TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Soldiers and police enforced an emergency decree suspending civil liberties Wednesday despite promises by the coup-imposed government to lift the measures criticized by its own allies as going too far.
About 150 police and soldiers acting on the decree raided the offices of the National Agrarian Institute, occupied by supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya since the June 28 coup. Authorities detained 54 farm activists and Zelaya supporters, police spokesman Orlin Cerrato said.
"The decree is being discussed by a lot of sectors, and appeals have been filed," he said. "But it remains in force."
Cerrato said the action was aimed at recovering control of the building, which contains valuable land title records. One of the detained activists, farmer Jose Irene Murillo, 69, said he feared "they are going to destroy the records of the small farmers, because the big landowners want the land."
Lawmakers have made clear Congress will revoke the emergency security crackdown if the interim government does not, said Rigoberto Chang, a congressman with the conservative National Party.
Congress has the power to lift or modify the decree issued Sunday that bans unauthorized gatherings and lets police arrest people without warrants, rights guaranteed in the Honduran Constitution. It also allows authorities to shut news media for "statements that attack peace and the public order, or which offend the human dignity of public officials, or attack the law."
Interim President Roberto Micheletti backtracked on the decree Monday, saying he had agreed to reconsider the move at the request of congressional leaders.
Wednesday's raid contrasted sharply with recent overtures to end the crisis from those who supported the coup.
The country's political and business elite have been urging Micheletti this week to meet face-to-face with Zelaya after growing weary of the turmoil that has paralyzed Honduras.
The leftist leader also has indicated he is ready to break the stalemate.
Zelaya said Tuesday night that he was encouraged by a plan proposed by an influential business chamber for putting him back in office and ending the crisis. The plan includes bringing foreign troops to Honduras to ensure that if Zelaya was restored to the presidency, he would respect an international mediator's proposal that his powers be strictly limited.
Zelaya said it was "good sign" that "conservative sectors of the country are analyzing a proposal" that includes his reinstatement.
"We will make the respective analysis," Zelaya said in an interview with Channel 11. "We hope to enter into talks with those who are making this proposal in the next hours."
The disagreement over the security decree was the biggest public rift between Micheletti and the Congress that put him in power after soldiers forced Zelaya into exile June 28 in a dispute over changing the constitution.
The interim government has been increasingly on the defensive since Zelaya sneaked back into the country on Sept. 21 and took refuge at the Brazilian Embassy.
Micheletti initially insisted on the decree to counter what he said were calls for "insurrection" by the ousted leader's supporters.
But conservative politicians expressed fear it would endanger the Nov. 29 presidential election, which they consider Honduras' best hope for regaining international recognition. The ballot was scheduled before the removal of Zelaya, whose presidential term expires in January.
Chang said leading conservative lawmakers "weren't even consulted" about the security crackdown.
"It took us by surprise," he said. "We were scared because they weren't taking us into account at all."
Chang criticized the closure of two pro-Zelaya broadcasters Monday under the decree, saying such moves could encourage protesters who have been largely peaceful to turn to violence to get their views across.
Despite the dispute, there has been no groundswell of support among lawmakers for allowing Zelaya to return to power, as governments worldwide have been demanding.
Adolfo Facusse, the president of the National Industry Chamber, proposed over the weekend that 3,000 troops from conservative-led nations be sent to Honduras if Zelaya is restored to office. He said Tuesday that the force could be U.N. peacekeepers.
"Zelaya would have a number of limits on his authority," said Facusse, whose association vocally supported Zelaya's ouster.
Facusse says he discussed parts of the plan with Micheletti, including a proposal to make the interim president a congressman-for-life.
Chang said lawmakers were open to considering any proposals for resolving the political standoff "no matter how unlikely they might appear," but he said there was no need to have foreign troops in Honduras.
Micheletti so far has been staunchly opposed to putting Zelaya back in office.