Patrick Goodenough, CNSNews.com
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Manuel Zelaya in Washington on September 3, 2009. (State Dept. Photo by Michael Gross)
An agreement signed in Colombia this week allowing the ousted former Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, to return home and resume political activity without fear of prosecution marks “a great day” for the Honduran people, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
But in the view of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the accord sets the stage for Zelaya and his leftist ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, to further damage democracy in the small Central American country.
“Hugo Chavez’s handprints are all over this deal,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “He can’t wait to have Zelaya back in Honduras so he can begin pulling the strings again and undermine that nation’s democracy.”
Clinton, by contrast, said on Monday that the U.S. “commends” the Chavez regime for its role in securing the agreement.
Zelaya was removed from office in June 2009 by the military – acting on the orders of the Supreme Court – and flown to neighboring Costa Rica.
In a move that would have mirrored similar steps taken by Chavez and other Latin American leftists, Zelaya was planning a referendum to convene a constituent assembly, to amend the constitutional one-term limit on presidential power.
As the constitution prohibits such a move and disqualifies from public office anyone who attempts it, the Supreme Court ordered his removal.
Congressional leader Roberto Micheletti, next in the constitutional line of succession, was duly sworn in as interim president, to serve until scheduled presidential elections took place five months later. Porfirio Lobo won that election, and took office in early 2010.
Three months after he was ousted, Zelaya sneaked back into Honduras and sought refuge at the Brazilian Embassy. Lobo later arranged for him to get safe passage out of the country, and he has been living in exile in the Dominican Republic since then.
On Sunday, Zelaya and Lobo signed an accord in the Colombian city of Cartagena that will allow him to return home.
But it also paves the way for a return to politics for Zelaya who, according to Chavez, has not dropped his plans to push for a constituent assembly.
The agreement also is meant to remove the last hurdle to Honduras’ re-entry into the Organization of American States (OAS), a body from which it was ejected over the Zelaya affair.
The Obama administration supported Honduras’ expulsion from the OAS, agreeing with Zelaya’s – and Chavez’ – contention that his ousting amounted to a “coup.”
That stance was a controversial one: Honduras’ constitution limits the presidency to a single, four-year term and outlaws not just extending the limits, but even proposing that they be changed.
Article 239 reads, “Anyone who violates this provision or who proposes its reform, as well as those who support that violation directly or indirectly, will immediately cease to hold their respective positions, and will be disqualified from any public post for 10 years.”
An Aug. 2009 Law Library of Congress report concluded that Zelaya’s ousting – although not his expatriation – was constitutional.
Nonetheless, the Obama administration came down on Chavez’ side of the argument….