Time for President Zelaya to Return to Honduras

It's time for Zelaya to go home and get back to the job he was elected to do. And the U.S. government should help him do that.
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It's been almost a month since the military rousted Honduran President Zelaya from his bed at gunpoint and whisked him away--in his pajamas--to Costa Rica. It's been almost a month since the Organization of American States called for Zelaya's unconditional return. The efforts at mediation by Costa Rican President Arias have come to naught. It's time for Zelaya to go home and get back to the job he was elected to do: President of Honduras. And the U.S. government should help him do that.

Oscar Arias' first proposal, unveiled on Saturday, July 18, called for the return of Zelaya as President, limited amnesty for all parties, moving up elections by a month (from November to October), forming a government of national unity, new procedures to ensure the upcoming vote is free and fair, guaranteeing the personal safety of both sides, renouncing any attempt to carry out a referendum to amend the constitution and allowing an international body to monitor implementation of the agreement.

The Zelaya supporters I spoke to in Honduras were opposed to the plan. They did not even sanction the idea of talking to the coup leaders, they didn't trust Arias and they didn't want Zelaya to make concessions. "The Organization of American States called for Zelaya's unconditional return, unconditional; that's what we want," said campesino organizer Carlos Zepeda. To the shock of many both in Honduras and the international community, however, Zelaya agreed to the proposal. But it was rejected by the coup leaders. Arias then asked for another 72 hours. Again, to the amazement of many, Zelaya agreed. The international community began putting the screws on the leader of the coup government, Roberto Micheletti. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called him on Sunday, stressing "the potential consequences of the failure to take advantage of this mediation." The European Union announced that it had suspended about $90 million in aid. In addition, the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank suspended $400 million in aid. On Wednesday, July 22, when the time ran out, Arias announced another proposal. Like the previous one, it contained the basic premise that Zelaya would return to his duly-elected position as president. The Micheletti government stood firm, vowing that Zelaya will never return as president. And while the peace plan posited that for at least six months, there would be no political prosecutions for people on both sides of the coup, the Honduran Supreme Court said it would not offer amnesty to Zelaya. (The Court had ruled that Zelaya's attempt to hold a non-binding poll about rewriting the Constitution was illegal.) Micheletti's negotiators asked for more time, but Zelaya, for good reason, has had enough. He insists that he will return this weekend. His last attempt to return home, by plane, was met with military tanks blocking the runway. This time, it appears he will return by land. While he has not said whether he will enter via Guatemala, El Salvador or Nicaragua, he has asked his supporters to amass at the borders to receive him. Zelaya's supporters are ready for his return. Every day since the coup, thousands upon thousands of them have taken the streets. They have been risking their lives confronting the military and powerful elite who have derailed their democracy.

The U.S. government, instead of working with Zelaya to ensure his safe return (the U.S. has 400 soldiers stationed at the Palmerola base in Honduras), warned him not to go back because it could lead to violence. This is, unfortunately, consistent with the U.S. position of talking a good line but doing little.

"The Obama administration has condemned the coup and cut off military aid, but that's not enough," said Honduran women's rights leader Sara Elisa Rosales. "The U.S. could have recalled its ambassador, as the European and Latin American governments did. It could have frozen the assets of the coup leaders and denied them U.S. visas. It could have cut all financial aid. And it could have imposed a trade embargo. In fact, if the U.S. cut commercial ties with Honduras, the coup would fall in a day."

It's time for the U.S. government to stop coddling the thugs who have taken over the Presidential Palace at gunpoint. It's time to cut all ties with coup leaders and help President Zelaya return home immediately. No more mediation. No more compromises. We must make it clear that in the 21st century, the world will not tolerate coup d'etats. We should be standing shoulder to shoulder with Zelaya's supporters to welcome him home.

Medea Benjamin (medea@globalexchange.org) is co-founder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace. She is author of Don't Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart.