Honduras Leaves OAS After Body Decries Coup

Published July 04, 2009

| Associated Press

Honduras' refusal to restore ousted President Manuel Zelaya despite an appeal by the top envoy for the Americas has put the impoverished nation on a collision course with the world community that could lead to its isolation.

Honduras said it would no longer recognize the Organization of American States charter, claiming the diplomatic body attempted to impose "unilateral and indignant resolutions" on the new government, which took power a week ago in a military-backed coup and forced Zelaya into exile.

OAS chief Jose Miguel Insulza had demanded Zelaya be restored to office, and on Saturday the organization was to discuss suspending the Central American nation's membership. But Honduras' interim president, Roberto Micheletti, said "the OAS is a political organization, not a court, and it can't judge us," according to a note to Insulza read on Honduras' television Friday night.

The move means Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Americas, will leave the OAS and will not face sanctions by the organization, though it would not prevent other groups and countries from suspending aid and loans.

Nations around the world have promised to shun Micheletti. Neighboring countries have imposed trade blockades, the United States has halted joint military operations and European Union ambassadors have abandoned the Honduran capital. The World Bank already has suspended $200 million in financing, and the Inter-American Development Bank has put $450 million on hold.

Insulza, who was in Tegulcigalpa on Friday, met with the country's Supreme Court, attorney general and other political figures.

"We wanted to ask that this situation be reversed," Insulza told reporters after the meeting. "Unfortunately, one must say that there appears to be no willingness to do this."

Honduras' Supreme Court, which had authorized the coup, said it would not agree to reinstate the toppled leftist leader.

Micheletti's interim government — which has blamed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for stoking the crisis — appeared ready to settle in for the long haul.

"If Honduras is out of the OAS, well, we will be isolated ... little by little we will regain the confidence of other nations, because we are a valiant people who have said 'enough' to Chavez," said Micheletti's assistant foreign minister, Martha Lorena Alvarado.

"We will not retreat," she said, "and Zelaya's return is not negotiable."

Insulza said Honduran officials gave him documents showing that charges are pending or have been brought against Zelaya, charges they say justify the coup.

The OAS diplomat also met with the two main candidates in Honduras' Nov. 29 elections, as well with the Popular Block umbrella group of farm, labor and student groups that largely supports Zelaya.

But Insulza said he would not see Micheletti, whom Congress named president after Zelaya's ouster, in order to avoid legitimizing the government.

Zelaya, meanwhile, was traveling in Central America and planned to return to Honduras on Sunday, according to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Zelaya had said he would be traveling with Insulza and the presidents of Argentina and Ecuador. Honduran officials have vowed to arrest the ousted leader if he returns home.

Micheletti led a raucous chant of "Democracy!" before a giant crowd Friday waving blue-and-white Honduran flags in front of the palace he has occupied since Zelaya was seized by soldiers on June 28 and flown into exile.

"I am the president of all Hondurans," he proclaimed, as police helicopters circled over the heavily guarded palace.

A rival rally by thousands of Zelaya backers marched to the OAS offices carrying a banner that read: "Mel, our friend, the people are with you!"

Micheletti's supporters say the army was justified in ousting Zelaya — on orders of Congress and the Supreme Court — because he had called a referendum which they claim he intended to use to extend his rule. Zelaya denies that and has said he will no longer press for constitutional changes.

The U.S. Embassy issued a statement Friday expressing "deep concern over restrictions imposed on certain fundamental rights" by Micheletti's government, including a curfew and "reports of intimidation and censorship against certain individuals and media outlets."

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