Hondurans campaign for the return of former President Zelaya, 2009-2011


1) The reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya to the office of the president.
2) The safe return of Manuel Zelaya from exile to Honduras.

Time period

28 June, 2009 to 28 May, 2011



Location City/State/Province

Tegucigalpa, El Progreso, Santa Rita, Choluteca, Chaloma, Santa Barbara, La Ceiba, and Tocoa
Jump to case narrative


National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP)


Not Known

External allies

Resistencia Honduras New York/ New Jersey; Wellington Zapatista Support Group
Organization of American States

Involvement of social elites

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
The United States, the European Union, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americans (ALBA) all condemned the coup


Interim President Roberto Micheletti
President Porfirio Lobo
Honduras Supreme Court, Parliament, and military

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not Known

Campaigner violence

Not Known

Repressive Violence

Police used tear gas to repress protesters. Police also arrested and beat protesters, killing at least twenty people.


National-Ethnic Identity



Group characterization

Hondurans from many different backgrounds

Groups in 1st Segment

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Organization of American States
United States

Groups in 2nd Segment

United States (exit)

Groups in 4th Segment

Resistencia Honduras New York/ New Jersey
Wellington Zapatista Support Group

Segment Length

16 weeks 4 days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

3 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

7 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

While protesters initially demanded the reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya, they shifted their goals to ensure his safe return. While they did not achieve their initial demand, they did successfully achieve Zelaya's safe return to Honduras, clear of all charges. FNRP also grew tremendously as a coalition that continued to campaign for participatory democracy under Zelaya's leadership beyond this campaign.

Database Narrative

The constitution of Honduras, established in 1982, did not provide structures for popular democratic participation. In June 2009, President Manuel Zelaya called for a referendum on whether a constituent assembly should look to rewrite the constitution or not. He had been elected in 2005 as a cattle-rancher conservative but moved to the left and allied himself with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He maintained that he wanted to guarantee wider and fairer representation to all Hondurans. His opposition, namely the Supreme Court, the Parliament, and the military, feared that he would make changes to allow presidents to seek re-election beyond a single four-year term and that he would become a dictator himself. When armed forces chief, General Romeo Vasquez, opposed Zelaya’s referendum, Zelaya attempted to fire him on 24 June. The Supreme Court ordered the president to reinstate Vasquez, but Zelaya did not follow through with this.

On 28 June, over 200 military officers broke into Zelaya’s home, beat him, tied him down, and took him on a plane. They dropped him in Costa Rica. Honduras’ Congress swore in Roberto Micheletti as president just hours after Zelaya’s detention and forced exile. Parliament read a letter of resignation, which they claimed Zelaya had written. Zelaya made a statement that the letter they read was falsely written.

Zelaya’s presidency minister, Enrique Flores Lanza, announced the cabinet would launch a campaign of civil resistance. On the same day as his exile, thousands of Hondurans protested in the streets and called for Zelaya’s return to office. Police used tear gas to repress the demonstrators. They also arrested and beat many protestors, killing at least twenty according to the Truth Commission’s July 2011 report. Interim President Micheletti suspended civil liberties, shut down opposition media, and declared a curfew for two days. 

The United States, the European Union, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americans (ALBA) all condemned the coup. On 1 July 2009, the United States suspended joint military operations with Honduras in protest of the coup. The OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza gave Honduras an ultimatum. If Micheletti and Congress did not allow Zelaya safe return by 4 July, Honduras would be expelled from OAS and face possible sanctions. Micheletti said that Zelaya would receive an arrest warrant upon return. The interim government did not allow Zelaya safe return, so the OAS expelled Honduras. 

The United States Department of State asked President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica to mediate talks in July 2009 between Zelaya and Micheletti. Arias presented a deal in which Zelaya would be reinstated to office with an all-party government and international supervision, elections would be held, Zelaya would stop pushing for a constituent assembly, and all involved would receive amnesty. Both parties resisted accepting these conditions, so talks proved unsuccessful. 

Former President Zelaya was popular among the poor in Honduras. People from across the country and from very different backgrounds formed a grassroots national coalition to call for Zelaya’s return and reinstatement. La frente nacional de resistencia popular (The National Front of Popular Resistance, FNRP) brought together women’s groups, trade unions, campesinos (farmers), gay and lesbian groups, indigenous people’s organizations, Afro-Hondurans, teachers, students, and human rights groups to work towards participatory democracy and a constituent assembly. 

On 16 July 2009, FNRP members, dressed in red shirts and scarves, blockaded highways and shut down the northern and southern entrances to the capital, Tegucigalpa. Protesters also blocked roads in Comayagua and Copan.

On 21 September 2009, Zelaya returned to Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy. Thousands of Hondurans rallied around the embassy in support of Zelaya to demand his return to office.

In November 2009, Porfirio Lobo of the National Party was elected president of Honduras. Zelaya’s supporters boycotted the elections; while the government claims that 62% of eligible voters turned out to vote, independent estimates that only 47% turned out. After Lobo took office in January 2010, Zelaya agreed to go into exile in the Dominican Republic to avoid prosecution on charges of having violated the constitution. 

President Lobo, supported by President Barack Obama of the United States, tried to create the image of working toward national reconciliation, though he received no support from the opposition or the country’s oligarchs who supported the coup. In May 2010, he set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to clarify events before and around the coup, identify actions that led to the crisis, and provide suggestions on how to prevent the situation in the future. The resistance movement discredited his Truth Commission on grounds that it did not have enforcement power and only looked at abuses before Lobo became president. The Supreme Court defied Lobo and fired five judges and public defenders who opposed the coup. Soon after the coup and into Lobo’s presidency, there were at least fifty para-military style assassinations of opposition activists, over 3,000 illegal detentions, and thousands of reports of human rights abuses. Under Lobo’s presidency, impunity was the status quo in Honduras, thus stripping his government of its legitimacy.

On 1 May 2010, 500,000 marched in Tegucigalpa to continue calling on the Honduran government to allow Zelaya’s safe return home. 

On the one-year anniversary, 28 June 2010, FNRP members blockaded highways and bridges across the country in protest against the coup. Over 200,000 occupied the main boulevards of Tegucigalpa. In El Progreso, Santa Rita, Choluteca, Chaloma, Santa Barbara, La Ceiba, and Tocoa, protesters shut down roads as well.

On 28 June 2010, Resistencia Honduras New York/ New Jersey in the United States organized a march in New York City to the Honduran embassy in solidarity with those protesting the coup. On this same day, the Wellington Zapatista Support Group held a vigil in New Zealand in support of the opposition calling for Zelaya’s return.

In March 2011, teachers and students protested and demanded the return of Zelaya from exile. On 28 March, health care workers walked off the job for four hours in solidarity with the pro-Zelaya demonstrations.

In early May, an appeals court dropped all charges on Zelaya. President Lobo and Zelaya signed an accord, negotiated by Colombia and Venezuela. It would grant Zelaya legal immunity upon his return after a sixteen-month exile. He would also be allowed to participate in politics, though the constitution would prevent him from running for a second term in office. He returned on 28 May 2011, greeted by thousands of supporters in celebration. In two years since his return, he led FNRP in efforts to build a more participatory democracy in Honduras. 


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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Nick Palazzolo, 11/05/2013