October 6, 2009 / 12:12 AM / 10 years ago

WITNESS: Holed up in embassy with ousted Honduran president

Edgard Garrido, 33, has worked for Reuters for 2-1/2 years as a photographer in Chile and Honduras. A Chilean, he is married with an 18-month-old son. In this story, Garrido recounts his experience being trapped inside an embassy for two weeks with ousted President Manuel Zelaya at the center of Honduras’ political crisis.

Photographer Edgard Garrido (top R) interviews Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya inside the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. REUTERS/Stringer

By Edgard Garrido

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - For two weeks, I have slept with my finger on the shutter button, just meters from where Honduras’ President Manuel Zelaya, ousted in a coup, waits in refuge and hopes for a return to power.

As a Reuters photographer in Honduras, I was one of the few reporters who managed to slip into Brazil’s embassy when Zelaya crept back into the country and sought refuge here, almost three months after troops toppled him and sent him into exile.

Two weeks after his return, Zelaya is still holed up inside the embassy, surrounded by hostile police and troops. And so am I, privileged to bring images to the world but struggling with food shortages, a lack of sleep and rollercoaster emotions.

Scoring an image of Zelaya asleep with his trademark white cowboy hat covering his face was a high point, and the picture has been used widely around the world.

But I’m tired of sleeping on the floor and being short of food, and my nerves have been shot by intimidation from the troops outside and the uncertainty about when this will end.

Honduras’ de facto leader Roberto Micheletti and Zelaya are edging toward negotiations to break the deadlock. But the leftist Zelaya insists he must be restored to power while Micheletti says he must face treason charges.

With both sides so far apart, it’s not at all clear when there will be an end to the crisis, or my unusual and uncomfortable assignment.

It began with a news flash that Zelaya had returned. I kissed my wife and son goodbye and rushed out so quickly that I forgot to put on my socks.

“Bye, see you soon!” I told them. Little did I know then.

After chasing a false rumor that Zelaya was in a United Nations building, a pack of his followers and reporters rushed to the Brazilian embassy, a modest two-story building. A crush at the door, and I was inside.

I was told Zelaya was in the next room, where he remains to this day. People entering and exiting the room confirmed his presence, but I needed to see him. A door opened and there he was. I snapped two photos and sent my first dispatch.


Zelaya decided to camp right where he was. His supporters celebrated and slept outside. With a cement floor as my mattress and a backpack as pillow, I got no sleep amid the screams and chanting.

The government responded quickly, with soldiers and police breaking up the pro-Zelaya demonstrations outside the embassy and turning on a high-frequency acoustic device to harass those inside.

Tensions rose, and we worried about a military operation to seize control of the embassy.

I slept with my finger practically on the shutter ready for what seemed to be an imminent intervention, ready to protect myself, ready to shoot.

After two days inside the embassy, there was no food, no telephone, no rest, no bath and no clean clothes.

At night, soldiers banged on their riot shields. It became a war of nerves. Stones hit the roof as Honduras’ national anthem was blasted out on powerful sound equipment nearby.

Then came allegations of a gas attack. Zelaya said he believed mercenaries were trying to force him out using toxic gas. Some in the compound had bleeding noses. Outside, officials said the odors were from a cleaning crew nearby. But it was unclear what was really happening.

Later at least the pressure tactics eased and I began to receive food, fresh clothes and an inflatable mattress from my colleagues on the outside, although part of one package was eaten by the police who had promised to pass it in.

Zelaya found out that my photo of him sleeping was being published around the world, and he called me over. He applauded the picture but we disagreed over how public officials can be photographed and the documentary value of images.

Two weeks into the standoff, we have developed new routines to get access to food, water and even the bathroom.

Zelaya, his family and closest friends have more comforts but there are just two showers for the other 70 people inside the embassy.

Photographer Edgard Garrido (2nd R) stands with other journalists inside the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. REUTERS/Stringer

We now get food delivered to the embassy by friends on the outside but it can be chaotic. I have fabricated a spoon out of a plastic cup and I pay a Zelaya supporter to do my washing.

The supporters eat whatever the United Nations sends. Zelaya eats his own food and I eat the Reuters food. We are envied for the air mattresses.

At the end of each day I get another phone call. My wife says, “Our son is fine, we’ll see you soon.”

Editing by Patrick Markey and Kieran Murray

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