Honduras: whither amnesty?
The Chinese news agency Xinhua, citing "local media," reports Jan. 16 that the Honduran congress approved a decree to grant amnesty to de facto president Roberto Micheletti and others involved in last June's military coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya. However, actual local media (Radio Progreso, Jan. 15; El Heraldo, Tegucigalpa, Jan. 12) report that the National Congress voted Jan. 12 to put the issue off until a new congress convenes after president-elect Porfirio Lobo Sosa takes power later this month.
An amnesty bill was introduced by president-elect Lobo earlier this month, and debated before being shelved. Lobo, now a National Party legislator, The head of the National Party bloc in Congress, plugged the bill as part of a national reconciliation process. Rodolfo Irias Navas, defended the bill, stating during the debate, "Amnesty will undoubtedly benefit all... I reject that amnesty is impunity." He asserted that the bill "clearly defines what crimes are covered." These include treason, terrorism, sedition and corruption—presumably covering the military's June 28 arrest and summary deportation of Zelaya. (Honduras News, Jan. 11)
The source of the confusion may be a measure passed Jan. 13 that grants a security detail for life to Micheletti and some 50 other officials of the de facto regime, including Supreme Court president Jorge Rivera, Prosecutor General Luis Rubí, and six members of the armed forces high command. (Tiempo, Tegucigalpa, Jan. 14)
The Honduran Supreme Court agreed Jan. 11 to hear a request by Prosecutor General Rubí to charge the country's top military commanders with abuse of power for sending Zelaya into exile. The prosecutor's case doesn't question Zelaya's ouster itself, only whether the military went too far in summarily deporting him to Costa Rica. The commanders are prohibited from leaving the country while the case is pending. (La Prensa, San Pedro Sula, Jan. 15; AP, Jan. 11)
Critics of the amnesty bill noted that a similar measure introduced in 1987 to cover officers involved in human rights abuses was dropped after a special commission lead by the prosecutor general's office found it to be unconstitutional. (La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa, Dec. 24)
In Costa Rica, OAS secretary-general José Miguel Insulza said an amnesty would be necessary to normalize the situation in Honduras and allow the country's re-integration into the international organization—but emphasized guarantees for the ousted Zelaya to be able to safely leave the Brazilian embassy. The de facto regime has not dropped threats to arrest Zelaya, and he was not covered by the proposed amnesty bill. (EFE, Jan. 15)
A war of words erupted this week between the Honduran de facto leadership and Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias after Arias castigated president-elect Lobo as "weak" for not demanding that Micheletti step down. Micheletti responded that Arias "needs psychological help," while Lobo patronized him as "pobrecito" (poor little thing). (La Prensa, Jan. 16)
Meanwhile in another case decried as an example of the de facto regime's ongoing repression, the National Resistance Front attempted to march in solidarity with Haitian earthquake victims in San Pedro Sula, but were barred by National Police and army troops from entering the city's central square. (Honduras Laboral, Jan. 15)