TEGUCIGALPA – Manuel Zelaya was deposed in a 2009 coup and not removed from the presidency in a “constitutional succession” as his opponents claimed, the Honduras Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded Thursday.
But the panel also pinned some blame for his overthrow on Zelaya himself, reproaching him for alleged “interference” with the other branches of Honduras’s government — conduct that the commission said precipitated his overthrow.
Zelaya was rousted out of bed at gunpoint by soldiers on June 28, 2009, forced onto an airplane to Costa Rica in his pajamas and sent into exile.
The military coup was sanctioned by the legislature and the Supreme Court but left the country polarized between coup supporters and followers of Zelaya, who soon took to the streets in angry demonstrations.
On the day of the coup, Zelaya had planned to carry out a vote to change the constitution to allow for presidential re-election.
“The process followed against… Zelaya was a coup d’etat against the executive,” said the commission head, former Guatemalan vice president Eduardo Stein.
But the commission did not find the former Honduran leader blameless, saying that he violated “several laws” in the run-up to the crisis, provoking clashes with the Supreme Court and the Honduran legislature that hastened his overthrow.
Zelaya for his part rejected any culpability for the coup.
“I never in my life violated any laws,” he told AFP, when asked to comment on the commission’s findings.
Had he in fact, violated the law, Zelaya said, he would be facing criminal charges now, which he pointed out, is not the case.
“What are these laws that I am supposed to have broken?” he said. “What is the infraction that I am supposed to have committed? Somebody tell me.”
Stein presented the report Thursday to current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo and Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza.
Congress named the head of the legislature, Roberto Micheletti, as the country’s interim leader, but his seven-month presidency was never recognized abroad.
Micheletti’s government organized elections in November 2009, and the winner — Lobo — took office in January 2010.
The truth commission, held under OAS auspices, was established to look into events surrounding the coup.
Zelaya, 58, was a wealthy conservative rancher when he was elected in 2006, but turned to the left once in office. His opponents feared he would use the referendum to extend his term in office as his ally Hugo Chavez had done in Venezuela.
Zelaya secretly returned to Honduras in September 2009 in a bid to win back power, taking refuge in the Brazilian embassy in the capital Tegucigalpa.
A months-long stand-off ensued, but Zelaya was unable to stir the masses to reinstate him and eventually left for exile in the Dominican Republic in January 2010.
Zelaya returned to Honduras in late May under a deal brokered by several Latin American governments.
Despite enjoying broad popular support, Zelaya cannot run in the 2013 elections because the constitution limits presidents to a single term in office.