The Obama administration, which considers the removal of ousted president Manuel Zelaya amid a constitutional dispute last summer to have been a “coup,” has threatened not to recognize the election unless Zelaya is allowed to return to his post for the remainder of his term.
Zelaya is sheltering in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa since surreptitiously returning to Honduras last month and has been using it as a base to encourage his followers to escalate protests against the interim government that replaced him.
Zelaya’s actions and those of his supporters exacerbated tensions, prompting interim president Roberto Micheletti to imposed emergency curbs on street protests and pro-Zelaya media. Under intense international pressure, he lifted the restrictions on Monday.
Neither Zelaya nor Micheletti are candidates in the November 29 elections, and supporters of the interim government say Washington’s priority should be to work for a free and fair poll, rather than focusing on restoring Zelaya to office.
Florida Republicans U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart returned from Honduras Tuesday and said that the major presidential candidates there want the elections to go ahead, with U.S. support.
The two leading candidates represent the Liberal Party – the party of both Zelaya and Micheletti – and the National Party. The remaining four are a pro-Zelaya trade unionist running as an independent, two members of small left-wing parties and a small centrist party representative.
The left-leaning Zelaya fell out with his own party over plans to hold a referendum on changing the Honduran constitution to extend presidential term limits. The constitution prohibits such a move and disqualifies from public office anyone who attempts it.
Zelaya’s proposal to extend term limits mirrored similar successful bids by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close ally who has counseled him throughout the episode, and another regional leftist, Bolivian President Evo Morales.
After he ignored Supreme Court rulings the military, acting on the court’s orders, removed Zelaya from office on June 28 and flew him to Costa Rica. Micheletti, next in the constitutional line of succession as legislative speaker, was endorsed by Congress to serve as interim leader until the scheduled election delivered a new president, due to take office in January.
The OAS, with Washington’s support, suspended Honduras’ membership in the regional group after the interim authorities rejected its demand to restore Zelaya. The U.S. also added to the pressure by cutting non-humanitarian aid and revoking Honduran officials’ visas.
Asked by the OAS to mediate, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias drafted a deal, called the San Jose agreement, which provides for Zelaya to be reinstated and a unity government to serve until the election.
OAS ministers and diplomats visiting Wednesday hope to get the interim government to endorse the agreement, although it has resisted all previous calls to do so.
Ros-Lehtinen reiterated the view that Zelaya should not be reinstated.
“My meetings with civil society leaders and officials in the Honduran government have further convinced me that Zelaya’s return to power would only serve to endanger U.S. security interests, undermine the legitimacy of the Honduran constitution, and jeopardize the future of freedom and democracy in Honduras and throughout the region,” she said in a statement.
DeMint’s planned trip was opposed by his committee chairman, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who rejects what he calls “the coup regime” and applauded the administration’s earlier decision to cut financial aid.
DeMint went without Kerry’s blessing, and said afterwards that “we saw a government working hard to follow the rule of law, uphold its constitution, and to protect democracy for the people of Honduras.”
“We are very encouraged by what we saw and we hope to be able to work with our administration to support the upcoming elections,” DeMint said.
Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst Ray Walser said Tuesday that although the elections offer a solution to the three month-old crisis the Obama administration is “fixated” on Zelaya’s return to the presidency.
“Instead of allowing the Honduran people to speak through elections on November 29 and end the crisis, the administration makes Zelaya’s restoration to presidential office its primary objective and the litmus test for ‘a restoration of democracy,’” he wrote on the Heritage blog.