Honduran president deposed, exiled in coup
US condemns act; Chávez vows overthrow
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - Soldiers ousted the democratically elected president of Honduras yesterday and Congress named a successor, but the leftist ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez denounced what he called an illegal coup and vowed to stay in power.
The first military takeover of a Central American government in 16 years drew widespread condemnation from governments in Latin America and the world - including the United States - and Chávez vowed to overthrow the country’s apparent new leader.
President Manuel Zelaya was awakened yesterday by gunfire and detained while still in his pajamas, hours before a constitutional referendum many saw as an attempt by him to stay in power beyond the one-term limit. An air force plane flew him into forced exile in Costa Rica as armored military vehicles with machine guns rolled through the streets of the Honduran capital and soldiers seized the national palace.
“I want to return to my country,’’ Zelaya said in Costa Rica. “I am president of Honduras.’’
Congress voted to accept what it said was Zelaya’s letter of resignation, with even Zelaya’s former allies turning against him. Congressional leader Roberto Micheletti was sworn in to serve until Jan. 27, when Zelaya’s term ends. Micheletti belongs to Zelaya’s Liberal Party, but opposed the president in the referendum.
Zelaya denied resigning and insisted he would serve out his term, even as the Supreme Court backed the military takeover and said it was a defense of democracy.
Micheletti was sworn in at a ceremony inside the Congress building with cheers and chants from fellow legislators of “Honduras! Honduras!’’
Outside of Congress, a group of about 150 people opposed to Zelaya’s ouster stood well back from police lines and shook their fists, chanting “Out with the bourgeoisie!’’ and “Traitors!’’
Micheletti insisted that he did not arrive at his new post “under the aegis of a coup d’etat.’’
“I have reached the presidency as the result of an absolutely legal transition process,’’ he said.
He reached out to Zelaya’s supporters, saying “Today in Honduras, there are neither victors, nor defeated. The motherland is for all.’’
He also defended the army, saying “the armed forces have complied with the constitution and the laws.’’
But he warned against outside interference after Chávez remarked that if Micheletti were appointed president, “We will overthrow him.’’
“We are going to demand respect from any nation that threatens to trample our sovereignty,’’ Micheletti said.
Zelaya’s overthrow came hours before polls were to open on a referendum that he was pushing ahead even after the Supreme Court and the attorney general said it was illegal. The constitution bars changes to some of its clauses, such as the ban on a president serving more than one term, they said.
Some businesses in the capital, Tegucigalpa, closed earlier this week amid the rising tension, and many speculated there would be a coup. Those who opposed the referendum warned against voting, fearing violence at the polls.
Countries throughout Latin America and the world condemned Zelaya’s expulsion. Chávez said Venezuela “is at battle’’ and put his military on alert.
In Havana, Bruno Rodriguez, Cuban foreign minister, vowed to work with allies to push for Zelaya’s return to power. He said Juan Carlos Hernandez, Cuban ambassador, was held briefly in Tegucigalpa after he and other foreign diplomats tried unsuccessfully to prevent soldiers from taking away Patricia Rodas, Honduran foreign minister.
President Obama said he was “deeply concerned’’ and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Zelaya’s arrest should be condemned.