In Honduras, Zelaya leaves, Lobo takes office

January 22, 2010

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya left Honduras after 129 days holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa and Porforio Lobo was sworn as the country´s new president while vowing to help the country reconcile divisions cut open by last June´s coup.

Lobo named opposition leaders to his cabinet and asked countries that don´t recognize his government to restore ties. Though Lobo has U.S. backing, most Latin American countries, including Brazil and Argentina, have said they don´t recognize Lobo because he was elected in a vote held by the coup-installed government of Roberto Micheletti.

In his first act as president, Lobo, a former conservative National Party lawmaker and cattle rancher, signed a decree that grants amnesty for political and related crimes to those involved in the coup.

Lobo and Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernández then escorted Zelaya in a heavily protected motorcade to the airport, where the deposed Honduran leader boarded a private flight to the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo.

As he boarded the plane, Zelaya laconically told Radio Globo “We´ll be back.”

Thousands of Zelaya supporters waved flags featuring Zelaya with his signature Stetson hat and wielded stating their refusal to recognize Lobo´s government while they marched to the airport to see off their deposed leader. Hundreds of soldiers surrounded them.

“We´ll just wait for him to return,” said Belinda Orellana, a Zelaya supporter donning a T-shirt featuring the mustachioed exile.

Soldiers roused Zelaya at gunpoint last June and sent him to Costa Rica on an airplane in his pajamas. He sneaked back from exile in September and took shelter in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, which he used as a base to pressure for his restoration to the presidency.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court President Jorge Rivera found the country´s six top military commanders not guilty of abuse of authority for sending Zelaya into exile, court spokesman Danilo Izaguirre said on Tuesday. The ruling said there was no malice involved in the ouster, which generals ordered to avoid the possibility of violent protests if the president were jailed.

“We completed a mission to try to protect Honduran people at all moments. Only God knows what was in our hearts,” Gen. Romeo Vasquez, head of the country´s armed forces, told Radio America after the ruling.

The amnesty, approved by congress, will protect Zelaya from charges including treason and abuse of authority for having tried to change the 1982 constitution before his ouster, legislator Marvin Ponce said. The amnesty does not clear Zelaya of pending fraud charges.

“We just came out of the worst political crisis in the history of our democracy and we´ve been able to avoid all the major threats to our nation,” Lobo, 62, said during his inaugural address.

The top U.S. diplomat to Latin America, Arturo Valenzuela, said Lobo has moved toward implementing a U.S.-brokered accord aimed at ending the country´s crisis by appointing opposition members to his cabinet. Lobo should form a truth commission to investigate the coup the final requisite for completion of the accord, before U.S. aid can be restored and relations normalized, Valenzuela said from the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

The outgoing Micheletti government and Supreme Court “systematically” denied human rights abuses after the coup, which included deaths, mass arrests of protesters and cruel treatment of detainees, according to a Jan. 20 report by human rights investigators from the Organization of American States.

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