TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - The interim president picked to rule Honduras after the army ousted leftist President Manuel Zelaya said on Monday the coup had saved the country from swinging to a radical Venezuelan-style socialism.
Roberto Micheletti — named caretaker president by Congress hours after the military seized Zelaya and exiled him to Costa Rica — said Zelaya had lost respect for the law.
“President Zelaya was moving the country toward ‘Chavismo’, he was following this model which is not accepted by Hondurans,” he told Reuters, using a Spanish term for the style of socialism championed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
The army overthrew Zelaya on Sunday in a dispute over his quest to try to lift presidential term limits, just as Chavez has done in Venezuela, extending his rule.
Honduras was under pressure on Monday to reinstate Zelaya as many Latin American leaders said they would withdraw envoys, Washington said the coup was illegal and stone-throwing protesters demonstrated in front of the presidential palace.
Micheletti was installed in the palace on Monday but a Reuters news team had to weave through protesters, then go through a military check point and enter the building through a back door in order to interview him.
Micheletti is a veteran of Zelaya’s Liberal Party who was head of Congress until he was picked by a near-unanimous vote to head the country until after a more permanent leader is elected in a November 29 election.
A centrist who mixes social programs with deep conservative beliefs, Micheletti is seen as having a stabilizing influence while in power but could also take a swing to the right and crush opponents.
He was formerly an ally of Zelaya but opposed his shift to the left and increasingly close friendship with Chavez.
“Honduras is more of a democracy today than it was three days ago,” Micheletti told Reuters. “There was no coup here. The country and the majority of its citizens support the democratic succession.”
Zelaya, a former businessman with ranching and logging interests, moved Honduras further left since taking power in 2006, angering the conservative political and business elite.
Last year he announced Honduras was joining the ALBA trade bloc of Chavez-friendly nations.
Chavez, a staunch ally of Cuba, has nationalized many Venezuelan and foreign companies, taken his country into conflict with the United States, threatened to crack down on opposition media and extended his own term in office with a referendum to amend the constitution.
Micheletti told Reuters that if Zelaya had remained in power, Honduras would have ended up following his whims rather than the law.