Q+A: Military coup in Honduras

WASHINGTON Wed Jul 1, 2009 4:41pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Honduras faces growing pressure to reinstate ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who was overthrown in a bloodless military coup on Sunday.

Here are some questions and answers about the stand-off.

Q - What triggered the coup?

A - Zelaya, a logging magnate who took office in 2006, upset conservative elites with his growing alliance with leftist firebrand Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president who is a fierce U.S. adversary. He riled the armed forces, courts and Congress with his bid to change the constitution to let presidents seek re-election beyond a single four-year term. The coup followed days of tension over Zelaya's attempt to hold an unofficial poll to gauge public support for a November referendum on term limits, considered unconstitutional by his critics.

Q - Who is running the country now?

A - The Honduran military seized Zelaya from his home on Sunday and flew him to Costa Rica, but the generals have not held on to power. The Honduran Congress named its speaker Roberto Micheletti as interim president and the Supreme Court said it had ordered the army to remove Zelaya. The country's electoral court said a November 29 presidential election will go ahead as planned.

Q - What has the international reaction been?

A - There has been almost unanimous condemnation of the coup from both neighbors and world powers including the United States. The 192-member U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution calling on all countries to recognize only Zelaya's government. The World Bank has paused loans. Chavez has put Venezuelan troops on alert and said the coup should be defeated by the Honduran people, if necessary with Venezuelan support.

Q - What will happen next?

A - The Organization of American States (OAS) set a 72-hour deadline on Wednesday that will expire on Saturday for the interim government to reverse the coup and reinstate Zelaya. But the foreign minister of the interim government said Zelaya would never be allowed to resume office and will be arrested if he returns to the country. The ousted president has vowed to return, accompanied by other Latin American presidents. He may wait until the deadline expires to allow time for behind-the-scenes negotiations.

Q - Who is doing what to resolve the stand-off?

A - The OAS declaration instructed Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza to undertake, together with regional countries, diplomatic initiatives to have Zelaya reinstated. Zelaya flew to Panama on Wednesday to attend the inauguration of the new Panamanian president, an event that will bring together key leaders from the region. The interim government had said it would send a delegation to Washington, but later decided not to after the OAS and U.S. officials said they would not receive it. The interim foreign minister said on Wednesday he was expecting an OAS mission to visit Honduras.

Q - What role does the United States play?

A - The United States supported a number of coups and military governments in Latin America during the Cold War as it sought to curb the spread of Communism. U.S. President Barack Obama was swift to condemn the Honduras coup, pleasing Latin American countries weary of the history of U.S. intervention in the region. Chavez -- long bitter because former U.S. President George W. Bush's initially welcomed his own brief ouster in a short-lived coup in 2002 -- has suggested Washington may have had a hand in the coup, a charge denied by the White House. Obama has said it would be a "terrible precedent" if the coup is not reversed and vowed to work with the OAS to resolve it.

In terms of leverage, Washington could cut off aid to Honduras, one of the poorest countries in Latin America. The State Department had requested $68.2 million in aid for fiscal year 2010, which begins on October 1, up from $43.2 million.

Q - What is the role of the military in Honduras?

A - Honduras was mostly under military rule for two and a half decades until 1982 when a civilian government was elected. In the 1980s, Honduras was a U.S. ally when Washington helped Central American governments fight Marxist rebels and backed the anti-Sandinista contras fighting Nicaragua's leftist government. The U.S. military has a task force of about 600 troops stationed at a Honduran base, used largely for anti-narcotics and humanitarian operations, and has long-standing ties with the Honduran military, which sends officers for training in the United States. The Pentagon has said the U.S. military has postponed activities with its Honduran counterpart while the situation in Honduras is reviewed.

Q - Who's next? Could there be more coups against Latin American leftist governments?

A - Unlikely. Strong U.S. support for Zelaya has sharply reduced the chances that the coup there could reignite ideological tensions in Latin America or encourage similar moves against other leftist governments.

(Writing by Claudia Parsons, editing by Anthony Boadle)

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