. She recalls that following Zelaya’s election four years ago, many people never received their identification cards which were required to vote. After the elections, millions of new identifications cards were found buried in the countryside. Since she is unsure the previous election was done on a fair basis, she believes it is likely that Zelaya would have stolen the election if he was allowed to stay in power. Army veteran Rudy Flores says he believes the expulsion of Zelaya was in the best interest of Honduras.
Zelaya got elected by convincing poor peasants and farm workers that he was one of them, says Flores. But after the election, Zelaya has enriched himself by acquiring thousands of acres of government land with valuable horses and cows. He has also made money by cutting down pine trees on government land to sell off valuable lumber.
Furthermore, he showed favouritism when tractors acquired from Venezuela were only given to farmers in his home state, says Flores.
“Everyday people in Cuba risk their lives by getting in little rafts trying to leave that country,” says Flores. “We don’t want to be a communist country. We want to be free and independent.”
When Zelaya was elected he was just pretending to be a democratic says another local Honduran Denia Serrano. Later, when he tried to change the constitution, everyone knew Zelaya was setting himself to become a dictator like Castro and Chavez.
Honduras already has a struggling economy. If it became communist, then people would not be free to have their own land and businesses. It would be even more difficult to get jobs, she says.
“There are a lot of people who suffer in my country,” says Serrano. “People live on the side of rivers with no food. We are a very poor country. We have a lot of crime and kidnappings. If we get a dictator like Chavez or Fidel, we will have more problems.”
“I believe in the law. I don’t want to change the law,” says Serrano.
The ousted president has also been dogged with rumours that he may be involved with cocaine trafficking connected to Venezuela, says Karla Whittaker. Regardless of the rumours, she believes there is in no doubt that Zelaya was too cosy with Chavez.
“Zelaya was really Chavez’s puppet,” says Whittaker.
There are about 1100 Hondurans in the Cayman Islands on work permits or government contracts. But since there are longstanding family, cultural and economic ties between Honduras and the Cayman Islands, it is believed the Honduran population could be much larger than 1100 recorded by the Immigration Department. Many Hondurans the Observer on Sunday talked to said they were related to Caymanians through marriage or had relatives that were both Caymanian and Honduran.
The making of a military coup
In late June, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya fired his military chief of staff General Romeo Vasquez after he refused to allow the army to distribute ballots for a referendum on changing constitution. If the referendum had taken place and passed, it would have paved the way for Zelaya to be re-elected past his one term limit of four years, which was due to expire five months after the referendum vote.
However, the Supreme Court rejected General Vasquez being fired and ordered his reinstatement. In response, Zelaya got a group of supporters to storm a military base to take the ballots, stating he was going ahead with the vote.
In an early morning raid on 28 June, the same day as the scheduled referendum, soldiers entered Zelaya’s house and arrested him in his pyjamas. He was then flown him to Costa Rica.
Congress subsequently appointed Robert Micheletti as interim president.
The international reaction has been strong. US President Obama has condemned the coup. Washing ton has cancelled a reported $18 million in military and developmental aid. But so far the US has not issued trade sanctions, which could have further crippled its economy. Considered one of Latin America’s poorest countries, trade with the US is estimated at $7 billion a year.
The European Union and numerous Latin American countries have also called for Zelaya’s reinstatement. The Organization of American States officially suspended Honduras.
Mediation talks led by Nobel prize winner Costa Rican President Oscar Arias between Zelaya and Micheletti have seemingly gone nowhere.
Even though countries are not recognising Micheletti’s interim government, he seems to be digging in until the new elections in November.
Since being expelled, Zelaya has visited Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador and the US to build support for his return to power. In early July, the military and police blocked the airport runway in capital city of Tegucigalpa to prevent Zelaya’s plane from landing.
Since the coup, Zelaya supporters have conducted several street protests. Several retail shops and restaurants were vandalised during the demonstrations. So far, there have been reports that two protestors have died during the demonstrations.
To date, Zelaya continues to call on the US for more sanctions and tougher penalties on the government. Zelaya has vowed to return to Honduras.