Deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya will be allowed to leave the Brazilian embassy in the capital, Tegucigalpa and go into exile on January 27, maybe.

Zelaya was overthrown by a military coup on April 28 of last year, and sent into exile in Costa Rica. He returned later by a secret route and has been ensconced in the Brazilian embassy since then. A massive resistance movement led by unions, peasants’ organizations and other sectors has been demanding his return and the removal the coup installed president, Roberto Micheletti. However, an election on November 29, carried out by the coup government and denounced as illegitimate by much of the world chose the National Party’s Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo as president, and the handover of power is scheduled for January 27.

Lobo has announced an arrangement whereby his government will give Zelaya a safe conduct to leave the embassy and go to the Dominican Republic, by prior agreement with its president Leonel Fernandez. Various scenarios have been suggested for the next steps, including that Zelaya will go and live in Mexico.

Previously, the Micheletti government said it would agree to allow Zelaya to go into political asylum in Brazil, but that this must include an agreement that Zelaya not be allowed to participate in Honduran political affairs. Otherwise, Zelaya would have to face criminal charges in Honduras, including treason and abuse of power. The Honduran constitution, which Costa Rican President Oscar Arias has described as “the worst on the face of the earth”, defines even broaching the subject of constitutional change by anybody in office as being treason. The pretext for the overthrow, arrest and exile of Zelaya was that he had lent his support to a campaign for a non-binding referendum in which the people of Honduras were to be asked if they wanted to vote on November 29 about a later constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. This poll was to take place on the day the coup was carried out.

In fact, Zelaya had annoyed the landholding and business oligarchy by raising the minimum wage, increasing workers rights, beginning a land reform plan, promising justice for victims of right-wing death squads, and refusing to let his country continue to be a base for U.S. subversion against left-wing governments such as those of Cuba and Venezuela. He had also annoyed the United States by joining his country to ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of our America, a left-wing economic, trade and political bloc involving Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. During the Contra Wars of the 1980s, Honduras was the main launching pad for death squads who penetrated Nicaragua and El Salvador to carry out massacres of teachers, health workers and others. Many of the Honduran participants or enablers of those activities are still involved in Honduran military and political institutions. On the U.S. side, many of the people who supported the Contra War from Honduras are still very active.

The overthrow of Zelaya was strongly supported and abetted by right-wing circles in the United States, including major figures in the Republican Party and some Democrats. At the outset, the Obama administration denounced the coup and reasserted its position that Zelaya was the legitimate president. However, later on it greatly disappointed the Honduran resistance and the Latin American left by breaking ranks with most countries in the area and announcing that no matter what happened, it would recognize the results of the November 29 elections.

Since that time, killings of Zelaya supporters (and a few on the other side) have continued on the streets of Honduras. The Congress voted to withdraw Honduras from ALBA. The Micheletti regime announced that six army officers involved in removing Zelaya from the country would be put on trial, including General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, the army head. However, as Zelaya immediately pointed out, there is less to this than meets the eye, because it is certain that if these officers are found guilty they will immediately be pardoned. A pardon is in the offing for all persons involved in the coup, but not for Zelaya or his supporters.

Pepe Lobos has a difficult situation to face. Very few heads of state are going to show up for his inauguration on January 27, and many sanctions remain on his government. Therefore he has an interest in “resolving” the situation for the sake of the perceived legitimacy of his government. This is the motive behind his efforts to find away to get Zelaya out of the embassy. The U.S. State Department has been pressuring Micheletti to step down before the inauguration, to give the handover more of an appearance of legitimacy. Micheletti has not done so but has agreed to become invisible in the interim.

At this writing, according to the pro-Zelaya newspaper El Libertador (, the public prosecutor of Honduras, Alberto Rubi, who is not an appointed member of the president’s cabinet, has thrown a monkey wrench into the arrangement for the departure of Zelaya by suggesting that the Lobo-Fernandez-Zelaya deal may be illegal because Zelaya still faces the “treason” charge, and that Lobo may be prosecuted if it is carried out.

The Honduran resistance is now focusing on the fight for a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution.



Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.