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In Deeply Divided Honduran Society, a Potentially Combustible Situation

Honduras's poor generally support ousted president Manuel Zelaya, center, whom the country's small but influential establishment views with distrust.
Honduras's poor generally support ousted president Manuel Zelaya, center, whom the country's small but influential establishment views with distrust. (By Moises Castillo -- Associated Press)

Murillo's family members live in shabby hillside districts where streets are unpaved, roofs leak and hopes faded long ago.

Rebeca Murillo, 22, said that she and her siblings saw the possibility of a new beginning with Zelaya -- and that that is why she, Isi and two other brothers went to the airport to rally for him. Gunfire then rang out, she said, and the next thing she recalls was seeing Isi's lifeless body.

"Mel Zelaya wanted to improve things. He asked us what we wanted and what we did not want," she said. "What divides us here is money, and we saw Zelaya as the guy who could take us out of our misery."

Eduardo Maldonado, a popular television and radio commentator who supports Zelaya, said he thinks that the ousted president had been hoping to change the constitution to make it more inclusive.

"The coffee exporters have congressmen, the bankers have congressmen, the fast-food interests have congressmen," Maldonado said. "That's why the country has been in these difficult conditions . . . because there is not a congress that permits people to participate."

Wealthier Hondurans opposed to Zelaya are easy to find in the capital, a world of glitzy shopping malls, Miami-style high-rises and broad avenues filled with so many American fast-food outlets -- expensive eating for the poor -- that they appear to have been plunked down from some U.S. suburb.

Adolfo Facussé, an investor long tied to government officials, said that although Zelaya's rhetoric resonated with the poor, his policies did little to help lift them out of poverty. Facussé said that raising the minimum monthly wage by 60 percent led to the firings of 170,000 people and that increasing the pay of teachers hit the treasury hard.

Facussé said he and other Hondurans also became alarmed as Zelaya built an alliance with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that they thought was more ideological than economic. Facussé said the last straw came when Zelaya moved ahead with plans to hold a referendum that could have paved the way for his reelection, a move the Supreme Court and the National Congress opposed.

"To us, Zelaya is Chávez, and we don't want Chávez here," Facussé said.

Political commentators, analysts and diplomats say Zelaya, whose family made its fortune from logging, remained friendly to some power brokers. But his drift to the left soon alarmed the conglomerates that own hydroelectric plants, the established media, coffee interests and the influential fast-food market.

The de facto government and its supporters say Zelaya's populist measures were designed to build support so he could manipulate the constitution and remain in power. But those who support him say he was justified in moving forward against the wishes of those whom Cáceres, the rights activist, called "the perfumed ones."

"He broke with those old schemes," she said. "That gave confidence to the people, that he broke with the traditional side and came closer and closer to the social movements."

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