The return of ousted former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya from exile yesterday brought the nation’s nearly two-year political crisis to an end and hope to one of the poorest nations in the Americas.
Zelaya’s return will also pave the way for Honduras to re-enter the international community, which nearly 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 for more than a year in exile, to Nicaragua in preparation for his return. He was expected to make a public appearance in Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa, before noon yesterday with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro.
A lunch was scheduled for yesterday after his arrival with current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo and Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza, the organization said.
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, an international relations professor at La Sabana University in Bogota, Colombia.
Lobo — who was elected president in elections scheduled before the coup — said he does not 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,” he added.
Chavez and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos were key in negotiating Honduras’ reincorporating to the OAS in exchange of Zelaya’s safe return to the country.