It’s Sunday night and I am back at my hotel after an exhausting day. I marched along with more than 20 thousand protesters on a route from the university to the airport. This is what I came to Honduras to experience and I wasn’t disappointed. Honduras is in the middle of another “unscheduled” transition of power. They say that corruption and cronyism is rampant in both the left and the right Their politics seem to be heavily “influenced” by economic and political pressures from abroad. This is just the latest of a long series of coups, but this time television, the internet, and cell phones have improved communications. This, many Hondurans say, is bringing a lot more people to the streets to protest.
I arrived in Tegucigalpa about noon on Saturday and everything looked normal. The airport had the usual number of greeters at the exits and a few more police than normal. I caught the city bus to downtown outside the airport just like I did the last time. The downtown had some national police in the city park, but other than that, all was normal. The shops were open with customers buying shoes, clothes, and food.
I checked into the small Hotel Iberia which is a well run and spotlessly clean. Because it is cheap ($8.00 for a single with shared bath), it caters to traveling, foreign students. The clerk told me that I had to be off the streets by the 10:00 PM curfew hour. After a couple of hours of walking around, I ended up at the 21 table of the local casino. To my surprise, the casino closed at 7:00 so the staff could get to their homes before the curfew started. I thought I had time to get some dinner, but the city was completely silent by 8:00 PM. Back at the hotel, I found out that I had missed what are the daily demonstrations. I decided to be a part of Sunday‘s march.
In the morning, I teamed up with a freelance American journalist who was reporting for a Guatemalan magazine. We left the hotel at 9:00 and caught a bus to an intersection near the university. There were thousands of people gathered in the streets chanting and showing their party’s colors in what seemed to be a festive atmosphere. It looked like there were 3 or 4 different political parties participating. The march was very well organized with monitors setting the pace and keeping everyone calm. They were well trained and had several days of experience since the coup started to hone their leadership skills. Things when along without a hitch for several kilometers as the crowd steadily increased in size.
When we got to the back side of the airport property, the police set up their first block. There were about 80 riot police in ranks across the road. The march stopped about thirty feet short of the police line and the big sound truck inched its way through the crowd to the front of the crowd. Tensions were high on both sides as negotiations continued for a 20 minutes. In the distance down the road, we could see another hundred police and soldiers waiting. Above us and behind the airport perimeter fence was a line of soldiers armed with automatic rifles watching at the ready.
The negotiations ended with the police retreating while the marchers waited until they were well clear. As the police moved to their next position with the soldiers down the road, the march continued. I went ahead to take some pictures of the police and soldiers. Many were young teenagers and clearly worried about the situation. I told one of the young men how many people were coming and the word spread quietly through the ranks. I climbed up the embankment on the airport side of the road so I could have a good view. There were more
than two times the number of police and soldiers this time.. Again, the march stopped short and negotiations ensued. The police were amazingly calm and level headed this time, as well. Although, there was teargas gunner who seemed very anxious to open fire on the crowd.
As before, negotiations lead to the police retreating and the marchers held until the police made their way to the airport entrance. It was at this point that the march became less controlled. A lot of people filled the street in front of the airport entrance while the police watched from above. Many people continued another kilometer to a place where the street widens and there is good view of the whole airport below. I’m not sure why, but I left
this area and went back to the airport entrance. It was 15 minutes later that several hundred people stormed the flimsy cyclone fence. My journalist friend, who was there, said the police shot their rifles into the crowd and fired off released tear gas. The tear gassed ran for covered. At least one person, an 18 year old, was killed by a shot to the head.. Several others, who were wounded were spirited by taxi to nearby hospitals. By time I got back there, the crowd had calmed I saw a makeshift memorial to the dead teenager.
About that same time this was happening, the deposed president’s plane made several passes over the airport. It was said that the demonstrators were trying to storm the airport to keep the interim government from arresting their leader. In the end, he was denied landing and he headed off to El Salvador. The crowd began to thin, but there were several thousands when I headed back to the city at 6:30. There were no buses operating and the taxis were all heading away from downtown. I ended up walking about 3 kilometers before I got a ride. But, rather than heading to downtown, I got dropped off on the east side of the city which was several hours walk to downtown. By this time I was getting worried that I wouldn’t make the 10:00 PM curfew, so I started hitchhiking. I was less than 5 minutes before a pickup filled special investigation police stopped to give me a ride. I climbed into the crowded bed of the truck with 4 policemen and 4 handcuffed prisoners. They dropped me off a dozen blocks from my hotel and I made back just after 9:00. Tomorrow which is Monday, I’m heading back to Houston if the airport is open and our flight operates. If not, there will be more adventures.
An Update to My Honduran Adventure
The desk clerk was sleeping when I got to the lobby. I wanted to know where to catch a cab to the airport. He wanted to know why I wanted to go into the streets before the curfew ended at 5:00 AM. I didn’t know that Honduras doesn’t observe daylight savings time. I was an hour ahead of schedule. It an hour before any taxis would be on the streets. When I got to the airport everything was normal. There were a few people who had driven from Tegucigalpa on Monday to catch the early flight, but everything else was quiet.
While I thought this adventure is over until Houston weather caused us to divert to San Antonio for fuel. We will be 2 hours late and I’m very tired, but all else is OK.