WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Honduras was readmitted to the Organization of American states on Wednesday, repairing ties with the hemispheric group two years after President Manuel Zelaya was toppled in a widely condemned coup.
The OAS voted 32 to one to readmit Honduras at a special meeting called to consider the case, with Ecuador the only country to oppose the move.
The Honduran delegation, led by Vice President Maria Guillen, got a standing ovation when they returned to the room after the vote.
Honduras’ army, with backing from the congress and the courts, whisked leftist Zelaya out of the country in his pajamas in June 2009 after he was accused of trying to extend his presidential term limits with a popular referendum.
Governments around the world criticized the predawn coup and the OAS, which groups Latin American democratic countries, Canada and the United States, expelled Honduras with many members cutting off aid to the impoverished nation.
Whether to readmit Honduras to the group, even after it held regularly scheduled elections to vote in a new president, sparked deep divisions in the region.
The United States initially condemned the coup but restored relations with the new government of President Porfirio Lobo.
Two ideological foes, conservative President Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia and Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez, helped pave the way for Honduras’ acceptance back into the OAS.
Human rights groups are worried abuses by security forces during the coup and attacks on journalists were left unpunished and continue under the new government.
Ecuador’s ambassador to the OAS, Maria Isabel Salvador, said her country could not support the readmission because of the ongoing violations.
“Democracy, the rule of law, due process of law, human rights and saying no to impunity — that’s why we cannot agree with the other members of the organization,” she said.
But the United States said the country’s reintegration into the OAS would put Honduras on a firmer footing to combat abuses since the organization helps promote accountability.
“This is an important milestone for Honduras, for this organization and for our hemisphere,” Arturo Valenzuela, a U.S. assistant secretary of state told the meeting.
Zelaya, a colorful character known for his bushy mustache and trademark cowboy hat, returned to cheers from supporters on Saturday after living in exile mostly in the Dominican Republic since the coup.
Zelaya’s return home was a key condition for Honduras’ return to the OAS as well as assurances from the government that his political allies will be allowed to participate in politics.
Additional reporting by Alex Leff in San Jose and Mica Rosenberg in Mexico City; Editing by Cynthia Osterman