Region’s leaders rally behind ousted Honduran president
MANAGUA, Nicaragua – The presidents of the Central American Integration System (SICA) are expected to issue a joint declaration here Monday in support of recently deposed Honduran President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, who was ousted from office Sunday morning by the Honduran military in what´s being called a coup d´état.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who is scheduled to handover SICA´s temporary presidency Monday to Costa Rican counterpart Oscar Arias, has already said his government will not recognize any other substitute government in Honduras, where Congressional President Roberto Micheletti was sworn into office Sunday as the country´s interim president.
Leaders across the Americas and Europe have also spoken out in support of Zelaya.
Sunday night, more than 12 hours after the military ouster of Zelaya, the presidents of the left-leaning Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) met in Managua to give their unconditional support to Zelaya and blame the United States for backing the coup in Honduras.
The U.S. State Department, however, has come out in favor of Zelaya, calling him “the duly elected and constitutional president of Honduras. We see no other,” Reuters reported.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the head of ALBA, said earlier in the day that a coup against one ALBA country is a coup against them all. He did not rule out a military response, although the “Army of ALBA” once proposed by Chávez has never come to be.
In Managua, the ruling Sandinista Front called on its faithful to take to the streets Sunday evening to protest against the coup in Honduras. Similar protests of solidarity occurred in Venezuela and other ALBA countries.
Zelaya was kidnapped from his bed early morning June 28 by masked soldiers who put him – still in his pajamas – aboard his presidential airplane, and flew him to Costa Rica´s Juan Santamaría International Airport.
Reporters from Venezuelan TV channel Telesur later visited Zelaya´s home in Tegucigalpa with cameras, and showed the damage to where his bedroom door had been kicked in. His bed was still unmade and disheveled.
Hours after Zelaya, in his words, was “brutally kidnapped,” Foreign Minister Patricia Rhodes, who has become Honduras´ face at recent ALBA meetings, was also kidnapped at her house along with the ambassadors from fellow ALBA countries Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. Rhodes was apparently taken captive to an Air Force base in the capital, while the three ambassadors were allegedly released outside of the base after being beaten, according to comments made by Venezuelan Ambassador Armando Laguna to Telesur.
The Nica Times tried unsuccessfully Sunday to reach Nicaraguan Ambassador Mario Duarte in Tegucigalpa. He did not answer his cell phone and his voicemail was full.
In San José, Costa Rica, during an emergency news conference at the airport outside the capital, a bewildered-looking Zelaya sat alongside Costa Rican President Oscar Arias in a white T-shirt and pajamas and told the press the story of his ouster. He said he was awakened before dawn by the sound of gunshots at “the house I live in with my family, with my children,” he said.
“There was strong resistance by my guards for at least 10 minutes….When (the soldiers) came in, they pointed their guns at me and told me they would shoot if I didn´t put down my cell phone.”
President Oscar Arias welcomed his Honduran counterpart and called on the international community to continue recognizing Zelaya as Honduras´ president and to condemn the military coup, Central America´s first in more than 15 years.
“We thought democracy in Central America had been consolidated sufficiently enough so that this would not occur again,” said Arias, whose hand in negotiating peace during the region´s 1980s civil wars earned him a Nobel Peace Prize.
“I regret there are civilians, political leaders and part of the population in Honduras who applaud a coup d´état, just because they disagree with the government in office,” the Tico president said.
Zelaya faced stiff opposition in Honduras for his push toward a nationwide, nonbinding popular consultation Sunday to ask Hondurans if they were in favor of including a ballot measure in November´s general elections on constitutional reform that would have allowed the president seek re-election. In Honduras, re-election is illegal, as are efforts to reform the Constitution.
Zelaya´s efforts were decried as illegal by the Honduran Supreme Court, and opposed by Congress, business leaders, the Attorney General´s Office, the Catholic Church and – eventually – the military. When Zelaya last week ordered the military to assist in the distribution of the ballots for Sunday´s vote, the Chief of the Armed Forces, Gen. Romeo Vásquez, refused the order and was subsequently fired by Zelaya.
The Defense Minister and the heads of the other Honduran Armed Forces resigned in protest. The Supreme Court ordered Zelaya to reinstitute Vásquez, which he refused to do. The tension came to a head Sunday when, instead of waking up to vote in the popular consultation, Honduras woke up to a coup.
Analysts fear the coup in Honduras could destabilize other countries in the region.
Read further updates at ticotimes.net/daily.htm, and see the July 3 print or PDF edition of The Tico Times for more in-depth coverage and analysis.
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