DALLAS — Buckner International temporarily is suspending travel by mission groups to Honduras in the wake of a coup that removed President Manuel Zelaya from office.
Officials with the Dallas-based orphan care ministry announced today they are halting travel to Honduras indefinitely and are either canceling or redirecting planned trips until the situation can be evaluated by Buckner’s Honduran staff.
Randy Daniels, vice president of international operations for Buckner, said the last of the Buckner groups in Honduras left the country June 27 ahead of the turmoil. Buckner staff, all Hondurans, reported they are safe, he added.
“We just feel like it’s in the best interest of our volunteers to wait and see what happens,” Daniels said. “We’re obviously sorry for any inconvenience this causes our groups, but our staff in Honduras believes this is the best decision for now.”
Buckner is not prepared to say when trips will resume, Daniels said. Staff in Honduras is monitoring the situation closely and “will help us determine when we can start sending teams again,” he explained.
In the meantime, anyone wanting information about Buckner’s plan may contact Daniels at (214) 758-8024.
Buckner began operations in Honduras in 2008 after receiving an invitation to work in the country from First Lady Xiomara de Zelaya in late 2006. In 2007, Buckner hosted the First Lady’s sister, the director of the country’s Children’s Social Services, and the nation’s coordinator of humanitarian aid.
Buckner’s headquarters in Honduras are in the capital Tegucigalpa. Buckner has also become involved with several projects in San Pedro Sula, where numerous mission groups have traveled in the past year and a half.
In 2008, Buckner sent four mission teams to Honduras. This year, nine teams have completed trips with an additional 10 teams scheduled to travel. All of those trips have been put on hold, according to Leslie Chace, director of Latin American operations for Buckner. Nine of those teams were to work in orphanages in the San Pedro Sula area, with the additional one slated for Tegucigalpa.
Growth in mission teams has mirrored the growth in Buckner programs in 2009, Chace said. Buckner has set up its non-government organization offices in Tegucigalpa and a transitional home in San Pedro Sula.
“We have secured the Girls’ Transitional Living Home in San Pedro Sula and are scheduled to move in the first residents in July,” she said.
Yesterday’s coup came an hour before a vote on a national referendum that would have allowed Zelaya to seek a new term in office. More than a dozen soldiers disarmed Zelaya’s security guards and arrested the president at his residence early Sunday.
Zelaya then was taken to an air base on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, from where he was flown to Costa Rica.
After Zelaya’s arrest, about 200 soldiers surrounded the presidential palace, while police officers used tear gas to disperse a demonstration of about 500 Zelaya supporters outside the palace.
Following the coup, Honduras’ Congress appointed Speaker of the Congress Roberto Micheletti as interim president. Micheletti immediately announced that a curfew will be enforced 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. for at least 48 hours. The new government also interrupted the electric supply to Tegucigalpa, as well as radio and television broadcasts. Only official communications from the Supreme Court, Supreme Electoral Tribunal and Congress are being distributed.
Military aircraft and helicopters continue to conduct over flights of Tegucigalpa, while soldiers remain deployed in the streets. Several protests have occurred in response to the coup; however, they have been limited to a few hundred Zelaya supporters who have gathered in front of the presidential palace and the congressional building.
Several media sources reported hearing shots fired in the areas near the presidential palace today. However, the reports have not yet been confirmed.
Social and political groups planned to hold large demonstrations to protest the coup today.
According to several sources that monitor international travel, travelers should stay abreast of local developments and should avoid all large gatherings and demonstrations as a precaution. Buckner officials have been told the protests may cause travel delays or interrupt access to Toncontin International Airport.