(IPS) Porfirio Lobo, who was sworn in Wednesday as president of Honduras, urged the people of his country and the international community to “forget the past” and move ahead towards reconciliation.
Shortly after Lobo’s inauguration, Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted as president in a Jun. 28 coup, boarded a plane to the Dominican Republic, where he will stay briefly before settling in Mexico with his family.
In a short message, he promised to return to Honduras and expressed his confidence that the new administration would be able to bring about reconciliation.
Many Hondurans hope Zelaya’s departure into exile and Lobo’s swearing-in will mark an end to seven months of turmoil triggered when “Mel” – as the deposed leader is known – was pulled out of his house by the military at gunpoint and put on a plane to Costa Rica.
Zelaya, who was granted safe-conduct by Lobo and was personally escorted from the Brazilian Embassy – where he has been holed up since sneaking back into the country in late September – by the new president and Dominican President Leonel Fernández, was cheered at the airport by thousands of supporters. Many of them cried, and some even brought him letters and traditional Honduran dishes.
Even army chief General Romeo Vásquez personally showed up to say good-bye, telling the press that “I came to say farewell because he’s an ex-president and a dear friend; it’s a pity that we were the ones that had to carry out an order because he was trying to do something illegal” – an allusion to Zelaya’s attempt to organise a non-binding referendum on Jun. 28 on the election of a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, which was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court and Congress.
In his inaugural address, meanwhile, Lobo stressed unity, forgiveness and reconciliation, in a country that remains highly polarised between those who backed Zelaya and his attempts to usher in timid social and economic reforms and the wealthy elites – a sector he formed part of but which he alienated with his shift to the left.
International isolation continues
The only presidents at Lobo’s inaugural ceremony were the Dominican Republic’s Fernández, Ma Ying-jeou from Taiwan and Ricardo Martinelli of Panama. Also present was Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos.
In a reflection of the international isolation that Honduras continues to face, delegations were sent by only around 30 countries.
The delegations were headed by foreign ministers, ambassadors and business attachés, with the exception of the United States, which sent a high-profile delegation led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelly.
De facto President Roberto Micheletti did not attend the ceremony, in a concession to international pressure.
Lobo called on the international community to follow a path of “dialogue and reconciliation with Honduras, because dialogue is the most powerful tool for overcoming differences and building peace.”
Very few nations have formally recognised the results of the November elections that brought Lobo to power. However, Guatemala and El Salvador announced that they would do so as soon as the new president was sworn in.
In his speech, Lobo said the world “should understand that making it to this day has not been easy; we are emerging from the worst political crisis in the democratic history of Honduras, but we have proven that we are a peace- and freedom-loving nation.”
He also said November’s vote was “the freest and most transparent election, with the highest turnout, in our history.
“I want to thank the delegations accompanying us, Costa Rican President Óscar Arias for his efforts to reach a solution to the crisis, as well as (U.S.) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Organisation of American States for their efforts on behalf of democracy in Honduras,” he added.
“I hope we will soon be back in the bosom of the international community, because this crisis has deprived us of two billion dollars in aid, which in the long run affects the poor.”
But the crowd in the national stadium where the inaugural ceremony was held booed when Lobo expressed his gratitude to Arias. There were also boos and catcalls for Fernández, OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza and U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens – a sign that achieving the reconciliation called for by Lobo will not be an easy task.
The loudest cheers, by contrast, were for Secretary of State Clinton, Panamanian President Martinelli and Colombian Vice President Santos, along with the Honduran military.
In what was interpreted as a sign of reconciliation, he signed into law an amnesty passed Tuesday night by the governing National Party legislators, who hold 71 of a total of 128 seats in Congress.
The amnesty was opposed by the leftwing Democratic Unification party, while the Liberal Party (to which both Zelaya and Micheletti belonged) and the Social Democratic Innovation and Unity Party (PINU) abstained.
Critics of the amnesty said it should not be approved until a truth commission is set up to investigate the developments leading up to and following the coup. Lobo announced that such a commission would be established in the near future.
But the National Party lawmakers argued that the amnesty was a promise made by Lobo to show the international community that Honduras is on the route to reconciliation and forgiveness – a position that was echoed by the new president himself when he signed it into law.
In an attempt to overcome the polarisation, Lobo tried to include representatives of all five of Honduras’ political parties in his cabinet, but only four accepted, including the leftist Democratic Unification party. PINU declined the offer.