Honduran general who led coup says he tried to avoid it

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — The Honduran general whose refusal to help carry out a plebiscite set the stage for the president's ouster here says he did not seek to stage a coup — he was trying to defend his country's constitution.

''I feel bad about what happened,'' said Gen. Romeo Vásquez. "I tried very hard to counsel the president to find a legal way out of this. There was no way."

"Nobody is above the law."

Honduras President Manuel ''Mel'' Zelaya was booted from office by force at dawn Sunday when the Supreme Court, armed forces and attorney general determined Zelaya was about to commit treason, Vásquez said.

The move is being repudiated internationally.

Zelaya had planned to conduct a referendum Sunday that would have asked Honduran voters whether they wanted the November elections to include a fourth ballot asking for a constituent assembly to reform the constitution.

But the attorney general and the courts ruled the vote illegal, because it paved the way for modifications that are outlawed by the constitution. Zelaya vowed to defy the court order and tasked the armed forces with securing the ballots and handling logistics.

When Vásquez told the president that there was clamor from his ranks against doing something illegal, he was canned.

The military consulted military lawyers, the bar association, the Supreme Court and political leaders for legal opinions, Vásquez said.

"I did not tell him, 'I refuse to do this,' '' Vásquez said in an interview with The Miami Herald. "The commanders and I went to him telling him that we were ready to comply, but that we had a problem in that it was illegal. We asked him if he had a lawyer with a different interpretation.''

Zelaya fired Vásquez, and all the the military brass in the room, including the defense minister, quit. When the courts ordered Zelaya to reinstate the general, Zelaya refused.

By Saturday night, Vásquez said he was called to another meeting, where he learned the president planned to proceed with the constituent assembly. That, Vásquez said, would have been "an act of treason.''

Vásquez said he supervised an 18-point mission to seize the ballots around the nation -- and capture the president, too. Zelaya was spirited out of his bedroom and sent to Costa Rica.

''He is an excellent boss. He is a good person. I tried to have a friendship with him, but the friendship ends with duty,'' Vásquez said. "We had to get him out of the area to avoid worse things. We felt that if he stayed here, worse things were going to happen and there would be bloodshed.

"He had already been acting above the law.''

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