HAVANA TIMES, May 30 (IPS) — After his return to Honduras put an end to two years of exile, former President Manuel Zelaya said the coup in which he was removed on Jun. 28, 2009 was the work of an “international conspiracy” that should be investigated.
In a press conference Sunday, he said General Romeo Vasquez, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of the coup, had told him that some of the people plotting his overthrow wanted him killed.
“He told me: some day you will understand what happened. I can’t tell you, but the people who planned it discussed having you killed during the assault on your house, but the armed forces were totally opposed to your assassination,” said the former president, who returned to a hero’s welcome Saturday from the Dominican Republic.
Zelaya said Vasquez told him the coup plotters, angry at the military’s refusal to kill him, threatened to hire paramilitaries to do the job. But the armed forces said they would not allow that to happen either, and that they would remove him from his home and take him to Costa Rica.
“The question is: who are they?” the former president said, calling for an investigation into the coup, which he said involved “actors from different sectors of society.”
Zelaya was removed from his home by the military at gunpoint, still in his pajamas, and put on a plane for Costa Rica, after he tried to organize a non-binding referendum asking voters if they wanted to rewrite the constitution – an initiative that had been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
His return was the last condition for Honduras’ readmission to the Organization of American States (OAS), from which it was cast out after the coup. The resumption of the country’s participation in the regional body is expected to be formalized next weekend, despite the opposition of Ecuador, which argues that those responsible for the coup should first be brought to justice.
The agreement for Zelaya’s return was brokered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. The deal, known as the Cartagena Accord, included the dropping of the fraud charges and arrest warrants faced by the former president. It also recognizes the right of Hondurans to call for a public vote on eventual constitutional reforms.
Honduras’ readmission to the OAS “cannot be delayed, because the country has met all of the requirements set by the international community and the Cartagena Accord,” said international jurist Roberto Herrera.
He said the country’s return to the regional body is based on “a gentleman’s agreement that cannot be subject to new conditions added within the OAS, as Ecuador is demanding.”
Zelaya’s arrival in Honduras “opens a new chapter in the country, and his presence will mark the domestic political scene, but for the OAS and the international community, the last chapter is closed. The organization’s (Inter-American) Democratic Charter should now be reviewed, because the crisis in Honduras was handled poorly,” Herrera told IPS.
The Cartagena Accord also included recognition of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) – the broad popular movement that emerged to protest the coup – as a political party, to be led by Zelaya.
The former president’s wife Xiomara Castro, who became one of the leaders of the protest marches after her husband was removed from the country in the coup, has announced that she will run for president in 2013.
Civil society organizations say the Cartagena Accord has left many doubts unresolved, especially in the area of human rights.
Activists say the rights abuses committed during the political crisis triggered by the coup should not go unpunished.
Bertha Oliva of the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) welcomed Zelaya’s return, but said she had “a bitter taste” in her mouth.
“We do not see any indications of how and when those responsible for the crimes against humanity committed during and after the coup will be punished,” she told IPS.
COFADEH and 20 other Honduran and international human rights organizations sent a message to the members of the OAS asking them not to approve Honduras’ readmission on the argument that “the conditions are not in place.”
They also announced protests and other measures to fight the impunity surrounding the human rights abuses.
More than 4,000 cases of violations of fundamental human rights were documented between June 2009 and late 2010, ranging from censorship and the closure of media outlets to brutal crackdowns on protesters, curfews, and reports of torture, rape and politically-motivated killings, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
On his return to the country, Zelaya was accompanied by former Panamanian President Martín Torrijos, former Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba, and representatives of humanitarian and political delegations from Latin America and Europe.
The FNRP held a vigil starting on Friday night, and organized cultural activities in the “Isis Obed” plaza, named after one of the “martyrs of the coup,” who was killed Jul. 5, 2009 when Zelaya made an unsuccessful attempt to return to Tegucigalpa by plane.
Protest music, faces painted with the image of Argentine-Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Ché” Guevara and black and red flags, gave color and warmth to the welcome, amidst a heavy police and military presence requested by the organizers.
Zelaya told the crowd: “I am here thanks to all of you, to your struggle and your effort, but also at the will of President (Porfirio) Lobo and the international community, because if the political will had been absent, this would not be possible, and I recognize that.
“I come full of optimism and hope, to search for solutions to the crisis generated by the coup, without forgetting the martyrs who fell in the crisis,” he said, after highlighting the mediation by Colombia and Venezuela.
“We are on a crusade to organize ourselves politically at the head of the resistance front, and to wage a political battle to return to power and transform Honduras,” added Zelaya, who enjoys broad popular support.
The former president then headed to the government palace, where he was met by Lobo, who came to power in January after elections organized by the coup government, and OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza.
“Today is the start of a new chapter, which repositions Zelaya’s leadership, but it is not the solution to the country’s crisis. Other battles lie ahead, but in the sphere of political proposals and debate,” political analyst Raul Pineda told IPS.