After 16 months in exile, overthrown Honduran President Manuel Zelaya returned Saturday to Honduras, where he will immediately reenter politics.
Wearing his trademark cowboy hat, Zelaya exited the plane flanked on both sides by some of Latin America’s most prominent leftwing politicians — including Colombian ex-Senator Piedad Córdoba and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. (See a picture of his return here.) Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro and Panamanian ex-President Martín Torrijos also accompanied him.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who did not travel to Honduras to witness Zelaya’s return, fired off a congratulatory tweet: “Mel Zelaya returned to his Honduran Fatherland! It’s a great victory for the Honduran people!”
Zelaya’s flight from neighboring Nicaragua arrived more than three hours later than planned after organizers suggested he wait for the Manchester-Barcelona game to finish in order to field a larger audience, according to Honduran news agency La Prensa.
“We’re pushing for a Constituent Assembly to retake power,” Zelaya said in a speech to thousands of followers who gathered to greet him outside the airport. “I came to participate in what the people want — revolutionary processes that will make this country move forward,” he added.
Zelaya thanked Honduran President Porfirio Lobo and the international community for facilitating his return, but had harsh words for the United States, who he accused of derailing an agreement he negotiated with transitional President Roberto Michelletti in October of 2009. Zelaya said Washington “boycotted” the agreement, which then-President of Costa Rica Óscar Arias mediated.
In a sharp turnaround from his position during exile, Zelaya called upon the international community to recognize the conservative Lobo administration, which was elected after the June 2009 coup. Zelaya’s new position did not sit well with one of his party’s spokesmen, Juan Barahona, who said Lobo supported the coup and Zelaya only changed his position toward the Lobo administration for diplomatic reasons.
Baharona also said he opposes Honduras’ immediate return to the OAS, in order to give time to ensure that the conditions of agreement allowing Zelaya’s return are carried out.
With Zelaya back in the country, his party — the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP, in Spanish) — says it will now begin collecting the signatures it needs to present to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal in order to participate in the next round of elections.
Not everyone was happy to see Zelaya come back, and some lashed out at Lobo for working with Chávez to broker Zelaya’s return. (Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos appears to have convinced Chávez to agree to stop opposing Honduras’ return to the Organization of American States if Lobo allowed Zelaya back into the country.) “Lobo is following in Zelaya’s footsteps by becoming friends with Chávez,” said Fernando Anduray of the Unión Cívica Democrática, referring to Venezuela’s President. Anduray’s party supported the June 2009 coup.
The OAS plans to vote on Honduras’ reinstatement in an extraordinary meeting of the General Assembly in Washington on Wednesday.
Image: Sandra Cuffee @ Flickr.