Ousted leader's return ends Honduras' long crisis

AP News
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Posted: May 28, 2011 2:06 AM
Ousted leader's return ends Honduras' long crisis

The return of ousted former President Manuel Zelaya from exile on Saturday brings Honduras' nearly two-year political crisis to an end and hope to one of the poorest nations in the Americas.

Zelaya's comeback will also pave the way for Honduras to re-enter the international community, which near-unanimously rejected the June 2009 military-backed coup that forced him from office and saw him whisked out of the Central American country at gunpoint in his pajamas.

The deposed former leader on Friday traveled from the Dominican Republic, where he lived more than a year in exile, to Nicaragua in preparation for his return. He is expected to make a public appearance in Honduras' capital, Tegucigalpa, before noon Saturday with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro.

A lunch is set for Saturday after his arrival with current Honduras President Porfirio Lobo and Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, according to the organization.

The OAS as well as the governments of Colombia and Venezuela are supervising the safe return of Zelaya, more than two years after he was removed by the military after ignoring a Supreme Court order to cancel a referendum asking Hondurans if they favored changing the constitution.

His detractors claimed he wanted to hijack the democratic process so he could be re-elected. Zelaya has denied that was his intention. Re-election is something the Honduran constitution still prohibits.

His supporters say he was ousted because of his plans to reform Honduras' political and economic status quo and his increasingly close relationship with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Violent protests for and against the removal of Zelaya were staged near the presidential palace and Tegucigalpa's main square following the coup.

Now Zelaya returns to a country that has since enacted many of the changes he advocated.

Zelaya's idea of holding a referendum to amend the constitution _ the final straw which led to the coup_ is now a law.

An agreement signed last week that allows the safe return of Zelaya will allow him to form his own political party and potentially end Honduras' long-standing and rigid two-party system.

A court dismissed arrest warrants for Zelaya, who faced charges of fraud and falsifying documents, and then dropped the charges.

"For a country under the illusion of advancing and no longer being isolated on the continent, they had to make certain concessions, including allowing Zelaya to return to Honduras without being prosecuted," said Jairo Velasquez, international relations professor at La Sabana University in Bogota, Colombia.

Lobo _ who was elected president in elections scheduled before the coup _ said he doesn't see a contradiction in enacting what the coup sought to avoid.

"That's life," he said recently at the close of a business forum. "One does not govern for today. One governs so that tomorrow they can say how well you did."

Chavez and Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos were key in negotiating Honduras' reincorporating to the OAS in exchange of Zelaya's safe return to the country.

Meanwhile, hundreds of young people have painted T-shirts, signs and flags to welcome Zelaya home. Convoy of supporters arrived to the capital this week to set up tents near the airport. They set off firecrackers and play music while the moment of his arrival comes.

The head of the National Police, Jose Munoz, said Zelaya backers have promised to lead a peaceful celebration.

"Zelaya's personal safety is in the hands of people he trusts," his legal representative Rasel Tome told The Associated Press. "Those people are his countrymen."