TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Honduras' first lady has emerged as the public face of the movement to restore President Manuel Zelaya to power, a role she took against her husband's wishes and despite her continuing fears for her safety.
Xiomara Castro told The Associated Press on Wednesday that she was so afraid the Honduran military would shoot her on sight after soldiers whisked Zelaya out of the country in his pajamas, she fled to the U.S. Embassy.
Though she still sleeps in hiding, she vowed to take to the streets daily in protest of the June 28 coup that ousted her husband. The family of a pro-Zelaya demonstrator slain by soldiers on Sunday urged her to get involved — over Zelaya's objections.
"He told me that my presence could cause more problems, more persecution on the family. But I insisted," Castro said, while trudging up a steep road with 3,000 Zelaya supporters, who blocked traffic on a route connecting the capital of Tegucigalpa with a highway to Nicaragua. "I consider our presence here as like having the president himself here, like feeling that the president is standing firm."
Zelaya headed to Costa Rica Wednesday to meet with Nobel laureate Oscar Arias, that country's president, who is leading negotiations to end the Honduran political crisis.
Roberto Micheletti, who became interim head of state after Zelaya was apprehended, said a commission will represent him in Costa Rica. He is still deliberating whether to go himself.
"In two days there could be a solution or it could be two months, and we still don't have one," Arias said in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose on Wednesday.
But even as the two sides planned to meet, Castro said she couldn't disclose where she is staying for fear of members of the Honduran political establishment — people she recently counted as friends.
Zelaya and Micheletti both hail from the Liberal Party. Castro was a longtime friend of Micheletti's wife, whose name is nearly identical: Siomara Castro.
The morning of the coup, Castro said she and her teenage son Hector sneaked to the U.S. embassy, then stayed there until the attorney general's office said no charges would be filed against Zelaya family members.
The pair then headed to the residence of U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens.
Castro remained out of sight for nine days after the coup. But she came out of hiding at the request of the family of Isis Obed Murillo Mencia, 19, a protester from Zelaya's home state of Olancho who was shot by soldiers at the airport Sunday during Zelaya's unsuccessful attempt to return.
Castro said she would like to return to her home, but refused to say if she had left the ambassador's residence. But she also said if anyone had wanted to harm her, they would have done so during the coup.
"I know that Romeo Vasquez had the opportunity to kill me and he didn't do so," she said, referring to the head of the Honduran armed forces. Zelaya fired Vasquez after he refused to carry out the military's election duties for a referendum Zelaya had planned the day he was deposed. The Supreme Court ruled it was illegal, setting the stage for the coup.
Arias, negotiating at the behest of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, has a proven record of resolving international crises, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his role in mediating civil wars in Central America.
"We are going to give them both equal treatment," Arias said of the two men claiming to be president of Honduras.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said his country would cancel oil shipments to Honduras. Zelaya was an ally of that country's president, Hugo Chavez, who had supplied Honduras crude on 25-year credit.
Ramirez said Venezuela can't provide oil "to a dictatorship, and especially not to a small group of businessmen who led a coup."
Zelaya's supporters claim Honduras' wealthy class backed the military uprising because Zelaya's policies favored the poor, including his raising of the minimum wage.
The United Nations, the Organization of American States and governments around the world insist Zelaya is Honduras' rightful president. The country's Congress says it legally made Micheletti, former head of the legislature, interim president.
Marching in a white cowboy hat with a red ribbon reading "Victory for the People: Zelaya," Castro said she spoke briefly to her husband the morning of the coup and then again four days later. But their first lengthy talk came Tuesday, when a radio station put them in touch and aired the conversation.
"In these times of tension, the only thing that we know is we are more united than ever," said Zelaya, brushing off rumors that the couple was close to separating before the coup.
"Today we are a fractured family because (Zelaya is) in one place and my kids are in another and I'm in another," she added. "But all of this has strengthened us."