Ousted President of Honduras Jose Manuel Zelaya described being abducted in his pajamas in June and accused his home country’s interim government of violating citizens rights at the Elliott School on Wednesday morning.
Zelaya spoke to a lecture hall full of ambassadors, Honduran government officials, students and members of the media in Spanish. He gave a detailed account of his forced removal from power, where he was taken from his home at gunpoint and flown to Costa Rica.
“What do I do now in my pajamas? They just turned around, put the steps up, and left,” Zelaya said of being left on the airstrip in Costa Rica.
Zelaya joked about the first report he read on his removal, which a journalist called an “obscene” coup.
“I could say it was obscene,” he said. “[There were] 150 bullets in a metal door at my house.”
In reference to the controversy that surrounds Zelaya, Cynthia McClintock, the director of the Latin American and Hemispheric Studies Program at the Elliott School, said at the beginning of the event that GW is a university where all cultures are respected and called for the audience to continue that tone.
Zelaya said the State Department has not recognized his removal as a coup d’état, and he hoped the U.S. – which is Honduras’ main source of foreign aid and their top trading partner – would do so after his meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday. This official recognition would require by law that the United States cut off all aid to the interim government. So far, the U.S. has cut $18.5 million in aid to Honduras.
The controversy surrounding Zelaya’s removal from office stems from accusations that he wanted to amend the country’s constitution so that he could serve another term.
The new government plans to hold elections this November. Zelaya pointed out that he was removed from power just one month after elections were announced and suggested the new election would be a “fraud.”
Zelaya told the audience that a Honduran president is to be replaced only when “absolute absence” is determined. He said the term refers to times when a president is dead or incapacitated, not when he has left the country, voluntarily or involuntarily.
“That is an insult to intelligence,” Zelaya said about the interim government claiming his absence.
The Organization of American States and the Union of South American Nations have said that they will not recognize a government elected under interim president Roberto Micheletti, who maintains that his transition to power was legal.
Zelaya also called for the Obama administration to speak out against human rights violations occurring in Honduras, as Amnesty International has done. He referred to the interim government’s closing of local television and news stations, implementation of a curfew, and violence against protesters.
The ousted president described two protesters found with 24 stab wounds and gagged with plastic bags. He said that there are currently 1,500 political detainees in Honduras, and a presidential candidate for the November elections is in the hospital with two broken arms.
Zelaya even accused the interim government of naming a minister for safety who was responsible for cutting out tongues, pulling out eyeballs and castrating people as part of a death squad in the 1980’s.
“Our goal at this time after the coup is to learn a few lessons. so that these events will not happen,” Zelaya said.