The Organization of American States suspended Honduras late Saturday because the nation’s new leaders refused to reinstate ousted President Jose Manuel Zelaya.
Zelaya was removed by the military on June 28 and flown to Costa Rica. Congressional leader Roberto Micheletti was sworn in as provisional president later that day. The OAS set a Saturday deadline for Honduras to return Zelaya to power or be suspended from the 35-nation hemispheric organization. Honduran officials told OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza on Friday that they would not allow Zelaya to return to power. Zelaya has said he will return to Honduras on Sunday. Micheletti has vowed to have Zelaya arrested if he returns. Cuba was the last nation to be suspended from the OAS, in 1962. Thousands of protesters demanding the return to power of Zelaya pushed through riot police at Tegucigalpa’s airport and surrounded the terminal Saturday, but there were no reports of violence. The airport continued to operate, CNN Correspondent Karl Penhaul reported. Zelaya, who was removed from power in a June 28 military-led coup, arrived at the emergency OAS session at 7 p.m. OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza traveled to Honduras on Friday to talk with the nation’s new leaders about the ultimatum. He said at Saturday night’s meeting that he was told Zelaya would not be returned to power. Insulza recommended that Honduras be suspended, and the session went into recess so delegates could discuss the matter privately. Zelaya has said he will return Sunday with presidents of other OAS member countries, despite Micheletti’s vow to have him arrested if he does so. The Canadian delegate to the OAS meeting recommended Saturday night that Zelaya not return immediately because of the danger in which he could find himself. Honduran officials have said the Central American nation is prepared to withdraw from the organization rather than reinstate Zelaya.
Ousted president vows to return
Police, demonstrators clash
“If the Organization of American States doesn’t deem Honduras worthy of membership of the Organization of American States, then Honduras would renounce with immediate effect the inter-American charter,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Marta Lorena Alvarado. Vice Chancellor Martha Lorena de Casco agreed, calling OAS a political organization rather than a tribunal of justice. The OAS comprises 35 nations from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean and, according to its Web site, was formed to cooperate on shared interests and to promote democratic ideals. Honduran lawmakers installed congressional leader Roberto Micheletti as interim president hours after Zelaya’s ouster. That sparked international condemnation. On Friday, thousands of Micheletti supporters assembled in front of the presidential residence in Tegucigalpa, where the provisional president praised the armed forces. “We must tell the world that there was no coup d’etat here,” he said, his voice hoarse. “It wasn’t a coup! It wasn’t a coup!” He promised that the nation would revert to a democracy — but did not say when. “Here, in front of Honduras and the entire world, I guarantee we will have free elections, as soon as we decide when,” he said. Prior to Zelaya’s overthrow, presidential elections were scheduled for November. Micheletti has promised not to run for president. Despite the upheaval, a compromise might be possible, said Jennifer McCoy, head of the Carter Center’s Americas Program. “The options are that neither side backs down and that President Zelaya shows up tomorrow and the police are there waiting to arrest him.” If Zelaya returns accompanied by international figures, the result would be “awkward,” she said. Or the two sides could negotiate a further delay to give them more time to find a solution. Finally, she added, there could be “some kind of compromise, including mutual guarantees.” One such scenario would be Zelaya’s promise not to pursue legal action against the coup plotters in exchange for their agreement to step aside and not to pursue his Cabinet ministers who are in hiding. The situation in Honduras remained tense, and Amnesty International accused the new government Friday of intimidating media workers. “Recent reports suggest that journalists who have published news stories on the crisis or covering the issue of protests and scores of detentions have been intimidated,” it said. “Prosecutors also have reported threats on account of their attempts to verify human rights abuses during protests.” At the center of the dispute was a referendum that Zelaya had vowed to carry out June 28 even after the country’s Supreme Court and congress declared it would be illegal. The nonbinding referendum could have allowed the creation of a constitutional assembly to modify the country’s charter. Opponents accused Zelaya of having sought to rewrite the constitution to allow him to run for re-election. Zelaya denied that was his intent. But international support for the new government has been virtually nonexistent. On Thursday, the European Union announced that all its ambassadors had left Honduras. Also Thursday, the U.S. State Department said it was suspending some aid programs to the country. Earlier, the U.S. military, which has trained Honduran forces for years, postponed some planned exercises with the Honduran military until the situation in the country settles down. Zelaya narrowly won the presidency in 2005 with 49.8 percent of the vote to 46.1 percent for Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo. After 18 years of nearly uninterrupted military rule, Honduras returned to civilian control in 1981. Since then, the military has not seemed interested in holding power in the nation of more than 7 million people, about 70 percent of whom live in poverty. iReport.com: Are you there Share your photos, videos
Military interventions were once common in Latin America, but civilian governments have held sway since the 1980s. Before Sunday, the only other barracks revolt this decade was the unsuccessful 2002 coup attempt against Chavez, when the military displaced him but backed down days later and allowed his reinstatement.