Zelaya Can't Return to Office, Micheletti Says

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McClatchy Newspapers

Zelaya Can't Return to Office, Micheletti Says

by
Tyler Bridges

Two children walk during a march in support of Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya in Tegucigalpa, Monday, Aug 17, 2009. An Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is heading to Honduras to investigate alleged rights violations by the de facto government that has been in power since a June 28 coup. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Honduras' interim president told McClatchy
on Monday that he won't agree to any proposal to resolve his country's
political crisis that would allow ousted President Manuel Zelaya to
return to power.

Roberto Micheletti, who was named interim president after the military
bundled Zelaya onto an airplane June 28 and sent him to Costa Rica,
said that Zelaya would be jailed and tried on 18 charges of violating
the constitution if he returned.

"The only way President Zelaya can return is if he submits himself to the justice system," Micheletti said.

In
an exclusive 40-minute interview, Micheletti also accused the U.S.
ambassador here, Hugo Llorens, of tilting unfairly in favor of Zelaya
during the crisis, rejected accusations that his government has abused
human rights in putting down protests and said that he doesn't expect
the Obama administration to slap tough economic sanctions on Honduras.

Micheletti's
comments confirmed analysts' assertions that he plans to withstand
international pressure to allow Zelaya's return under a plan being
negotiated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. In doing so, his
government and its supporters in the business community think they can
ride out possible economic sanctions and a refusal by foreign
governments to recognize the winners of the presidential and
congressional elections Nov. 29.

Micheletti said that Zelaya
couldn't be trusted because, Micheletti charged, he'd violated the
constitution by attempting to hold a referendum with the aim of
rewriting the constitution so that he could run for re-election. Under
Arias' proposal, Zelaya would agree not to push for a change in
re-election law in return for Micheletti's allowing him to return to
office.

"He'd never keep his word," Micheletti said. "I know him.
I helped him become president. He was a democrat. But he became a
leftist with a plan to follow Ecuador and Venezuela. He wanted to
become a dictator and emulate (Venezuelan President Hugo) Chavez."

What
Zelaya hoped to gain from the referendum is a point of contention in
Honduras. The proposed referendum question didn't mention the issue of
re-election and asked only whether voters should decide Nov. 29 whether
to call for a constituent assembly. Zelaya and his supporters claim
that the referendum was nonbinding and that any change would have taken
place after Zelaya had left office.

However, Micheletti said he
believed that Zelaya intended to try to force a rewrite of the
constitution before the election in an effort to remain in power.
Chavez successfully pressed Venezuelan voters to allow him to run for
re-election after they initially defeated such a measure.

Interviewed
at his home on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, Micheletti, a 66-year-old
father of nine, was relaxed, a marked difference from when he met with
foreign reporters shortly after the coup and refused to answer some
questions and bristled at others.

Micheletti wore a square-tailed
tropical shirt known as a guayabera and sat in his living room. His dog
was given free rein to run about until the interview started.

As
Micheletti spoke, pro-Zelaya protesters once again blocked key streets
in Tegucigalpa, the capital, and teachers continued a strike that's
kept the capital's public schools closed. There were no reports of
violence.

Micheletti recalled that he'd spent 27 days in prison —
"because I was a democrat" — after President Ramon Villeda Morales was
deposed in a 1963 coup. Micheletti had been a member of Morales'
presidential honor guard.

In the 1970s, Micheletti spent five
years studying and working in Tampa, Fla., and New Orleans before
returning to Honduras and helping to usher in a return to democratic
rule as a member of Congress, where he served 29 years. He was the
president of Congress when Zelaya was deposed.

One question
Micheletti wouldn't answer: Was it illegal for the military to spirit
Zelaya out of the country instead of simply arresting him, as the
country's Supreme Court had ordered?

"I might have committed the same mistake to avoid a bigger confrontation, a lot of bloodshed," he said.

He
defended police from allegations that they've beaten pro-Zelaya
demonstrators. One demonstrator on Sunday showed a McClatchy reporter a
bruise on his leg, where he said police had struck him with clubs.

Micheletti said soldiers and police officers simply had been trying to defend themselves.

Micheletti
also said he hoped that Llorens, who left for the United States for
vacation on Friday, wouldn't return. "He hasn't been fair," he said.

The State Department issued a statement of support for Llorens on Monday.

Micheletti said he doesn't expect the Obama administration to go beyond the light restrictions it's imposed on Honduras.

"Doing
so would most hurt social programs for the poor," Micheletti said,
adding that the United States has been "a longtime ally."

He said
he'd happily retire from politics when he'd turn over power to his
elected successor Jan. 27. He said he'd return to his hometown of El
Progreso. There, he said, he owns a 185-acre cattle farm and is one of
60 partners in a bus company.

Edmundo Orellana, who's been a
political ally of Micheletti's at times over the years but was Zelaya's
defense minister, said he thought that Micheletti meant what he said
about Zelaya's return.

"When he says he feels a certain way about
something, you can bet that he won't be moved," Orellana said. "He's a
good friend and a bad enemy."

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