SAN JOSE – The Honduran army is forcibly recruiting young men into its ranks after ousting the country’s elected president in a coup last weekend, human rights activists said Wednesday.
Reina Rivera, director of the Honduran rights organization Ciprodeh, and the Rev. Ismael Moreno made the accusation in a conference call with Costa Rican journalists.
Moreno, station manager of Jesuit-run Radio Progreso in the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, said the military is conscripting young men, some of them minors, in rural areas.
“They have the need to strengthen the ranks of the armed forces against a possible mutiny by commanders loyal to President (Mel) Zelaya,” the priest said, citing rumors of a “very strong” split within the army over the ouster of the elected head of state.
While “the old guard” in the military support the coup, “in the new generation there are more-educated people who are inclining to the demands of the modern democracies,” Moreno said.
He said Radio Progreso is broadcasting from a secret location because soldiers seized the station on Sunday within hours of when troops in the capital dragged Zelaya from the presidential residence and put him on a plane to Costa Rica.
Rivera said troops have mounted surveillance outside the homes of grassroots activists and that some 200 pro-Zelaya demonstrators had been briefly detained and beaten by police.
Six other protesters, she said, are being sought by police on sedition charges, while public officials allied with Zelaya, including San Pedro Sula Mayor Rodolfo Padilla, have gone into hiding to escape persecution.
The conference call was organized by the San Jose office of the Center for Justice and International Law, where one staffer told reporters that major Honduran media outlets back the coup because they are owned by wealthy businessmen who “are part of the conspiracy.”
Zelaya said Wednesday that he would delay his promised return to Tegucigalpa for 72 hours in line with the deadline set by the Organization of American States for his reinstatement.
The toppled head of state had originally planned to go home on Thursday, accompanied by the presidents of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez, and Ecuador, Rafael Correa; OAS chief Jose Miguel Insulza and U.N. General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto.
Honduran lawmakers have justified Zelaya’s removal on the grounds that he threatened the constitutional order by trying to hold a non-binding referendum on his proposal for a national assembly next year to overhaul the country’s constitution.
Zelaya’s foes say he wants to change the charter so he can run for re-election, a charge he flatly denied Tuesday during a press conference at U.N. headquarters in New York.
Noting that the current Honduran constitution limits the president to a single four-year term, he said that any potential change would apply only to his successors.
Virtually every government in the Americas has condemned the coup. The World Bank is withholding $270 million in loans to the poor Central American nation and the Pentagon announced Wednesday a suspension of joint activities with the Honduran military.
Not all of those rejecting Zelaya’s ouster have demanded his reinstatement, yet even governments and institutions with no particular fondness for the deposed head of state insist the political conflict in Honduras must be resolved democratically.
Honduras’ “interim” president, erstwhile congressional speaker Roberto Micheletti, says that if Zelaya returns to Honduras, he will be arrested for “crimes” arising from his “interest in remaining in the government.” EFE