Ousted Honduran Leader to Return?
Tegucigulpa, Honduras. The ousted president of Honduras, bolstered by international support, said he would return home this week to regain control. The government that overthrew him said Tuesday that Manuel Zelaya may be able to return — but only as a common citizen.
The military coup on Sunday provoked nearly universal condemnation from governments of the Western Hemisphere, from US President Barack Obama to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and sparked clashes in the Honduran capital that have left dozens of people injured.
Flanked by Latin American leaders who have vowed to help him regain power, Manuel Zelaya said on Monday that he would accept an offer by Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza to accompany him back to Honduras.
Zelaya, a wealthy rancher who has forged close ties with Chavez, said he wanted to return to Tegucigalpa on Thursday after attending a meeting of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday to seek support from its 192 member nations.
“I want the support of whoever thinks I have the right to finish my presidency,” Zelaya said at a news conference in Nicaragua, where he earlier received a standing ovation during a meeting of Latin American leaders.
Just as significant was the support of the US president.
“We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there,” Obama said in Washington.
“It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections.”
It was unclear how the current leaders of Honduras would react to the return of Zelaya, who is accused by Congress and the Supreme Court of maneuvering to illegally amend the constitution — apparently in order to extend his rule.
“Zelaya is not banned from entering Honduras,” said Enrique Ortez Colindres, the foreign minister of the new government.
But he said on Tuesday that Zelaya would have to seek Foreign Ministry permission to enter the country, and “he would not be considered president, but a common citizen.”
Ortez did not say why Zelaya would require special permission to return and did not say if he would grant it.
Ortez said, however, he looked forward to meeting OAS officials “so they can realize that this is a government that respects all laws and the only thing it did was to remove a president for systematically violating the constitution.”
Zelaya has called for supporters to stage peaceful protests in Honduras, and thousands answered the call on Monday.
Soldiers and police in antiriot gear used tear gas and rubber bullets to scatter protesters at the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa. The demonstrators, many of them choking on the gas, hurled rocks and bottles as they retreated. At least 38 protesters were detained, said Sandra Ponce, a government human-rights official.
Congresswoman Silvia Ayala said she counted 30 injured at a single Tegucigalpa hospital.
The loudest voice calling for Zelaya’s return has been Chavez, who has urged a rebellion by the people. “I’ll do everything possible to overthrow this guerilla government of Honduras. It must be overthrown,” he said.
Chavez vowed to halt shipments of subsidized oil to Honduras, though the nation gets most of its oil comes from other sources.
Mexico’s conservative government joined the region’s leftist leaders in pulling its ambassador from Honduras.
Meanwhile, the new government said no coup had taken place because Congress chose Roberto Micheletti to serve as leader for the final seven months of Zelaya’s term.