Washington: The Organization of American States suspended Honduras on Saturday after a caretaker government refused to restore President Manuel Zelaya, who was toppled in a coup a week ago.
The OAS took the rare step to suspend one of its members at a meeting in Washington after Honduras’ interim rulers ignored an OAS ultimatum to restore Zelaya.
Zelaya, a leftist who took power in 2006 and had been due to leave office in 2010, was ousted by troops and sent into exile after a dispute over presidential term limits.
In a resolution passed by a 33-0 vote late on Saturday night, the OAS also encouraged member states to review their relations with Honduras. Venezuela, Brazil and others had sought to include language that would have mandated a cutoff in bilateral cooperation with Honduras — wording that was opposed by the US, Canada, Mexico and Colombia among others, diplomats said.
Honduras, a coffee and textile exporter, is only the second country suspended by the western hemisphere’s top diplomatic body after Cuba, which was barred in 1962 as Fidel Castro took the island toward communism in the years after his 1959 revolution.
The OAS suspension, which was to take immediate effect, could complicate access to credits from regional lender Inter-American Development Bank for Honduras, which is the third poorest country in the Americas after Nicaragua and Haiti. The IADB said last week it was suspending loans over the coup.
The resolution also instructed OAS secretary-general Jose Miguel Insulza to step up diplomatic efforts to restore Zelaya, but said, “No such initiative will imply recognition of the regime that emerged from this interruption of the constitutional order.”
The OAS move was the strongest step yet by foreign governments to isolate Honduras’ interim government amid the gravest political crisis in central America in years.
The Obama administration, European governments and Zelaya’s left-wing allies have condemned last Sunday’s ouster. The caretaker government has said it legally removed a president who violated the constitution.
Zelaya, a wealthy businessman who edged to the left after he came to power, had upset the country’s traditional ruling elite, including members of his own Liberal Party, with what critics say was an illegal attempt to lift presidential term limits and by establishing closer ties with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a US adversary.
Speaking at the OAS meeting after the resolution was passed, Zelaya said he planned to fly back to Honduras on Sunday. He had postponed a plan to try to return earlier in the week while the OAS worked on seeking a solution.
Some of Zelaya’s left-wing allies in the region have said they would travel with the exiled leader, although it was not immediately clear if they still planned to press ahead and travel on Sunday.
The interim leaders who took power after the coup have said they would arrest the ousted leader if he returns.
Interim Government Defiant
Insulza, who visited the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa on Friday, said on Saturday that the interim government showed no willingness to restore Zelaya to office or recognize there had been a rupture in the constitutional order.
“The interim regime has not said so, but their lack of international recognition a week after the coup is worrying the de facto government,” the OAS chief said.
The interim government remained defiant, announcing it would renounce the OAS charter, and has rallied supporters on the streets of the capital and other cities in a show of support.
“It is better to pay this high price... than live undignified and bow the our heads to the demands of foreign governments,” said Roberto Micheletti, named caretaker president by the Honduran Congress after Zelaya’s ouster.
In Tegucigalpa, several thousand Zelaya supporters marched toward the presidential palace on Saturday, observed by troops posted in strategic spots and a military helicopter overhead.
A night-time curfew is still in place but the capital city is mostly calm during the day.