Speaking from the plane during his unsuccessful effort to land at the airport in Tegucigalpa yesterday, ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya associated himself with a higher power:
I am the commander of the armed forces, elected by the people, and I
ask the armed forces to comply with the order to open the airport so
that there is no problem in landing and embracing my people. Today I feel like I have sufficient spiritual
strength, blessed with the blood of Christ, to be able to arrive there
and raise the crucifix.
The sounds, if not Constantinian (in hoc signo vinces), then certainly conquistadorean.
Zelaya’s religious background seems to be not untypical of his kind. From a wealthy landowning family in central Honduras, he has been a mass-going Catholic, but (according to this account in the Miami Herald) was in Miami to attend the opening of the headquarters of King Jesus Ministry (El Rey Jesús), an international evangelical movement founded by Honduran Pastor Guillermo Maldonado. Evangelicals, however, don’t tend to raise crucifixes.
The most notable religious event in Zelaya’s past occurred in June of 1975, when he was 22. His family’s Los Horcones ranch was the scene of the massacre of 15 priests, campesinos, and students, who were involved in the church’s struggle for social justice with wealthy landowners. Their bodies were later found at the bottom of a recently dynamited well and Zelaya’s father, whose .22 rifle was linked to the killings, was convicted of murder, serving five years of a 20 year sentence. After the massacre, the federal government ordered all priests, monks, and nuns to leave the area for their safety.
Whatever Manuel Zelaya’s own religious commitments at the moment, it is clear that he’s prepared to play the religion card. In that, he’s like other current caudillos of the left (or caudillo wannabes), most notably Hugo Chavez. In that part of Latin America, the Catholic church tends to be hard to push around, but you can always find evangelicals to sign up to the cause. Still, prior to the coup, there was strong opposition to Zelaya from within the evangelical as well as the Catholic community.