Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya Says He Is 'Organizing' for His Return

Exiled Honduran president Manuel Zelaya also told an audience at George Washington University that Hugo Chavez's involvement in Honduras was limited to social programs. Zelaya meets with Secretary of State Clinton Thursday. Video by Francine Uenuma/The Washington Post
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 3, 2009

Two months after he was overthrown in a coup, Honduras's ousted president said Wednesday that he sees little progress in U.S.-backed negotiations aimed at restoring him to power and has started formulating plans to go back to the country and reclaim its highest office.

Manuel Zelaya declined to say when he would return, except that it would be before December, which would have marked the end of his four-year term. He spoke on the eve of a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, at which he vowed to appeal for tougher sanctions against Honduras's de facto government.

"When diplomatic action runs out, when the United States indicates it can't do any more, I am not going to simply sit around with my arms crossed," Zelaya said in an interview. He said he was devising "fighting strategies" to go back to Honduras if the negotiations fail and would "seek actions on my return that kick the coup plotters out of power."

The June 28 coup, which some U.S. diplomats originally thought would be put down after a few days, has instead turned into an increasingly thorny problem for the Obama administration. Despite its wariness of Zelaya, a leftist firebrand, the administration joined the rest of the hemisphere in denouncing the coup as a violation of democratic order. But the de facto Honduran government has defied international pressure and refused a negotiated solution that would allow Zelaya to finish his term with reduced powers.

In recent weeks, human rights groups have reported widespread violations by Honduran authorities, including arbitrary detentions and the shuttering of news media outlets.

Meanwhile, a fight has broken out in the U.S. Congress over Honduras policy, with some Republicans backing the de facto government's argument that exiling Zelaya was legal because he had carried out a public survey on rewriting the constitution, in violation of a Supreme Court order. Many Hondurans feared the president was trying to extend his rule beyond the one-term limit set by the constitution and import the quasi-socialist model of Venezuela's anti-American president, Hugo Chávez.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has held up two State Department appointments -- including that of the assistant secretary who oversees Latin America -- because of his concerns about Honduras policy, according to Senate aides.

With the negotiations on his fate seemingly stalemated, Zelaya flew to Washington this week to try to persuade Clinton and the Organization of American States to step up the pressure on the de facto government.

"The United States has begun to take some actions. I am thankful for this and recognize this," the ousted president said, referring to U.S. decisions to suspend about $35 million in aid and to revoke the U.S. visas of four top officials. "But this is not sufficient. They need to take other commercial actions, and do something about the visas of the people who carried out the coup."

Zelaya said that once diplomacy was exhausted, "I am going to return to the country, to be with the people. I am organizing myself for this moment, which will come sooner rather than later."

Asked whether his "fighting strategies" implied violence, Zelaya said: "I can't give that to you. I am going to assume all the risks."

U.S. officials said Zelaya's remarks were unhelpful and echoed threats he had made publicly and privately in recent weeks.

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