Ousted Leader Returns to Honduras

Daily News Article   —   Posted on September 22, 2009

(by Jose de Cordoba, WSJ.com) — Ousted President Manuel Zelaya dramatically reappeared in Honduras on Monday, almost three months after being forced out of the country in his pajamas — sneaking back in and taking refuge in the Brazilian Embassy.

“I am here for the restoration of democracy,” Mr. Zelaya said on Honduran television. He told local media he wanted to “initiate a national and international dialogue” that would permit his return to power.

A few thousand Zelaya supporters surrounded the embassy in Tegucigalpa, raising fears of violence between his backers and the interim government of President Roberto Micheletti. Mr. Micheletti’s government had vowed to arrest Mr. Zelaya if he returned.

Some of the demonstrators said they would march to the presidential palace on Tuesday to throw out Mr. Micheletti’s government and install Mr. Zelaya. Mr. Micheletti’s government had set a Monday curfew from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m., and later extended the curfew through Tuesday evening.

In a television address, Mr. Micheletti, flanked by his cabinet and Gen. Romeo Vasquez, the Honduran army’s chief of staff, said the Brazilian government should turn over Mr. Zelaya to Honduran authorities so he can face legal charges. Mr. Micheletti said Mr. Zelaya’s “irregular” return didn’t change anything, as Mr. Zelaya had been removed from power following a Supreme Court order.

In New York, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorin told reporters he hoped that Mr. Zelaya’s return to Honduras would open a new stage in the so-far failed negotiations.

Mr. Zelaya wouldn’t say how he got into the country. “I had to avoid military checkpoints, crossing very close to the mountains and sometimes through the valleys,” he said in an interview with Al Jazeera English-language television. He said in more than one interview that the trip took 15 hours.

Close ally [socialist dictator] Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said Mr. Zelaya told him he traveled with four companions. Mr. Chávez hailed Mr. Zelaya’s return and said his country stood ready to help him return to power.

This was Mr. Zelaya’s third attempt to enter Honduras, following a bid to fly into Tegucigalpa shortly after his ouster and another try at crossing the border through Nicaragua.

Mr. Zelaya was ordered arrested by Honduras’s Supreme Court in June after he pushed an illegal constitutional rewrite that critics said would have allowed him to stay beyond his term. …

In Washington, the Organization of American States, which suspended Honduras shortly after Mr. Zelaya’s ouster, said it was holding an emergency session to deal with his surprise return.

The State Department said that the U.S. government had no prior knowledge of Mr. Zelaya’s return, and said its ambassador in Honduras had “strongly urged President Zelaya to do nothing to provoke violence.” The U.S. also urged the interim government not to take “drastic measures.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, urged both sides to look for a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, speaking after a meeting with Mrs. Clinton, told reporters that he would be willing to go to Honduras to try to mediate if both sides wished.

Mr. Zelaya told Globo radio in Honduras that José Manuel Insulza, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, which has been pushing hard to restore Mr. Zelaya to power, along with officials from the United Nations, would go to Honduras Tuesday to negotiate his return. An OAS spokesman confirmed that Mr. Insulza will travel to Tegucigalpa on Tuesday.

It was unclear what Mr. Zelaya would do next. He has the support of the international community as well as the U.S., which canceled the visas of many officials in the interim government, and cut some aid to Honduras, one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries. However, Mr. Zelaya’s return is vehemently opposed by the country’s institutions, including the congress, the courts, the armed forces and the powerful Catholic Church.

The interim government had hoped elections scheduled for Nov. 29 would produce a new president as a way out of the country’s political impasse. But this option dimmed when the U.S. and other governments suggested they would not recognize the winner. Analysts say the U.S.’s stand strengthened Mr. Zelaya and might have encouraged him to try this last gambit.

“This is his last shot,” said Moises Starkman, an adviser to the interim government. “He knew that the campaigns were under way, making him more irrelevant.”

The U.S. and other countries support a mediation effort headed by Costa Rica’s President Arias. But the so-called Arias plan, which called for the return of Mr. Zelaya to serve out his term as president, was ruled illegal by the country’s Supreme Court.

Write to José de Córdoba at jose.decordoba@wsj.com.

Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at wsj.com.

Questions

1. a) Where is Honduras?
b) List the countries that border Honduras.
c) What is the capital of Honduras.

2. Who is Manuel Zelaya?

3. How has interim President Roberto Micheletti responded to Mr. Zelaya sneaking back into the country and taking refuge at the Brazilian embassy?

4. Why was President Zelaya ousted from Honduras?

5. Some citizens want President Zelaya to return, others do not. In addition to citizens, what institutions do not want Mr. Zelaya to return to Honduras?

6. Watch Greta Van Susteren’s interview with President Micheletti in the “Background” below.

a) How did interim President Micheletti respond to Greta’s question on how the Honduran constitution can be changed? Be specific.

b) The majority of media outlets appear to support President Zelaya’s return to power, calling the Supreme Court, military and interim government’s ouster of Mr. Zelaya a “coup” and the interim president a “de facto” president. (NOTE: A de facto government is one which has seized power by force or in any other unconstitutional method and governs in spite of the existence of a legitimate government.)
–What responsibility does the media have to interview or report on what the interim government in Honduras is saying?
–Why do you think they choose not to do so? Explain your answer.


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Background

Resources

Read responses (mostly from Hondurans) to Greta’s interview with President Micheletti at gretawire.blogs.foxnews.com/2009/09/21/emails-honduras.

For background information on Honduras, go to the CIA World FactBook website.

Go to worldatlas.com for a map of Honduras.