TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - The Honduran Congress voted on Wednesday not to allow the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, a move that closes the door on his return to power after he was toppled in a June coup.
Congress was deciding Zelaya’s fate as part of a U.S.-brokered deal between the deposed leftist and the country’s de facto leaders who took power after the coup. The agreement left it up to Congress to decide if Zelaya could return to the presidency until the end of his term in January.
The United States was hoping for Zelaya’s reinstatement but Honduran lawmakers resisted international pressure, with 111 of the 125 members in session voting against Zelaya’s return. Only 14 backed him in a vote that finished late on Wednesday.
Hundreds of the toppled president’s supporters protested outside the chamber.
“This decision ratifies a coup and condemns Honduras to continue living in illegality,” Zelaya told the local Radio Globo station. Foreign lenders cut aid to the poor coffee- and textile- exporting country to punish the coup leaders.
Zelaya has been holed up inside the heavily guarded Brazilian Embassy since he slipped back into Honduras in September, with soldiers threatening to arrest him if he steps outside. The vote throws his future into question.
Opposition candidate Porfirio Lobo won a presidential election on Sunday, which was scheduled before the coup. The vote could allow Honduras to move on from the five-month crisis and focus on a new leader.
The United States quickly recognized the election results but said the vote was only one step toward restoring democracy.
The stance has split the United States from Latin American powers like Brazil and Argentina that say it is impossible to recognize an election organized by a de facto government.
Lobo hails from the traditional ruling elite and is set to take office on January 27. Zelaya being locked out of office amounts to a victory for the coup leaders, some analysts say.
Lobo, a wealthy agricultural businessman and landowner from the same province as Zelaya, has avoided questions about Zelaya’s fate but may end up offering him some sort of political amnesty to end his state of limbo in the embassy.
“I am looking toward the future and you are asking: ‘And Zelaya?’ Zelaya is history, he is part of the past,” Lobo told foreign reporters the day after the election.
Zelaya was rousted from his bed by soldiers and sent to Costa Rica on a military plane on June 28 after he angered business leaders and members of his own party by moving closer to Venezuela’s socialist president, Hugo Chavez.
The Supreme Court ordered his arrest, charging him with violating the constitution, and Congress voted to strip him of his powers after he was already exiled. Critics say he was aiming at a constitutional overhaul in an attempt to stay in power, a charge he denies.
Human rights groups documented serious abuses by the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti, including several deaths, as security forces cracked down on Zelaya’s supporters and anti-coup media outlets.
“Democracy here is in intensive care,” said Cesar Ham a leftist congressman and presidential candidate who backs Zelaya.
Lobo’s conservative National Party took a firm stance against Zelaya in Wednesday’s session.
“If we reinstate Zelaya, it will be worse for the country, the crisis would continue,” National Party congressman Victor Barnica said.
Reporting by Anahi Rama and Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Mica Rosenberg