Honduran ex-President Zelaya leaves Brazilian Embassy, heads to exile 7 months after coup

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Honduran ex-leader Zelaya leaves embassy for exile

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has left his refuge in the Brazilian Embassy and is headed into exile seven months after being ousted in a coup.

Hilda Cruz is an assistant of Zelaya’s wife. She says the ousted leader left for the airport accompanied by President Porfirio Lobo, who was inaugurated hours earlier.

Zelaya is going to the Dominican Republic on Wednesday under a deal signed by Lobo and Dominican President Leonel Fernandez, who also accompanied the 20-car caravan from the embassy.

Zelaya’s departure ends months of turmoil and his thwarted quest to be restored to power after the June 28 coup, which drew international condemnation.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Honduras ended months of political turmoil as it swore in a new president Wednesday, turning the page on a thwarted quest by ousted leader Manuel Zelaya to be restored to power after a coup that drew international condemnation.

President Porfirio Lobo’s first task: personally escort Zelaya from the Brazilian Embassy to the airport, where he’ll fly to exile in the Dominican Republic.

“We have emerged from the worst crisis in the democratic history of Honduras,” said Lobo, 61, after taking the oath of office. “We want national reconciliation to extend to a necessary and indispensable reconciliation with the international community.”

Zelaya, who was ousted in a dispute over changing the Honduran Constitution, said he would leave the Central American country as a private citizen under a deal signed by Lobo and Dominican President Leonel Fernandez.

The left-leaning Zelaya insisted he was still president up until the moment his four-year constitutional term officially ended Wednesday.

Zelaya was leaving with his wife and daughter after four months holed up in the embassy. The couple had their hair done by a stylist, packed five suitcases and planned to take Zelaya’s guitar and Christmas cards from supporters.

It was a quiet end to his tumultuous struggle to return to power after soldiers stormed his residence June 28 and flew him out of the country in his pajamas.

“He’s done. I think at this point, if you are Zelaya, you slink away into the corner and you recoup for a little while,” said Heather Berkman, a Honduras expert with the New York-based Eurasia Group. “But I think in the near term, Zelaya is finished as a politician.”

The country’s institutions moved quickly this week to try to leave the coup behind.

A Supreme Court judge found six generals innocent of abuse of power charges for ordering soldiers to hustle Zelaya out of the country at gunpoint. And Congress voted to approve amnesty for both the military and Zelaya, who had been charged with abuse of power and treason over his defiance of a Supreme Court order to cancel a referendum on changing the constitution.

He remains under investigation for embezzlement in connection with $1.5 million in government funds.

Opponents said Zelaya wanted to hold onto power by lifting a ban on presidential re-election, as his ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez did. Zelaya denies that and says he only wanted to give more voice to Honduras’ many poor and shake up a stagnant political system dominated by a few wealthy families.

Zelaya slipped back into Honduras in September, hiding in the trunk of a car. He turned up at the Brazilian Embassy to the dismay of interim President Roberto Micheletti and the delight of hundreds of supporters who followed the ousted leader into the diplomatic mission and vowed not to leave until he was restored to power.

As U.S.-brokered talks dragged on and ultimately failed to reverse the coup, the supporters slowly went home. Zelaya urged his backers not to show up at the embassy or stage protests Wednesday, saying he wanted to leave quietly.

“It would interfere with the process of my exit and would complicate things for me,” he told Radio Globo from the embassy, where he and his wife have slept on inflatable mattresses.

Zelaya planned to leave behind a plastic chess set someone gave him to help pass time. His family snapped photos to remember their time there.

An aide has said Zelaya would likely take up residence in Mexico, but the deposed leader has given no details about his plans.

Micheletti bet that international pressure for Zelaya’s return would fade after Nov. 29 presidential election, which were scheduled before the coup. It largely worked.

Lobo said the U.S. government has assured him that it would restore millions of dollars in aid and the World Bank has indicated it would consider lifting a block on credit.

Some left-led Latin American countries, including Brazil and Venezuela, insisted that recognizing the election outcome would amount to condoning a coup in a region that has long struggled to install stable democracies.

But El Salvador promised to restore ties and Brazil indicated it might do the same.

“I think the way President Zelaya and those he represents are treated in the future will tell us if we are on a good path or not,” Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorin told the state news agency.

Associated Press writer Juan Carlos LLorca reported in Tegucigalpa, and Alexandra Olson in Mexico City.

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