July 1, 2009 / 8:57 PM / in 10 years

PENPIX-Main players in Honduras coup

(Reuters) - Honduras is defying international pressure to reinstate President Manuel Zelaya, ousted in a military coup on Sunday.

Here are some of the key personalities involved.


* A wealthy logging magnate who wears a cowboy hat with his suits, Zelaya, 56, won a surprise victory as a moderate liberal in 2005 presidential elections. Originally close to Honduras’ ruling elite and known as a guitar-strumming motorbike rider, he has moved further left politically and sought financing and energy deals with Venezuela, forging close ties with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and echoing his populist rhetoric. His effort to extend term limits for the president were considered unconstitutional by his critics and sparked the coup.

Public support for Zelaya dropped as low as 30 percent recently and the interim government has said Zelaya has charges pending against him for violating the constitution, drug trafficking and organized crime. Zelaya has vowed to return to Honduras despite threats to arrest him if he does.


* Micheletti is a veteran of Zelaya’s Liberal Party who was head of Congress when he was picked as interim president until November elections. A centrist who mixes social programs with deep conservative beliefs, he was formerly an ally of Zelaya but opposed his shift to the left and now has the backing of the business and political elite. Micheletti has said the removal of Zelaya saved Honduras from “Chavismo,” a term for the style of socialism championed by Chavez.


* Chavez is a president who knows all about coups. A former soldier who himself once led a failed putsch in Venezuela, Chavez was on the receiving end of a coup attempt in 2002 that briefly ousted him. A foe of U.S. trade and foreign policy in Latin America, Chavez has nationalized many companies and used Venezuela’s oil wealth to become a flag-bearer for leftist sentiment in the region. Last year he enticed Zelaya to bring Honduras into ALBA trade pact of pro-Chavez nations.

Chavez has put his troops on alert and threatened military action in Honduras if Venezuela’s embassy or envoy there were harmed. He has cast the crisis as an attack on democracy by imperialist forces and suggested a U.S. role in the coup. As a close ally of Zelaya, he stands to gain from the ousted president’s return, especially if he is seen to do more than the United States to bring it about.


* Another man who has first hand experience of a coup, Insulza was part of Salvador Allende’s leftist Popular Unity government in Chile and was forced into exile by the 1973 coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power. A lawyer and former foreign minister of Chile, Insulza has headed the Organization of American States since May 2005. The OAS has issued a 72-hour deadline to Honduras to reverse the coup and restore Zelaya as president, and has instructed Insulza to take diplomatic steps to achieve that.


* The coup is an early test for Obama as he tries to mend the United States’ battered image in Latin America, where Washington supported a number of rightist coups and military governments during the Cold War. Obama was swift to condemn the Honduras coup, pleasing Latin American countries bitter about the long history of U.S. intervention in the region. Obama has vowed to work with the OAS to restore Zelaya and said it would be a “terrible precedent” if the coup is not reversed.


* Moderate left-wing Latin American presidents such as Brazil’s LUIZ INACIO LULA DA SILVA and Chile’s MICHELLE BACHELET could weigh in to persuade Honduras to hold an early presidential election as a compromise solution. Costa Rican President OSCAR ARIAS, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for trying to end political violence in Central America in the 1980s, is another possible broker. (Written by Claudia Parsons)

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