It was an interesting day today in Honduras. I got word that there was going to be a rally held by supporters for Mel, but before leaving for the rally point, I discovered that Rigoberta Menchu is staying in the same hotel that I am. I quickly wrote a note to leave for her at the front desk, and the receptionist said she was eating breakfast in the hotel dining room and that I could go talk to her myself. I found her in the restaurant and introduced myself to her, explained my situation, and informed her that I was interested in her plans as to helping reunite the Honduran people. Unfortunately, I was not received with much interest, and I doubt that she will offer me the chance to sit down and talk with her.
The rally started off very quiet, and it appeared that most of the people gathering were mainly spectators. Unlike the small demonstration I was at yesterday, there was limited police presence and no military presence. As the numbers started increasing so did the trucks with the stadium speakers strapped to the beds. The music and chants coming from the speakers pumped the crowd up, and they began calling for the return of Mel and the continuance of Democracy, while reiterating this was to be a peaceful demonstration.
The protesters were lead in various chants and songs, while the organizers created four lines to maintain order throughout the march. It looked as if the rally would be continuing towards the Presidential Palace, so I hopped into a cab to beat the crowd.
The police and the army set up blockade around the Palace. With their riot gear and shields, the police formed a chain along the street, prepared for an encounter with the protesters. The chants and screams from the rally became more audible, and soon they were on scene. The truck that appeared to hold the main organizers of the rally stopped in a roundabout, while a group of young protesters took off running towards the police blockade.
Ready for a clash, I was surprised when the protesters stopped a good distance short of the police, turned around, and formed a human chain and maintained their position to limit the advance of the crowd. I talked with the man in charge of the security element of the rally. He introduced himself as Edy Castro, a volunteer who was frustrated with the removal of Mel Zelaya.
I was able to spend a few minutes talking with Edy, and he reassured me that everything was going to be calm today, that the group is not advocating violence, only a peaceful demonstration. The crowd, he said, was made up of the poor, the working class, and students, all whom were angry with their government and the "illegal" action they had taken. He complained that they suffered from a lack of water, sporadic electricity, minimal education, and limited communication with their governmental officials. He accused the government of paying a 300 Lempira ($15-16 US) bribe to individuals who attended the rallies in support of the new government.
Continuing through the streets, the rally approached the international airport where Mel Zelaya is rumored to be returning to. The road leading to the airport was blocked off by the police, and the organizers reminded the attendees that the protests was a peaceful one, and to leave the police alone. The security crew formed their own blockade a yard in front of the police, holding and pushing back any protester that got to close.
The police were ordered to fall back, and they took off running, which only encouraged the crowd to chase after them. A new blockade was set in front of the entrance to the airport parking lot, with the military reinforcing the police. The shouts and screams continued, calling for justice and the return of Mel. Eventually, the crowd carried on, further down the streets along a chain linked fence that neighbored the runway.
As the rally came to a close, there was an important news release over the radio. Manuel Zelaya is scheduled to return to Honduras Sunday at 12:00 PM local time, arriving at the international airport. Plans were quickly made for the supporters to return tomorrow to show their support for the former President.
It appears that the outcome of tomorrow's reunion depends on the treatment of Manuel Zelaya and his return to Honduras. If he is allowed to enter the country peacefully and not be taken to jail, then the protesters for Zelaya will remain peaceful. However, if Zelaya is arrested, there is a strong possibility that the organizers of the protest will not be able to maintain a certain level of peace within the crowd and violence may ensue.
What I read in El Heraldo about the protests in support of Zelaya differed then what I saw in person. Thousands of supporters were present calling for integrity of the press, and that the number of protestors at the rally get counted accurately. I was hoping to get to a rally in support of the new government on Sunday to fairly compare the two groups, but with Zelaya's possible return tomorrow, it is necessary for me to be at the airport, waiting for the events to play out.