Honduran Congress upholds coup

Reporting from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Mexico City -- The Honduran Congress on Wednesday quashed the last possibility that ousted President Manuel Zelaya could be returned to office, voting that the coup that deposed him five months ago should stand.

In a daylong session that participants hoped would help ease the international diplomatic crisis engulfing Honduras, members of Congress debated whether Zelaya’s actions as president violated laws and whether he should be allowed to finish his term, which ends Jan. 27. But there wasn’t much debate: Most legislators had decided against Zelaya long before they arrived at the downtown legislative building.

“Reinstating him would be admitting we did something wrong or illegal, and we didn’t do anything wrong or illegal,” Carlos Kattan, a lawmaker with the National Party, told The Times, referring to the June 28 ouster of Zelaya. “It is not right to return to the state [of affairs] before June 28.”

The final tally in favor of a motion against Zelaya’s reinstatement was 111 to 14.

Wednesday’s actions followed the election Sunday that Honduras’ de facto rulers said would end their nation’s international isolation. But only a portion of the world community has recognized the election results, including the U.S.

The congressional vote was also part of a U.S.-brokered deal aimed at ending the crisis. Washington backed away from its demands that Zelaya be reinstated and instead agreed that the Congress could be left to decide, even though the legislative body endorsed the coup early on.

Zelaya signed on to the accord, but he miscalculated badly. He had assumed that the congressional decision would take place before the election, and he thought that he had more support in Congress.

Before the session, he said he wouldn’t resume his presidency regardless of the congressional vote because to do so at this late date would whitewash the coup and lend credibility to Sunday’s election, won by Porfirio Lobo of the conservative National Party.

The session in Congress started with legislators singing the national anthem and joining hands in prayer. They then heard reports from the various institutions that have arrayed against Zelaya, including the Supreme Court and attorney general’s office. The reports repeated the arguments that Zelaya’s removal from office was legal because he violated the constitution and broke other laws.

Honduras’ de facto rulers and the army, in the weeks after the coup, acknowledged that they too had violated the constitution by deporting Zelaya. Military officers had removed him from his home at gunpoint on June 28 and put him on a plane to Costa Rica.

Zelaya, who was following Wednesday’s session from his refuge in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the capital, was deposed because he ignored a Supreme Court order to cancel a referendum that would have asked Hondurans whether they wanted to begin the process of rewriting the constitution. His opponents alleged that he was attempting to lift the constitutional ban on presidential reelection, a charge he has denied.

Lobo’s National Party voted overwhelmingly against Zelaya. And the majority of Zelaya’s Liberal Party also went against the former president.

The two parties are conservative factions with little ideological difference and are largely controlled by Honduras’ tiny elite. They have traded power since civilian rule was restored in the 1980s.

None of the week’s events are expected to heal the deep divisions and social inequities that have mired the country in poverty and perpetuated a large underclass.

Without Zelaya’s reinstatement, “we are talking about a fictitious reconciliation,” said Marvin Ponce, a congressman with the small, left-leaning Democratic Unification party, which is among the few supporting Zelaya.

Lobo said after his victory that he wanted to promote reconciliation among the opposing sectors of Honduran politics. But, he said, Zelaya “is history.”

Renderos is a special correspondent.