Honduran leader to use voters against alleged plot

AP News
Posted: Dec 08, 2012 5:01 PM
Honduran leader to use voters against alleged plot

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Honduran President Porfirio Lobo said Saturday that he is in a standoff with the same political and business elite that staged a 2009 coup and whisked his predecessor from the country at gunpoint.

The Supreme Court, which found then President Manuel Zelaya's ouster legal, has turned down a key Lobo proposal to bring development to the troubled Central American country, which has yet to recover from the 2009 unrest. The court is expected on Tuesday to nullify another Lobo reform designed to clean up the notoriously corrupt national police.

A day after saying a group was plotting to repeat the "crisis of 2009," Lobo on Saturday accused key business interests of colluding with Honduras' judges to oppose him.

He said if the Supreme Court declares his police reform unconstitutional, he will take the issue to a public referendum.

Zelaya was deposed when he ignored a Supreme Court order to cancel a referendum on his plan to revise the constitution, promising the poor they would get a voice in shaping the future of the country.

Lobo stepped up his rhetoric against the same judges and businessmen who fought with Zelaya, saying they are led by publishing magnate Jorge Canahuati.

"If you don't desist in what you are thinking of doing, of destabilizing Honduras, you will regret it," Lobo said before a military ceremony at which he was surrounded by the army, which has pledged its support to the president. "I'm warning you, don't do it. This democracy is not going to take us out."

Canahuati, who publishes Honduras' two largest newspapers, has called Lobo's statements "reckless" and denies involvement in any conspiracy.

Zelaya, who returned from exile to form an opposition political party, voiced support for Lobo on Friday.

Drug trafficking and violence have spiked since Zelaya's ouster in Honduras, where two-thirds of the 8.2 million people live in poverty. With a homicide rate of 91 per 100,000 residents, it is often called the most violent country in the world.

The 2009 coup split world leaders and created a headache for the United States, which cut off aid to Honduras as punishment, but then was criticized for recognizing Lobo's government after he was elected in a regularly scheduled vote later that year. Lobo took office in January 2010 and is limited to a single term, which ends next year.

The political turmoil and cut in U.S. aid have been cited as reasons for the rise in drug trafficking.

The U.S. Embassy in Honduras said Saturday that it would not comment on the current conflict.

Following the Supreme Court's ruling in October shooting down Lobo's plan to build private cities as a means of attracting investment and economic development, the current power struggle publicly is over the police reform, but Honduras seems to have reached a new point of ungovernability.

In addition to Lobo's standoff with federal judges, the government can't pay its workers and has requested a $100 million loan from the Honduran Central Bank. Party elections held last month to select the 2013 presidential candidates still have not yielded results. There have been widespread accusations of fraud in the votes, and the electoral court says it can't issue results because it can't pay its workers due to the national financial crisis.

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Honduras has failed to fix the structural problems that led to Zelaya's ouster, said former Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein, who led an international truth commission that issued a July 2011 report saying both sides in the coup broke the law.

"The recommendation of the truth commission specifically touched on the lack of proper mechanisms to solve or arbitrate conflicts among the powers of the state," Stein said. "Unfortunately the congress did not tackle those issues."

Honduras' federal judges have long been closely tied with the business elite.

In one of its fact-finding missions, the truth commission found businessmen who referred to federal judges as "my judge, as in 'I put him there,'" said Stein, who was in Honduras last month and said he sensed a major conflict brewing. "The Supreme Court was appointed by the very structures that have controlled Honduran politics for years."

Many played down the possibility of a coup.

"I don't expect anything to happen. The people will not allow it," said Juan Orlando Hernandez, president of the congress.


Associated Press writer Katherine Corcoran in Mexico City contributed to this report.