Monday, September 21, 2009

Surprise! Zelaya, Back in Honduras, Takes Refuge in Brazilian Embassy

Before getting into the story of the day, I recently joined Facebook and mentioned this blog there. I not only got “thumbs up” signals from Facebook friends, but one said, “Thanks, Barbara, you make the situation more understandable to me.” The situation is complicated and multi-faceted, with so many players with different objectives, from Barak and Hillary to Chavez and Fidel, not to mention deposed president Zelaya, the OAS, the internal players, and the current Honduran presidential candidates. I just hope that those thinking it may be resolved by the end of September are proven right. Something definitely has happened before the end of September, but it is not yet a resolution of the crisis. If Zelaya remains holed up in the Brazilian Embassy, his supporters' exuberance may prove premature.

A new wrinkle just came to my attention, namely that the Congressional Research Service, after making a close review of Honduran law, has determined that no actual “coup” took place. Of course, both Obama and Hillary have avoided the use of the word “coup,” while also calling for Zelaya’s reinstatement, probably more from a desire to be in sync with Latin America and the Arias plan than any legal judgment. But here is what the CRS reports says: “The Supreme Court of Honduras has constitutional and statutory authority to hear cases against the President of the Republic and many other high officers of the State, to adjudicate and enforce judgments, and to request the assistance of the public forces to enforce its rulings.”

That opinion may be mute now as far as the international community is concerned. Zelaya, traveling overland (from where?) has taken up residence in the Brazilian Embassy, much to the delight of his supporters. At least he had the foresight not choose the Venezuelan Embassy. Now what? The drama continues.

September 22, 2009
Ousted President Says He Is Now in Honduras

MEXICO CITY — The deposed president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, returned to his country on Monday, declaring that he had come to negotiate an end to the political crisis there. But the de facto government that ousted him denied he was in the country.

In an interview with CNN’s Spanish-language service, Mr. Zelaya said he was in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, and that he hoped to meet with members of the de facto government and “prominent Hondurans” soon to negotiate a way out of the political stalemate that has gripped the country since he was ejected from office and from the country in a June 28 coup. He made similar remarks in an interview with Telesur, a Venezuelan television network. The Brazilian government confirmed that Mr. Zelaya was at its embassy, and a United States State Department spokesman said it had confirmed that he was in Honduras.

But Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president, told reporters that Mr. Zelaya was not in the country at all. Reports of his presence were intended to bring people out into the streets to demonstrate in support of Mr. Zelaya, Mr. Micheletti said, a tactic he called “mediatic terrorism.”

The morning was full of confusion. Several thousand supporters of Mr. Zelaya, who has been threatened with arrest if he is found in Honduras, gathered outside the United Nations building in Tegucigalpa under the midday sun as rumors flew through the capital that he was inside. But Hector Espinal, a U.N. spokesman, said that Mr. Zelaya was not in the building and that U.N. officials had told his supporters to go home. By the early afternoon, Mr. Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, was saying that he was in the Brazilian Embassy.

Since the coup, when Mr. Zelaya was summarily bundled onto a plane and flown out of Honduras, his rambling press conferences have turned on his plans to return to the country. But the de facto government said that he would be arrested if he set foot in Honduras, citing an array of charges.

Mr. Zelaya has attempted to return at least twice. First, a week after the coup, he tried to fly into the Tegucigalpa airport, soldiers massed on the tarmac and blocked his plane from landing. Then in July, he set up camp just over the border in Nicaragua, and stepped briefly into Honduran territory before returning to Nicaragua. Rumors that Mr. Zelaya was already in the country, or was about to return, have repeatedly circulated through the capital since then. With many of the country’s news outlets allied to the de facto government, there are few sources of independent news, and Hondurans are quick to seize on any rumor.

The United States Embassy in Tegucigalpa gave refuge to Ms. Castro and one of the couple’s sons after the coup. Members of Mr. Zelaya’s cabinet found protection in other Latin embassies.

Mr. Zelaya’s return came as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was scheduled to meet with Costa Rican President Óscar Arias, who has been trying to negotiate a solution to the political conflict. Mr. Zelaya has accepted Mr. Arias’s proposal, which would restore him to the presidency with limited powers and grant an amnesty on all sides. But Mr. Micheletti has rejected it.

As the talks stalled and the international community turned its attention to other matters, Mr. Zelaya has grown impatient. His return to Honduras on the eve of the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York may bring the issue of Honduras back into forefront.

At the time of the coup, Mr. Zelaya was planning a nonbinding referendum that his opponents said would have been the first step toward allowing him to run for another term in office, which is forbidden under the Honduran constitution.

No country has recognized the de facto government of Mr. Micheletti. The United States, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have all suspended aid to Honduras. But the Micheletti government has stood fast, insisting that Mr. Zelaya was removed from office legally. Mr. Micheletti has promised to hand over power to a new president who will be elected in national elections scheduled for Nov. 29.

Ousted leader returns to Honduras, defies arrest
Associated Press
Monday, September 21, 2009 8:03 PM

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Deposed President Manuel Zelaya made a dramatic return to Honduras' capital on Monday, taking shelter from arrest at Brazil's embassy and calling for negotiations with the leaders who forced him from the country at gunpoint. The interim government ordered a 15-hour curfew, but thousands of Zelaya supporters ignored the decreed 4 p.m. (2200 GMT) shutdown and remained outside the embassy, dancing and cheering. Others in the capital started rushing home, lining up at bus stands and frantically looking for taxis. The leftist leader's homecoming creates a sharp new challenge for the interim government that has threatened repeatedly to throw him in jail if he returns. Chants of "Yes we could! Yes we could!" bellowed from the crowd.

Zelaya told The Associated Press that he was trying to establish contact with the interim government to start negotiations on a solution to the standoff that started when he soldiers who flew him out of the country on June 28. "As of now, we are beginning to seek dialogue," he said by telephone, though he gave few details. Talks moderated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias have been stalled for weeks over the interim government's refusal to accept Zelaya's reinstatement. He also summoned his countrymen to come to the capital for peaceful protests and urged the army to avoid attacking his supporters. "It is the moment of reconciliation," he said.

The government of interim President Roberto Micheletti, who took power after Zelaya's ouster, said the curfew would continue to 7 a.m. (1300 GMT) Wednesday due to "the events of the last few hours." Micheletti, who has promised to step aside following scheduled presidential elections in November, made no other comment on Zelaya's return. The interim government was caught off guard by Zelaya's appearance. Only minutes before he appeared publicly at the embassy, officials said reports of his return were a lie. Zelaya's presence could revive the large demonstrations that disrupted the capital following the coup and threatens to overshadow the presidential election campaign.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged both sides to look for a peaceful solution to the crisis. "It is imperative that dialogue begin, that there be a channel of communication between President Zelaya and the de facto regime in Honduras," Rodham Clinton told reporters on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly session in New York.

The U.S. State Department announced Sept. 4 that it would not recognize results of the presidential vote under current conditions. The coup has shaken up Washington's relations with Honduras, traditionally one of its strongest allies in Central America.

The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, called for calm and warned Honduran officials to avoid any violation of the Brazilian diplomatic mission. "They should be responsible for the safety of president Zelaya and the Embassy of Brazil," he said. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorin said neither his country nor the OAS had any role in Zelaya's journey before taking him in. "We hope this opens a new stage in negotiations," Amorin said. He also warned: "If something happens to Zelaya or our embassy it would be a violation of international law," which bars host countries from arresting people inside diplomatic missions. Honduras' Foreign Relations Department criticized Brazil, saying it was violating international law by "allowing Zelaya, a fugitive of Honduran justice, to make public calls to insurrection and political mobilization from its headquarters." Micheletti urged Brazil in a nationwide radio address to turn Zelaya over to Honduran authorities.

In the days following the coup, at least two of the thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets were killed during clashes with security forces. Thousands of other Hondurans demonstrated in favor of the coup.

The country's Congress and courts, alarmed by Zelaya's political shift into a close alliance with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuba, backed Zelaya's removal. He was arrested on orders of the Supreme Court on charges of treason and abuse of power for ignoring court orders against holding a popular referendum on reforming the constitution.

Micheletti said Zelaya sought to remove a ban on re-election - grounds for immediate removal from office under the Honduran constitution. Zelaya denies any such plan.
International leaders were almost unanimously against the armed removal of the president, alarmed that it could return Latin America to a bygone era of coups and instability. The United States, European Union and other agencies have cut aid to Honduras to press for his return. Zelaya said he had "evaded a thousand obstacles" to return, traveling 15 hours by land in different vehicles. He declined to give specifics on who helped him cross the border, saying that he didn't want to jeopardize their safety.

His staunch supporter, Chavez, described the journey: "President Manuel Zelaya, along with four companions, traveled for two days overland, crossing mountains and rivers, risking their lives. They have made it to Honduras." If the interim administration attempts to imprison Zelaya, protesters who have demonstrated against his ouster could turn violent, said Vicki Gass at the Washington Office on Latin America. "There's a saying about Honduras that people can argue in the morning and have dinner in the evening, but I'm not sure this will happen in this case," said Gass. "It's been 86 days since the coup. Something had to break and this might be it."

The following statement by Michelleti will appear in Tuesday’s print edition. It is certainly arguable that the interim government has respected human rights and press freedom, as he alleges. (He is identified at the end of the article, tellingly, as the president of Honduras.)Washington Post

Washington Post
Moving Forward in Honduras
By Roberto Micheletti
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My country is in an unusual position this week. Former president Manuel Zelaya has surreptitiously returned to Honduras, still claiming to be the country's legitimate leader, despite the fact that a constitutional succession took place on June 28. Amid all of the claims that are likely to be made in coming days, the former president will not mention that the people of Honduras have moved on since the events of that day or that our citizens are looking forward to free, fair and transparent elections on Nov. 29.

The international community has wrongfully condemned the events of June 28 and mistakenly labeled our country as undemocratic. I must respectfully disagree. As the true story slowly emerges, there is a growing sense that what happened in Honduras that day was not without merit. On June 28, the Honduran Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for Zelaya for his blatant violations of our constitution, which marked the end of his presidency. To this day, an overwhelming majority of Hondurans support the actions that ensured the respect of the rule of law in our country.
Underlying all the rhetoric about a military overthrow are facts. Simply put, coups do not leave civilians in control over the armed forces, as is the case in Honduras today. Neither do they allow the independent functioning of democratic institutions -- the courts, the attorney general's office, the electoral tribunal. Nor do they maintain a respect for the separation of powers. In Honduras, the judicial, legislative and executive branches are all fully functioning and led by civilian authorities.

Coups do not allow freedom of assembly, either. They do not guarantee freedom of the press, much less a respect for human rights. In Honduras, these freedoms remain intact and vibrant. And on Nov. 29 our country plans to hold the ultimate civic exercise of any democracy: a free and open presidential election.
Although much of the international community disagrees with our past actions, we can all agree on the necessity of ensuring Honduras's full commitment to the electoral process. Our citizens believe that the upcoming presidential election is the best way to guarantee peace and democracy. While the election will take place in little more than 60 days, the electoral process has been underway for some time. The election is being convened by an autonomous body, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, whose magistrates were selected by Congress in early 2009 and ratified by then-President Zelaya. The autonomous body began the electoral process with presidential primary elections -- which were supervised by the Organization of American States -- in 2008 also under former president Zelaya. The upcoming election will include Honduras's first independent presidential candidate -- a rarity in all of Latin America.

The winner of the November election will take office as president of Honduras in January 2010. At that moment my transitional administration will cease, and the newly sworn-in president will hold all the authority vested to him by our country's constitution.

Our whole country -- whether members of political parties, youths, students or members of civil society, government, parental organizations and private businesses -- is committed to guaranteeing transparent elections. Voter turnout will be a constitutional expression of self-determination and a demonstration of national sovereignty. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal has invited independent observers from around the globe to observe our voting process. Our country is open to the world. All organizations -- churches, universities, think tanks, nongovernmental organizations -- that wish to witness firsthand this great exercise of self-determination and democracy are welcome.

We are, of course, disappointed with the position of the United States and the European Union, both longtime friends. We look forward to continuing dialogue with the United States, the European Union and the rest of the international community to prove our commitment to democracy and the Honduran people's love of freedom. Coercive action directed at our nation will only harm less fortunate Hondurans, whose hospitals, schools, roads and other institutions rely greatly on our friends' generous assistance, for which all of our citizens are immensely grateful.
I have said from the moment I was sworn in as president of Honduras that I do not intend to remain in office one second more than what our constitution mandates. On Jan. 27 I will hand over leadership responsibilities to the ninth president of our 27-year-old democracy. Such actions are in keeping with the desire of the majority of our people: the strengthening of our democracy.

The writer is president of Honduras.

No comments: