Manuel Zelaya Pushes for Peace on Return to Honduras


Associated Press-AP – The Guardian

Organisation of American States set to welcome Honduras back into fold two years after military coup.

Former president Manuel Zelaya’s return to Honduras almost two years after being forced into exile by a military coup has ended a crippling political crisis and paved the way for the impoverished nation’s reintegration into the international community.

The Organisation of American States (OAS), which expelled Honduras following the June 2009 coup, is expected to bring the Central American nation back into the fold this week.

The Venezuelan-owned plane carrying Zelaya to the capital city, Tegucigalpa, from neighbouring Nicaragua was greeted by thousands of supporters who had set up a tent camp. Many were wearing the red and black colours of the Zelaya-allied National Popular Resistance Front, which formed after the coup.

Wearing his trademark white cowboy hat, Zelaya triumphantly told supporters to pursue change peacefully and called for an end to coups.

“The problem of poverty, of corruption, of the great challenges of Latin American societies won’t be resolved through violence, but through more democracy,” Zelaya, 59, told supporters in a plaza near the airport.

Zelaya was thrown out of office, and the country, by soldiers for ignoring a supreme court order to cancel a referendum asking Hondurans if they wanted an assembly to change the constitution. The opposition claimed Zelaya was trying to stay in power by getting the the go-ahead to run for a second term, while his supporters said the assembly would reform outdated economic and political structures.

The coup drew condemnation around the world and the post-coup interim government resisted international pressure to restore Zelaya, who took up exile in the Dominican Republic. In late 2009, Porfirio Lobo was elected president in a previously scheduled election.

While some governments began recognising Honduras after Lobo took office, Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua and Ecuador demanded that Zelaya be allowed to return home without facing criminal charges before they would end Honduras’s pariah status.

Honduran courts recently dropped corruption charges and arrest warrants pending against Zelaya and, last week, Colombia‘s President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez brokered a deal for the leader’s safe return home.

Zelaya has returned to a country that has enacted many of the changes he was advocating when he was whisked out at gunpoint, including a change in the constitution. Zelaya will be allowed to form his own political party and potentially end the country’s rigid, two-party system.

On Saturday, Zelaya indicated he was not backing down from some of the proposals that got him ousted in the first place, saying he supported the idea of a constitutional assembly.

“I’ve come to look for an exit from our problems. We should look for an exit between the bad people who want to stay in the crisis and the good people who want to leave it,” he said. “The constituent assembly is a democratic exit that we have.”

Zelaya was accompanied by his wife, two of his daughters, several former officials in his government, former Panamanian president Martin Torrijos and the foreign ministers of Venezuela and Bolivia.

Chávez lauded his return in a Twitter message: “Mel Zelaya returned to his Honduran fatherland! It’s a great victory for the Honduran people! Down with dictatorships! Long live Popular Power! Long live Real Democracy.”

Zelaya supporter Ronnie Huete said: “Honduras is in party mode.” One sign in the crowd read: “700 days from the coup, here no one is surrendering.”

But a group calling itself the Patriotic Committee for the Defence of the Constitution said in a message broadcast by radio station HRN that Zelaya was “repudiated by the majority of Hondurans”.

Irma Acosta, a former congresswoman from the governing National party, said Zelaya “should focus on singing and playing his guitar, which he does well and forget about politics, because his time has passed”.

The OAS secretary general, José Miguel Insulza, praised Lobo “for bringing about the restoration of democracy in his country, after the break suffered with the destitution of the ex-president”.

Minister César Ham told reporters that a meeting between Lobo and Zelaya was “warm and emotional”. The pair are both wealthy landowners from the eastern province of Olancho.

Ham said: “What a lot of people don’t understand is that they are friends. They studied in the same school, knew each other from childhood and their families have had a good relationship for 50 years.”

The deal to bring Zelaya back to Honduras – called the Cartagena accord because it was unveiled in the Colombian city of that name – did not call for his immediate return to power

“The Cartagena agreement has only one message: no more coup d’etats in Honduras and in Latin America,” Zelaya said.

During his speech, Zelaya repeated accusations that Washington supported the interim government of Roberto Micheletti, which replaced Zelaya. President Barack Obama and other US officials publicly criticised the coup.

The OAS is expected to discuss Honduras in Washington in the coming days and at its general assembly in El Salvador from 5-7 June.

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