Central American Parliament wonders who's the legitimate president of Honduras?

The turmoil surrounding Honduras President Manuel Zelaya’s ouster has mostly died down. Now the Central American Parliament is debating if he or the interim president should fill Honduras’s seat on the regional body.

Reynaldo Brito/AP
Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya, seen exiting an airplane in Santo Domingo on Jan. 27. The Central American Parliament is debating if he or the former interim president, Roberto Micheletti, should fill Honduras’s seat on the regional body.

When former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was forced out of office last June, nations and regional bodies around the globe were suddenly embroiled in the politics of the oft-forgotten Central American nation.

Nations swiftly cut off contact with the government of Roberto Micheletti, who was sworn in hours after Mr. Zelaya was flown out of Honduras. The Organization of American States (OAS) condemned the coup and kicked Honduras out of the group. For weeks, it seemed, Zelaya had more allies than he ever dreamed possible while in office. He continued to claim his rightful spot to the presidency, while Mr. Micheletti claimed his. And effectively, there were two presidents of Honduras.

And then suddenly there was just one. After months of drama that built up around rival protests and arrests and some tragic incidents, new presidential elections were held in November, a new president was sworn into office in January, and Zelaya peacefully, and this time by choice, slipped out of Honduras to take up exile in the Dominican Republic.

Many countries in Latin America continue to question the legitimacy of the new administration of Porfirio Lobo, because he was elected to office without Zelaya being restored to office first. But the battle of a dual presidency seemed to have ended forever.

Until now. A new crisis over who is the legitimate “former” president of Honduras is brewing in the Central American Parliament (Parlacen). The Inter Press Service reports Parlacen is struggling over which president should be granted rightful membership.

Under the group’s charter, former presidents and vice presidents of member countries of Parlacen, which includes El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and the Dominican Republic, get a spot in the regional body.

"Our founding treaty is very clear as to who forms part of Parlacen," Hena Ligia Madrid, a lawmaker in Honduras from the Liberal Party, told the IPS.

"It stipulates that outgoing presidents of member states are immediately admitted. … In the case of Honduras, it is obvious to me, as a politician and Parlacen legislator, that the man who should come is President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, because he was elected in free elections and was sworn in as constitutional president of the republic.”

But many in Honduras disagree, saying instead that Mr. Micheletti should get the seat at Parlacen. Zelaya's foes say he abandoned his presidency when pushing forward for a non-binding referendum to consider constitutional change, and they accuse him of trying to do away with term limits for presidents, strictly forbidden under the constitution (Zelaya has always denied this).

In the wake of his ouster, many took to the streets of the capital Tegucigalpa, cooing about democracy being saved.

As time went on, however, some of those same supporters began to have their own questions about whether the ouster was constitutional after all, and whether it did more harm to democracy than anything Zelaya was allegedly up to.

Víctor Manuel Galdámez, of the National Party in Honduras, told IPS that perhaps neither should be allowed a spot in Parlacen because both were wrong – Micheletti for violating the constitution and Zelaya for breaking myriad orders ahead of his ouster. Perhaps the lawmaker has a point. But if every accusation of wrong-doing is considered grounds for exclusion, won’t Parlacen just eventually amount to a bunch of empty seats?

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