San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Honduras welcomed back to the diplomatic fold

Honduras was readmitted Wednesday to the Organization of American States (OAS), ending a two-year diplomatic hiatus following the widely criticized coup that drove Manuel Zelaya from power.

The regional bloc, which groups the 34 independent states of the American continent but still excludes Cuba, lifted the suspension immediately after a 32-1 vote at a special meeting at its Washington headquarters.

Only Ecuador demurred, saying conditions were not yet appropriate for Honduras to return due to the Central American nation’s poor human rights record and the fact that those behind the coup had not been punished.

“Today, the coup d’etat has been defeated because coups are no longer acceptable and that has been clearly recognized at the international level,” Zelaya told radio Globo in Tegucigalpa.

The move came four days after Zelaya returned to Honduras after charges against him were dropped as part of a deal brokered by traditional regional foes Colombia and Venezuela.

Zelaya was a conservative rancher when he became president in January 2006 but veered sharply to the left once in office, forging alliances with anti-American leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Raul Castro.

Accused of seeking to tamper with the constitution to extend the single-term presidential limit, he was forced out at gunpoint on June 28, 2009 and put on a plane to Costa Rica.

The military coup was sanctioned by the legislature and the Supreme Court but left the country polarized between coup supporters and followers of Zelaya, who soon took to the streets in angry demonstrations.

Zelaya returned to Honduras overland secretly in September 2009 in a bid to win back power, taking refuge in the Brazilian embassy in the capital Tegucigalpa.

A bizarre months-long stand-off ensured but Zelaya was unable to stir the masses to reinstate him. Surrounded in the mission by the Honduran military, he eventually left for exile in the Dominican Republic on January 21, 2010.

The interim government, led by Roberto Micheletti, held power until the following week when current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo was sworn into office after fresh elections.

Tens of thousands of people cheered and waved banners at a rally near the Tegucigalpa airport to welcome 58-year-old Zelaya and former first lady Xiomara Castro home at the weekend.

The deal allowing Zelaya back includes talks towards changing the constitution to allow presidential re-election, but it is unclear if this will affect the ex-president. Barring any changes, Zelaya supporters want Castro, 51, to run for president.

Zelaya has himself already suggested that Castro will be a candidate. “The one who is engaged in politics is the first lady, I’m just a simple citizen,” he said Sunday at his first press appearance since returning.

The couple was allowed to end their foreign exile as part of a deal that ends Honduras’ diplomatic isolation and gives Lobo’s government access to foreign investment and aid.

Despite his enduring popularity, particularly among the poor, Zelaya cannot run in the 2013 presidential elections because of the one-term presidential limit.

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