TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – A top aide to Honduras' ousted president accused the United States of involvement in the coup, saying Saturday that the plane that flew Manuel Zelaya into exile stopped to refuel at an airfield where hundreds of U.S. troops are based.
Patricia Valle, the deputy foreign minister of the deposed government, said the Honduran military plane carrying Zelaya took off from the capital's Toncontin airport, then stopped for fuel at the Soto Cano air base before heading to Costa Rica. She said Zelaya did not get off the plane during the stop.
Soto Cano, also known as Palmerola, is a Honduran air base that houses at least 500 U.S. troops who conduct counter-narcotics operations and other missions in Central America.
Valle charged that the stop at Palmerola showed U.S. officials at some level were complicit in the June 28 coup, although she offered no evidence that American personnel at the base interacted with the Honduran military officials on the plane or that they even knew Zelaya was there.
"Zelaya was taken to Palmerola," Valle told The Associated Press. "The United States was involved in the coup against Zelaya."
She didn't offer any proof for that assertion and added that she didn't believe the highest levels of the Obama administration were involved.
Valle made the allegation in response to a question about a report in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo saying Zelaya spoke about stopping at the base during a meeting with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Wednesday.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Shantel Dalton said she had no information about Valle's claim and could not comment. Joint Task Force-Bravo, the military unit that operates at the base, and the U.S. Southern Command did not return calls.
Palmerola was used by the United States during the Central American civil wars of the 1980s. U.S. Air Force personnel are responsible for maintaining the airfield and share air traffic control duties with Honduran authorities, according to the Joint Task Force-Bravo Web site.
Zelaya has increasingly voiced his frustration with the U.S. government for failing to impose tougher penalties on the coup-installed government.
Washington has suspended millions of dollars in military and development aid to Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. But it has stopped short of imposing trade sanctions that could cripple the Honduran economy, which is highly dependent on exports to the United States.
The government of interim President Roberto Micheletti is trying to withstand international pressure to restore Zelaya before scheduled Nov. 29 presidential elections. It insists Zelaya was legally removed from office after violating court orders to call off a referendum asking voters whether they would support rewriting the constitution.
Zelaya's supporters tried to keep up the pressure Saturday. More than 1,000 sympathizers congregated in a plaza to commemorate a 19-year-old man killed during a July 5 protest.
Meanwhile, unknown assailants threw molotov cocktails at the offices of the newspaper El Heraldo early Saturday, setting fire to the entrance. Nobody was hurt in the sixth attack on media outlets and other institutions critical of Zelaya.