MONTREAL – With a political showdown in the offing in Honduras later this week, a Quebec humanitarian organization scrambled on Tuesday to get 21 teenage girls from Montreal out of the Latin American country.
The students, from the St.-Nom-de-Marie school in Montreal’s affluent Outremont district, had only arrived in Honduras last Thursday.
On Sunday, they promptly found themselves in a political hot zone after a military coup resulted in President Manuel Zelaya being ousted from office and into exile.
As thousands of protesters clashed with riot police and military near the presidential palace in the capital Tegucigalpa, some of the students were locked up inside the headquarters of Mer et monde, a Montreal-based humanitarian organization.
“Everything is under control and there’s no worries with our people on the ground,” Mireille Chilloux, the organization’s executive director, said in an interview from Montreal.
She said the hope was to have the minors flown back to Canada on Wednesday, ahead of Zelaya’s planned return to Honduras on Thursday.
“Not because they are in any danger but because they can’t carry out their internship, they’re confined to a home,” Chilloux said.
“They didn’t go to Honduras to stay locked in a house.”
Some of the students, all between 16 and 17, were staying in the capital where they were working with a women’s shelter.
“But they’re in a completely different and somewhat remote area from where the riots took place,” said school spokeswoman Joan Beauchamp.
Other students are in a village called San Matias, about a two-hour drive outside the capital, where they were entertaining kindergarten kids, planting a garden and painting a mural.
“The ones in San Matias didn’t know about the situation until we reached them,” Beauchamp said.
“They were out there having a ball and now they’re so upset that they have to cut their trip short.”
Meanwhile, a group of eight students from prestigious Montreal private institution College Jean-de-Brebeuf were due to land in Montreal on Tuesday evening.
They had already completed their assignment in a rural area outside the capital last Friday and were wrapping up their trip.
“They are coming back a little early and there is a precaution because the president-in-exile is coming back on Thursday,” said school spokesman Russell Flanagan.
“So, not knowing what that would bring, we preferred to bring them back right away.”
The Foreign Affairs Department is warning Canadians in Honduras to maintain a high level of caution, abide by curfews in the capital city and other parts of the country and to avoid non-essential travel.
The travel advisory refers to the situation in the country as “unpredictable.”
But Flanagan said from what the school and the parents were told, things remain largely quiet in the country.
“It’s very calm, the only thing they’re asking people is not to go in the streets,” Flanagan said.
“Otherwise, life appears to be going on as usual.”