Newly appointed President Roberto Micheletti announced on 2 July 2009 that Honduras will reject a deadline issued by the Organization of American States (OAS) to return the country’s former president to power by 4 July. OAS leaders threatened to suspend Honduras from the international group if Micheletti refuses to allow former President Manuel Zelaya to return to the presidency. Zelaya stated that he will remain in Panama, where he has been since 1 July for Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli’s inauguration, and he is expected to return to Honduras after the deadline runs out on 4 July. Honduran leaders have issued an order to arrest Zelaya if he returns to the country.
Demonstrations of various sizes occurred on 1 July throughout Honduras, most of them supporting the new Micheletti government and rejecting the interference of other countries in Honduras’ internal affairs. Tens of thousands of southern Hondurans demonstrated in the city of Choluteca, while thousands of people peacefully marched through the streets of the northern city of La Ceiba, the country’s third-largest metropolitan area, to support a peaceful transition to a new government. The La Ceiba march was forced to divert its route to avoid conflicting with a group of Zelaya supporters who had gathered at a central plaza. Hundreds of demonstrators also held a vigil in front of the seat of the U.N. mission in Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital, to protest Zelaya’s promised return, while approximately 300 pro-Zelaya protesters gathered in front of the presidential palace calling for his reinstatement. Protests have also occurred in the cities of Copán and San Pedro Sula, as well as the departments of Atlantida, Colon, Cortes, Olancho and Santa Barbara. There have been no reports of violence between rival groups or between Zelaya supporters and security forces.
In light of the continued tensions in Honduras, on 1 July Congress ratified a presidential decree shortening the curfew hours (it will now be in effect between 2200 and 0500 local time), but restricting individual liberties while the curfew is in effect. The new measure establishes that persons may be detained for more than 24 hours without communication and gives security officials the right to enter individuals’ homes without a judicial order. It also limits freedom of association, the right to organize demonstrations and the right to enter, exit or move freely about the country. The decree does not affect the media, which has begun broadcasting normally after several days of restrictions. Authorities claim that the new measure, which can be enforced no longer than 45 days, is designed to protect Hondurans from Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans who are allegedly attempting to incite civil unrest. Human rights activists claim that security officials have already detained prominent social leaders, have beaten and briefly detained Zelaya supporters and have been forcibly recruiting minors to their ranks; however, authorities deny these accusations.