Honduras Gets Ultimatum From American Nations
After a closed-door session that lasted close to dawn, the Organization of American States on Wednesday gave Honduras three days to restore its ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, or face suspension from the group, pitting the region unanimously against an interim leader who has defied international condemnation and said that only force would unseat him.
Calling Mr. Zelaya’s overthrow an “old-fashioned coup,” the organization’s secretary general, Jose Miguel Insulza, said: “We need to show clearly that military coups will not be accepted. We thought we were in an era when military coups were no longer possible in this hemisphere.”
Diplomats said they had rarely seen the O.A.S. unite so solidly behind a common cause, and that it was the first time the group had invoked its so-called Democratic Charter since it was adopted in 2001 as a clean break with the region’s history of authoritarian rule.
The charter calls on the organization to take emergency diplomatic efforts aimed at restoring a legitimately elected government and provides for a nation to be suspended if those efforts fail.
The expressions of unity outside the meeting rooms, however, masked disagreements playing out behind closed doors. There was disagreement over whether Mr. Zelaya should go ahead with his plans to travel to Honduras on Thursday, despite threats by the interim government to order him arrested if he set foot in the country. Those plans were postponed early on Wednesday, when Mr. Zelaya agreed to wait at least three days before heading back to Honduras.
There was also discussion over how to proceed with suspension if diplomatic efforts failed – with some countries wanting an immediate suspension and others wanting to convene another meeting first. And there were calls by Venezuela and Nicaragua for the United States to impose tough economic sanctions.
The United States, which provides millions of dollars in aid to Honduras and maintains a military base there, is the only country in the region that has not withdrawn its ambassador from Honduras. France and Spain have also recalled their ambassadors. “There is a lot of concern about hurting the people of Honduras any more than they have already been hurt,” said a senior administration official, referring to American reluctance impose sanctions. “There’s enough trouble and poverty in Honduras already.”
A spokesman for the United States Southern Command said that the American military had suspended joint operations with Honduras, a country with which it has long had strong military ties.
Mr. Zelaya arrived late Tuesday to address the organization to solidify support for his return to Honduras, which he was forced by the army to leave on Sunday. Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Zelaya addressed the United Nations General Assembly, which swiftly passed a resolution denouncing the military coup and demanding his immediate return to office.
As international condemnation builds, Roberto Micheletti, the interim leader of Honduras appointed by the Congress after Mr. Zelaya’s removal, has grown more defiant.
Mr. Zelaya “has already committed crimes against the Constitution and the law,” Mr. Micheletti told The Associated Press in an interview late Tuesday. “He can no longer return to the presidency of the republic unless a president from another Latin American country comes and imposes him using guns.”
The remarks set the stage for a showdown with the region, with Mr. Micheletti saying he would send a delegation to Washington – though diplomats at the O.A.S. said none of them would agree to meet with the group — while the organization prepared to send a delegation to Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.
The standoff, which began early Sunday when the army seized the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa and compelled Mr. Zelaya to board a plane to Costa Rica, continued to build through the early hours of Wednesday, when the O.A.S. condemned his ouster in the strongest of terms.
In a sharply worded resolution, concluded after marathon talks that continued until early Wednesday morning, the organization called the coup an “unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order.” The envoys demanded Mr. Zelaya’s immediate and safe return to power, and issued the ultimatum to Honduras that it would be suspended from the organization if Mr. Zelaya was not returned to power.
The organization “condemns vehemently the coup d’état staged against the constitutionally established government of Honduras, and the arbitrary detention and expulsion from the country of the constitutional president, José Manuel Zelaya Rosales,” the resolution said.
With a firm deadline now looming, one European diplomat observing the proceedings looked around the meeting hall and quipped, “On the Fourth of July, the fireworks will be happening in this room.”
Mr. Zelaya was ousted amid a confrontation over his bid to rewrite the Constitution so that he could run for a second term, a move Mr. Micheletti has said was a bald ploy to hold on to power.
“No one can make me resign if I do not violate the laws of the country,” Mr. Micheletti said in the A.P. interview. “If there is any invasion against our country, 7.5 million Hondurans will be ready to defend our territory and our laws and our homeland and our government.”
As for Mr. Zelaya, “If he comes back, he will be arrested,” Mr. Micheletti said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Paìs published on Wednesday. “He is facing charges. He has exceeded the Constitution and called an illegal referendum.”
Alberto Rubí, the Honduran attorney general, said Tuesday that the charges included treason and abuse of authority.
The new foreign minister, Enrique Ortez, went further in a television interview, accusing Mr. Zelaya of permitting drug traffickers to use Honduras as a base to smuggle cocaine from South America to the United States, an accusation that aides to Mr. Zelaya called a tall tale intended to smear him.
At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday said that while President Obama has condemned the coup, there were no plans to recall the American ambassador.
The United States said it saw no acceptable solution to Mr. Zelaya’s ouster other than returning him to power. A State Department spokesman, Ian C. Kelly, told reporters that Washington was still reviewing whether to cut off aid to Honduras as a result of the crisis.http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/02/world/americas/02honduras.html?pagewanted=1&8au&emc=au