Organisation of American States suspends Honduras

Author: Reuters

The OAS took the rare step to suspend one of its members after the interim
government ignored an OAS ultimatum by the 34-member body to restore Zelaya.
It was the strongest move yet by foreign governments to isolate the
caretaker government.

In Central America’s first coup since the Cold War era Zelaya, a leftist who
took power in 2006 and had been due to leave office in 2010, was ousted by
troops and sent into exile last Sunday after a dispute over presidential
term limits.

The OAS, in a resolution passed by a 33-0 vote late on Saturday night, with
Honduras itself not voting, also encouraged member states to review their
relations with Honduras.

Venezuela, Brazil and others had sought to include language that would have
mandated a cutoff in bilateral cooperation with Honduras – wording that was
opposed by the United States, Canada, Mexico and Colombia among others,
diplomats said.

Zelaya said he wanted to try to return to Honduras later on Sunday. But
several countries at the OAS meeting in Washington advised against the move,
which could sharply escalate tensions since the interim government has said
it will arrest him if he returns.

The OAS suspension, which was to take immediate effect, could complicate
access to credits from regional lender Inter-American Development Bank for
Honduras, a coffee and textile exporter with a population of 7 million that
is the hemisphere’s third poorest country after Haiti and Nicaragua. The
IADB said last week it was suspending loans over the coup.

The OAS resolution also instructed its Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza
to step up diplomatic efforts to restore Zelaya, but said, “No such
initiative will imply recognition of the regime that emerged from this
interruption of the constitutional order.”

The Obama administration, European governments and Zelaya’s left-wing allies
have condemned last Sunday’s ouster. The caretaker government, installed
hours after the coup, has said it legally removed a president who violated
the constitution.

Zelaya, a wealthy businessman who edged to the left after he came to power,
had upset the country’s traditional ruling elite, including members of his
own Liberal Party, with what critics say was an illegal attempt to lift
presidential term limits and by establishing closer ties with leftist
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a U.S. adversary.

Speaking at the OAS meeting after the resolution was passed, Zelaya said he
planned to fly back to Honduras on Sunday. He had postponed a plan to try to
return earlier in the week while the OAS worked on seeking a solution.

Some of Zelaya’s left-wing allies in the region have said they would travel
with the exiled leader.

But as the OAS meeting continued into the early hours of Sunday, several
countries advised against the trip.

Peter Kent, Canada’s minister of state for foreign affairs for the Americas,
said the safe return of Zelaya could not be guaranteed and urged that
instead Insulza make a fresh visit to the country.

An official speaking for Zelaya, Honduras’ OAS ambassador Carlos Sosa, said
that Insulza might travel on the plane with the ousted president. Insulza
himself did not confirm he would travel with Zelaya.

Insulza, who visited the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa on Friday, said on
Saturday that the interim government showed no willingness to restore Zelaya
to office or recognize there had been a rupture in the constitutional order.

Ahead of the expected suspention, the interim government remained defiant on
Saturday, announcing it would renounce the OAS charter. It has rallied
supporters on the streets of the capital and other cities in a show of
support.

“It is better to pay this high price… than live undignified and bow the
our heads to the demands of foreign governments,” said Roberto
Micheletti, named caretaker president by the Honduran Congress after
Zelaya’s ouster.

In Tegucigalpa, several thousand Zelaya supporters marched toward the
presidential palace on Saturday, observed by troops posted in strategic
spots and a military helicopter overhead.

A night-time curfew is still in place but the capital city is mostly calm
during the day.

The coup has thrown up a test for regional diplomacy and for President Barack
Obama’s ability to mend the battered US image in Latin America.

So far, the Obama administration has given the OAS the lead role in seeking a
solution. It has also held off on issuing a legal determination of the
ouster as a coup – a definition that would force a cutoff of aid to the
country.

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