Defying U.S., Honduras won't let Zelaya return as president

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 8, 2009 

CARACAS, Venezuela — Honduras' de facto government remains dead-set against the return of Manuel Zelaya as the country's president, in defiance of the Obama administration and disregard of the U.S. sanctions imposed last week against the poor Central American nation.

In fact, the government of interim President Roberto Micheletti appears to be digging in its heels against Zelaya by circulating accusations the ousted president illegally used public money to keep horses, buy watches and jewelry and repair his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez Contreras said his government continues to reject calls that it grant amnesty to Zelaya and allow him to return as president, as called for under a proposal by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.

"Mr. Zelaya has orders for his arrest for crimes he has committed. That is the only possibility," Lopez Contreras told McClatchy in a telephone interview.

Lopez Contreras said outsiders don't seem to understand that whether Honduras grants amnesty to Zelaya depends not on Micheletti but the country's Congress and Supreme Court.

The foreign minister complained that Arias had rejected out of hand a Micheletti government counterproposal from Aug. 27 that would establish a unity government in Honduras that neither he nor Zelaya would head. It would also end Honduras' trade agreements with Venezuela that have been a point of pride for President Hugo Chavez.

"The mediator acts like a negotiator for Zelaya instead of as a mediator," Lopez Contreras said. "We don't see him playing an objective role."

The Obama administration, Canada and Latin American and Caribbean countries want Micheletti to step aside so Zelaya can serve out his term, which ends on Jan. 27. They've all condemned the June 28 coup, in which soldiers rousted Zelaya from bed and whisked him out of the country.

The Micheletti government, a majority of the Honduran Congress and powerful civil and business groups say they can't trust Zelaya to keep his word under the Arias plan. All are convinced that he'd push for a measure aimed at rewriting the constitution so he could be president again.

Micheletti and his supporters say that Zelaya repeatedly violated the law by trying to hold a plebiscite that would've permitted a vote for the new constitution. The military deposed Zelaya after the Supreme Court ordered his removal.

The U.S. State Department sought to tighten the pressure on the Micheletti government last week by canceling $30 million in non-humanitarian aid, revoking the visas of political leaders who supported Zelaya's ouster and seeming to close the door on recognizing the result of the Nov. 29 presidential and congressional elections.

The U.S. is the 800-pound gorilla in Honduras; more than half of Honduras' trade is with the U.S. The U.S. also has a military base in Honduras, the brightest Hondurans study in the U.S. and Hondurans speak English as a point of pride.

A pro-Zelaya radio station reported Tuesday that the State Department had begun canceling visas for Honduran members of Congress.

Congressman Antonio Rivera said the report wasn't true but said he was prepared to lose his visa.

"They can decide who they want to take visas away from," Rivera said by telephone from Tegucigalpa.

Victor Meza, who was Zelaya's minister of internal security, said the visa cancellations would hit home among Micheletti's well-to-do supporters.

"To have a visa to visit the United States is like having a birth certificate for them," Meza said by telephone. "It's like an identity card for the upper crust."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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