Showdown Looms Over Honduran President's Return

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Honduras' interim leader warned that the only way his predecessor will return to office is through a foreign invasion, setting up a dramatic showdown with the ousted president who is preparing to come home accompanied by world leaders.

A defiant Roberto Micheletti said in an interview with The Associated Press late Tuesday that "no one can make me resign," defying the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the Obama administration and other leaders that have condemned the military coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

Micheletti vowed Zelaya would be arrested if he followed through with plans to return to Honduras on Thursday, even though the presidents of Argentina and Ecuador have signed on to accompany him along with the heads of the Organization of American States and the U.N. General Assembly.

Zelaya "has already committed crimes against the constitution and the law," said Micheletti, who belongs to Zelaya's Liberal Party and was named interim leader by Congress following the coup. "He can no longer return to the presidency of the republic unless a president from another Latin American country comes and imposes him using guns."

Soldiers stormed Zelaya's residence and flew him into exile early Sunday, after he insisted on trying to hold a referendum asking Hondurans if they wanted to reform the constitution. The Supreme Court, Congress and the military all deemed his planned ballot illegal.

Zelaya, who is an ally of leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, backed down from the referendum Tuesday, saying at the United Nations that he would no longer push for the constitutional changes he wanted.

One of several clauses that cannot be legally altered in the Honduran constitution limits presidents to a single, 4-year term, and Congress claims Zelaya, whose term ends in January, modified the ballot question at the last minute to help him eventually try to seek re-election. Chavez has used referendums in Venezuela to win the right to run repeatedly.

"I'm not going to hold a constitutional assembly," Zelaya said. "And if I'm offered the chance to stay in power, I won't. I'm going to serve my four years."

The U.N. General Assembly voted by acclamation Tuesday to demand Zelaya's immediate restoration, and the Organization of American States said Wednesday coup leaders have three days to restore Zelaya to power before Honduras risks being suspended from the group.

OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza delivered what he called "an ultimatum" as OAS talks regarding the crisis wound past the eight-hour mark. "We need to show clearly that military coups will not be accepted. We thought we were in an era when military coups were no longer possible in this hemisphere," he said.

Spain's Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday that it is recalling its ambassador from Honduras to protest the coup, saying it is acting as part of international efforts to reinstate Zelaya.

Micheletti vowed not to resign no matter how intense the international pressure became. He insisted Honduras would be ready to defend itself against any invasion by any Latin American country.

He did not name any specific countries, but earlier Tuesday, Chavez said any aggression toward Zelaya from Micheletti's government should prompt a military intervention by the United Nations.

"No one can make me resign if I do not violate the laws of the country," Micheletti said. "If there is any invasion against our country, 7.5 million Hondurans will be ready to defend our territory and our laws and our homeland and our government."

Micheletti said it was too late for Zelaya to avoid arrest.

His foreign minister, Enrique Ortez, threw a wild card onto the table, telling CNN en Espanol that Zelaya had been letting drug traffickers ship U.S.-bound cocaine from Venezuela through Honduras. Ortez said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was aware of Zelaya's ties to organized crime.

DEA spokesman Rusty Payne could neither confirm nor deny a DEA investigation.

The U.S. government stood firmly by Zelaya, however, with State Department spokesman Ian Kelly saying Washington saw no acceptable solution other than Zelaya's return to power. He said the United States was considering cutting off aid to Honduras, which includes $215 million over four years from the U.S.-funded Millennium Challenge Corporation.


Micheletti said he had no contact with any U.S. official since assuming the presidency.

The interim leader, who now occupies the same office in the colonial-style presidential palace that Zelaya did, insisted he was getting on with the business of governing.

He and his newly appointed Cabinet ministers were settling in, even as soldiers wandered the ornate hallways and manned barricades outside to keep Zelaya's supporters away.

Micheletti, who promised he would step down in January and had no plans to ever run for president, said a key goal of his short term in office would be fixing the nation's finances. Zelaya never submitted a budget to Congress last September, raising questions about what he was spending state money on.

Zelaya's popularity has sagged at home in recent years and his fiery brand of populism is similar to the kind that often irks Washington and some in the international community. Still, some of his policies, including raising the minimum wage, have earned him the loyalty of many poor Hondurans, and thousands have rallied to demand his return.

Asked if Zelaya could one day return to power stronger than ever, Micheletti said that "it's not about sympathy, it's not about being a martyr, but simply that we are following the letter of the law which he did not respect."

This program aired on July 1, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.