Honduras: What Now?

TEGUCIGALPA, Dec 3 (IPS) - "Mr. Zelaya is history," said Honduras' de facto President Roberto Micheletti after Congress voted not to allow the president ousted in the Jun. 28 coup to serve out the last few weeks of his term.

After deliberating for nearly 10 hours, the country's lawmakers overwhelmingly voted just before midnight Wednesday not to reinstate deposed President Manuel Zelaya, who was removed from his home at gunpoint and put on a plane to Costa Rica, still in his pajamas. His term was to end on Jan. 27.

After watching a video that supposedly documented the mistakes made by Zelaya and explained the reasons he was overthrown, 111 legislators voted against the motion to restore him to power, while only 14 voted in favor. The remaining three were absent.

It is not clear what Zelaya will do now. The de facto regime's deputy foreign minister, Martha Lorena Alvarado, said that "what happens now with Mr. Zelaya is his and his family's problem."

"We can't do anything about it," she remarked to IPS.

There are reports that the Micheletti regime has offered Zelaya a safe-conduct to Nicaragua or Spain. The ousted leader is accompanied by only around a dozen of the hundreds of supporters originally with him in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, where he has been holed up since sneaking back into the country on Sept. 21.

Zelaya, a rich landowner who alienated his own party and the rest of the country's wealthy conservative elites after taking a turn to the left and attempting to adopt mild reforms like a raise in the minimum wage, antagonized the other branches of government, including Congress and the Supreme Court, by trying to hold a non-binding referendum on the possibility of amending the constitution.

The legal authorities and parliament declared the informal ballot unconstitutional, which precipitated a series of events that culminated in the coup on Jun. 28, the day the non-binding vote was to be held.

Virtually the entire international community had refused to recognize the results of last Sunday's elections unless Zelaya was reinstated.

The elections were won by Porfirio Lobo, the candidate of the right-wing National Party, which along with nearly all of the leaders of the center-right Liberal Party -- to which both Zelaya and Micheletti belong -- voted to back the coup on Jun. 28.

After Wednesday's vote in the legislature, it will be even more difficult for the new government elected on Sunday to gain international legitimacy.

The governments of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and other Latin American countries have stated that they will not recognize the results of the elections until the constitutional order is restored. The European Union has taken a similar position.

But the United States, Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama have already recognized Lobo's victory.

The issue will face a trial by fire Friday in Washington, when the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) will hold a special meeting on Honduras.

"Today is a dark day in the history of our country, because we are setting a bad example for the entire world … by justifying a coup against the president of the nation, which is not a good thing," congressman Óscar Mejía of the leftist Democratic Unification party told IPS after listening to the flood of justifications for the coup.

But Liberal Party lawmaker José Azcona, who voted against Zelaya's reinstatement, said "it is time to leave this crisis behind once and for all, and to look towards Honduras' future. The people's mandate in the elections was clearly in favor of democracy and of putting an end to this crisis."

The 14 legislators who backed Zelaya said that the failure to restore him to power would aggravate the political crisis, drag out the country's isolation by the international community, and complicate things for Lobo's government.

"The constitutional order must be restored, and by that I don't mean that Manuel Zelaya should necessarily return to power, that's his problem; I'm talking about coming up with mechanisms that would ensure that this never happens again," Liberal Party congressman Edmundo Orellana, Zelaya's former defense minister, said in the parliamentary debate.

Zelaya, meanwhile, reacted furiously to the legislature's decision, calling the members of Congress "traitors" who were "whitewashing" the coup.

"That session and its results are a disgrace for Honduras; you (legislators) will be tried by history as traitors, even those who promised to vote in my favor and now did an about-face," Zelaya told Globo, a local radio station.

"The good thing is that the people have seen who the coup-mongers are, because they finally took off their masks in Congress," he added.

He also said the legislators who "ratified" the coup were "self-confessed accomplices of the human rights violations that have been committed, of the humiliations to which I have been subjected, and of the shutting-down of media outlets.

"You have betrayed democracy and have confirmed that you are in agreement with the elites in power and the coup-makers who conspired to oust me," he stated.

Wednesday's vote was part of a 12-point U.S.-brokered agreement signed Oct. 30 by Zelaya and Micheletti's negotiators.

But Zelaya had already declared that the agreement had collapsed, after Micheletti set up a "unity government" without the ousted leader's participation, and Congress delayed the vote until after the elections.

Christian Democratic lawmaker Ramón Velásquez defended himself from the accusations leveled by Zelaya and his supporters, saying "we are not coup-makers; I have lived through all of this country's coups, and what happened five months ago was not even the palest shadow of a dictatorship."

Velásquez argued that "the world is wrong about that, and should redefine its concepts and categories."

"There was no coup," he told IPS. "What happened here is that a president thought he was above the law, and what is stipulated by the constitution was followed in his case, which means that what was done on Jun. 28 remains valid. Legitimacy does not come from the international community, it comes from the people, who expressed themselves at the polls."

Lobo, for his part, said he respected the legislature's decision, which he said "is a product of the agreement signed by Zelaya and Micheletti, which means the only thing I can do is support it."

In response, Zelaya told the people to "get ready for a struggle, because Porfirio Lobo is a fraud and what lies ahead is a dictatorship that is certain to take away your freedom and even your lives, I'm warning you. But I will always be here, with my people."

The National Party and Lobo obviously "joined with the coup d'etat," said the ousted president.

"I'm sorry for my childhood friend (a reference to Lobo), but his first action as president-elect turned out to be a fraud; he was unable to change his party's line, to get them to reinstate me," he said.

Micheletti, who returned to his de facto post Wednesday after stepping aside for a week to avoid "hindering" the elections, said the legislature's decision must be respected by both sides, "as we stated in the accord we signed."

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