Talks between the ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and the leaders of last week’s military coup begin today in Costa Rica. Shortly before leaving Washington, DC for Costa Rica, Zelaya sat down with us for a rare US television interview. He discusses how military coup forces forced him out, the upcoming talks in Costa Rica, his domestic policies in Honduras, the role of the United States, and more. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: Talks between the ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya and the leaders of last week’s military coup begin today in Costa Rica. Speaking late Wednesday, Zelaya said he is seeking the resignation of the interim Honduran government within twenty-four hours. He emphasized he was in Costa Rica for talks but not for negotiations with the forces that ousted him. Citing widespread international support, Zelaya added that he expects to be shortly reinstated as president. Zelaya and his rivals agreed to talks mediated by Costa Rican president and former Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias after Zelaya met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington this week. Meanwhile, the interim government led by Robert Micheletti, who was sworn in hours after the coup, has said Zelaya will not be reinstated as president, but instead tried for abusing the Constitution, if he returns.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, shortly before the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, left Washington, DC for Costa Rica, he sat down for a brief interview with Juan Gonzalez and me.
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. President, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you tell us what you’ve agreed to, what you expect from these talks, and have you been satisfied with your meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?
PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] I think that both President Barack Obama and Secretary Clinton, as well as the US ambassador in Tegucigalpa, Hugo Llorens, and all the other officials, have been completely categorical and clear. While there have been other opinions voiced in the United States, they have not been official government statements. They have condemned the coup, asked for my reinstatement and, in addition, are not recognizing the de facto government’s decisions.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Mr. President, your opponents who engineered the coup claim that you were trying to subvert the Constitution of 1982. What were you trying to do with the referendum that you were holding? And is it true that, as they say, that you were trying to illegally extend your term?
PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] That is completely false. In Honduras, we do not have reelections, and I never intended to be reelected. That will be a matter for another government, another constitution and another constituent assembly. The popular consultation is a survey, just like the one Gallup does or other polling groups. It does not create rights. It has no power to impose. It is not obligatory. It’s an opinion poll. How could this be a motive for a coup d’état? No one has tried to me. I was just expelled by force by the military. This is an argument made up by the coup plotters. Don’t believe them.
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. President, the United States has not cut off aid to Honduras. Do you think they should because of the coup?
PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] We only have humanitarian aid coming from the United States. The US held up military aid. Our officials in Washington had been replaced, because they left with the coup. They were changed yesterday. And all of the US’s messages have been consistent with a firm condemnation of the coup and supporting democracy in Latin America.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Mr. President, you came to office thought to be conservative leader, but yet in your period in office you sharply increased minimum wage, you provided for free school lunches for children, you lowered the price of public transportation. Do you think that these policies are the reason behind the elite of Honduras supporting the coup against you?
PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] I came to power with a very clear programmatic and ideological platform: to empower citizens in their rights, to empower them economically, socially and culturally and also politically. All the reforms I have proposed are meant to give more power to the population, because I don’t believe in elites. I don’t believe in military elites or in economics elites. I believe that it is the people who have the strength to make the changes. That’s why I called my campaign “citizen power.”
The first law I made was that of citizen participation, and the law I was applying with the survey was for citizen participation. We helped the poor. Along with the First Lady, we have reduced poverty by ten percent. And we’ve had the country growing by seven percent economically.
So there is a very reactionary group in Honduras. Honduras is controlled by a group of ten families that control the entire economy. So, they have been jealous of my actions, in favor of better development for themselves and for their families. But they refuse to allow change or transformation. So they looked for a political arm and a military arm to stage a coup d’état.
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. President, can you describe exactly what happened the morning of the coup and who exactly you think is behind this?
PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] They attacked my house at 5:30 in the morning. A group of at least 200 to 250 armed soldiers with hoods and bulletproof vests and rifles aimed their guns at me, fired shots, used machine guns, kicked down the doors, and just as I was, in pajamas, they put me on a plane and flew me to Costa Rica. This all happened in less than forty-five minutes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Mr. President, some people have speculated that there were former members of the Bush administration that were waging a campaign against you here in the United States. Otto Reich, a former administration official in charge of Latin American affairs, had been making allegations about corruption in your country, specifically related to the government-owned telephone company, Hondutel. Do you think this had any impact in terms of how the current administration is regarding your presidency?
PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The bad guys always join together. But there are more of us good people, and we are also united, and we will win out over them. So, don’t worry about that.
I need to tell you that I have to leave for Costa Rica, and I am grateful for your interview, but I will continue to support you.
The only system I believe in is democracy. It is the political system that gives political rights to the citizenry. Human rights guarantee our freedoms, but the political system we must support is democracy. If we allow armies, drug-trafficking elites or economic elites or international mafia, even the transnational corporations, to impose governments or presidents on us by force, we will be losing five decades of democratic reform in America.
President Obama has a firm position, and I hope it will remain so until we resolve this problem, so it will serve as an example, so that a factious group of military men never again break into the home of a president, without trying him first, without taking him to court, but rather capturing him and then wanting to try him. This should not happen.
AMY GOODMAN: The ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. He spoke with us right before leaving for Costa Rica with the mediated talks with the leaders of the military coup. The US has not cut off economic aid to Honduras, which amounts to more than $43 million. But after our interview yesterday, late Wednesday, the US embassy in Honduras announced it had suspended $16.5 million in military aid to Honduras shortly after the coup.