MOSCOW – Facing criticism for having backed the “wrong” side in the recent coup in Honduras, President Obama Tuesday tried to explain his advocacy on behalf of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
“America supports now the restoration of the democratically-elected President of Honduras, even though he has strongly opposed American policies,” the president told graduate students at the commencement ceremony of Moscow’s New Economic School. “We do so not because we agree with him. We do so because we respect the universal principle that people should choose their own leaders, whether they are leaders we agree with or not. “
The president’s remarks came in the midst of a speech in which discussed “America’s interest in democratic governments that protect the rights of their people” and supported Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s call for judicial reforms in his country.
Zelaya is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, DC, this week, perhaps as soon as today.
Last week, responding to the Honduran military removal of Zelaya as president, President Obama said “it would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections. The region has made enormous progress over the last 20 years in establishing democratic traditions in Central America and Latin America. We don't want to go back to a dark past."
"We are very clear about the fact that President Zelaya is the democratically elected president," President Obama said.
The military removal of Zelaya as president – and the appointment of Roberto Micheletti as interim President by the Honduran legislature – came after Zelaya attempted to rewrite his nation’s constitution to end term limits to continue his rule, despite the fact that term limits in the constitution is one of eight “firm articles” that cannot be changed.
After the Honduran Legislature refused to call a constitutional convention to rewrite the constitution, Zelaya called for a referendum to do so, which the Honduran Supreme Court and Attorney General declared unconstitutional. Zelaya, allied with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez , fired top military commander Romeo Vásquez Velásquez for refusing to carry out the referendum. Every branch of government sided against Zelaya and Congress began discussing impeachment proceedings. Acting on orders from the Honduran Supreme Court, soldiers arrested Zelaya on June 28 and sent him into exile in Costa Rica.
The international community has backed Zelaya, including the Organization of American States, which suspended Honduras’s membership over the weekend. The United Nations General Assembly unanimously condemned the coup and called for Zelaya to be returned to power.
But conservatives have criticized the president and blamed Zelaya for his current lot.
“There is little doubt that Zelaya, in his blatant power grab, has moved Honduras down a dangerous path toward less freedom, less security, and less prosperity,” Rep. Connie Mack, R-Florida, recently said. “The United States and our allies in the region must now stand with the Honduran people to ensure the respect of freedom, the rule of law and democracy.”
Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said that “the Honduran people deserve a government which upholds the constitution and protects their democratic rights. True proponents of democracy and human rights will hold true allegiance to these principles, not to the rulers who undermine them.”
Other conservatives have questioned why President Obama has said he doesn't want to be seen as interfering in Iran's electoral affairs, despite questions about the legitimacy of the recent re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while siding with Zelaya in his stand-off.