Manuel Zelaya

Manuel Zelaya
Manuel Zelaya
President of Honduras
In office
27 January 2006 – 28 June 2009
Vice President Elvin Ernesto Santos
Arístides Mejía
Preceded by Ricardo Maduro
Succeeded by Roberto Micheletti (acting)
Personal details
Born 20 September 1952 (1952-09-20) (age 59)
Catacamas, Honduras
Political party Liberal Party
Spouse(s) Xiomara Castro
Alma mater National Autonomous University of Honduras (Incomplete)[1]
Manuel Zelaya was deposed on 28 June 2009 and the National Congress swore in Roberto Micheletti.

José Manuel Zelaya Rosales (born 20 September 1952[2]) is a politician who was President of Honduras from January 27, 2006 until June 28, 2009. The eldest son of a wealthy businessman, he inherited his father's nickname "Mel," and, before entering politics, was involved in his family's logging and timber businesses.

Elected as a conservative, Zelaya shifted to the political left during his presidency, forging an alliance with the ALBA.[3] On 28 June 2009, in the 2009 Honduran constitutional crisis,[4] he was seized by the military and secreted to Costa Rica in the 2009 Honduran coup d'état.[2][5] On 21 September 2009 he returned to Honduras clandestinely and resurfaced in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa.[6] In 2010 he left Honduras for exile in the Dominican Republic, an exile which lasted more than a year.[7]

He is now a deputy of the Central American Parliament representing Honduras.[8]



The surname 'Zelaya' (pronounced 'zelaja' in Latin American Spanish) is a word from the Basque language, meaning 'field.' Zelaya was born the first of four children in Juticalpa, Olancho.[citation needed] Two of his brothers remain alive: one is Carlos Armando and the other is Marco Antonio. Zelaya's mother, Ortensia Rosales de Zelaya, has been described as his best campaigner. His family first lived in Copán, then they moved east to Catacamas, Olancho.

He attended Niño Jesús de Praga y Luis Landa elementary school and the Instituto Salesiano San Miguel. He studied civil engineering in The National University of Honduras (UNAH), but left after four years with 11 courses completed, in order to engage fully in the agri-forestry business sector.[1] He has engaged in various business activities, specifically timber and cattle, which were handed down to him by his late father. He is now a landowner in the department of Olancho. In 1987, Zelaya became manager of the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise (COHEP), as well as the National Association of Wood Processing Enterprises.[9] The COHEP occupies a particularly important role in Honduran politics, as the Constitution delineates that the organization elects 1 of the 7 members of the Nominating Board that proposes members of the Supreme Court of Honduras.[10]

Zelaya's father was given a 20 year prison sentence for his role in the Los Horcones massacre, which took place in the Zelaya family ranch Los Horcones in 1975, but, as a result of an amnesty decree, served less than two.[11][12]

Since January 1976, Zelaya has been married to Xiomara Castro de Zelaya. They have four children: Zoe, Héctor Manuel, Xiomara Hortensia ("La Pichu")[13] and Jose Manuel.

Political career

Zelaya joined the Liberal Party of Honduras (Partido Liberal de Honduras, PLH) in 1970 and became active a decade later. He was a deputy in the National Congress three consecutive times between 1985 and 1998. He held many positions within the PLH and was Minister for Investment in charge of the Honduran Social Investment Fund (FHIS) in a previous PLH government. Under the administration of Zelaya the FHIS lost $40 million dollars, and Zelaya was accused of financial embezzling but escaped being prosecuted.[14]

In the 2005 presidential primaries, his faction was called Movimiento Esperanza Liberal (MEL). He received 52% of the 289,300 Liberal votes, to 17% for Jaime Rosenthal Oliva and 12% for Gabriela Núñez, the candidate of the Nueva Mayoría faction.[15]


Manuel Zelaya in 2007

During Zelaya's time in office Honduras became a member of ALBA, an international cooperation organization based on the idea of social, political, and economic integration between the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Political opponents, particularly business elites, opposed his foreign policy, including his alliance with Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and friendship with Cuba's Raúl Castro.[16]

In spite of a number of economic problems, there were a number of significant achievements under Zelaya's presidency. Under his government, subsidies to small farmers were provided, bank interest rates were reduced,[17] the minimum wage was increased by 80,% school meals were guaranteed for more than 1.6 million children from poor families, domestic employees were integrated into the social security system, free education for all children was introduced, poverty was reduced by almost 10% during two years of government, and direct state help was provided for 200,000 families in extreme poverty, with free electricity supplied to those Hondurans most in need.[18]

Alliance with ALBA

On 22 July 2008, Zelaya sought to incorporate Honduras into ALBA, an international cooperation organization based on the idea of social, political, and economic integration in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Zelaya did not file the country's budget to the Honduran Congress by 15 September 2008, as required by the country's constitution. He said it was impossible to come up with numbers, blaming the world financial crisis.[19] Zelaya was criticised by one of his own ministers. Julio Raudales, Zelaya's former deputy minister, said the budgetary black hole cost the country some $400 million (in external funding).[19]

On 30 September, Zelaya signed two emergency executive decrees, both with the number 46-A-2208, which each authorized transfer of 30 million lempiras of public money for advertising his fourth ballot box plans. The Supreme Audit Court's investigation raised concerns of squandering public funds.[20][21][22]

Conflict with media

Zelaya said that the main media outlets in Honduras, owned by wealthy conservatives, are biased against him and did not provide coverage of what his government was doing: "No one publishes anything about me. . . . what prevails here is censorship of my government by the mass media."[23] Inter Press Service says that the vast majority of radio and TV stations and print publications are owned by just six families.[24]

According to a paper written by Manuel Orozco and Rebecca Rouse for the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in the United States, the Honduran media operate as arms of political parties.[25][dead link] Honduran journalists say that most of the news media there are unabashedly partisan, allied with political parties and local power brokers.[26]

On 24 May 2007, Zelaya ordered ten two-hour cadenas (mandatory government broadcasts) on all television and radio stations, "to counteract the misinformation of the news media."[27] The move, while legal, was fiercely criticized by the country's main journalists' union, and Zelaya was dubbed "authoritarian" by his opposition.[28] Ultimately, the broadcasts were scaled back to a one-hour program on the government's plans to expand telephone service, a half hour on new electrical power plants and a half-hour about government revenues. According to the University of New Mexico's electronic bulletin NotiCen, "Zelaya's contention that the media distort his efforts is not without merit", citing reports which gave the public the impression that murder rates were rising, when they actually fell by 3% in 2006.[27]

A journalist who often criticized Zelaya was murdered by unknown gunmen in 2007.[29] Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) and the United Nations criticized the threat to journalists in Honduras.[30] Other critical journalists, such as Dagoberto Rodriguez and Hector Geovanny Garcia, fled into exile because of constant murder threats.[31]

Corruption investigations of Hondutel

Manuel Zelaya appointed his nephew Marcelo Chimirri as General Manager of the state-owned telecom Hondutel.

According to the Mexican newspaper El Universal, relying on information supplied by the Arcadia Foundation, Hondutel's income decreased 47% between 2005 and 2006, the first year of President Manuel Zelaya's administration, despite Hondutel's monopoly on international calls[32] In April 2009, Latin Node Inc., an American company, pleaded guilty to making improper payments to Hondutel, "knowing that some, or all of those funds, would be passed on as bribes to officials of Hondutel".[33][34] Chimirri who resigned in 2007, was arrested following the coup, and remains in prison on charges of abuse of authority and embezzlement, charges which he denies. Apart from Chimirri, Oscar Danilo Santos (the former manager of Hondutel), Jorge Rosa, and James Lagos are all charged in connection with allegedly committing crimes of abuse of authority, fraud and bribery having received bribes of $1.09 million U.S. from an international carrier in exchange for Hondutel providing that carrier lower rates than other firms. Auditor Julio Daniel Flores was charged for the lesser crime of violation of duties of officers.[35]

Attempts to modify the constitution

President Zelaya came to international attention in June 2009 when he was overthrown in a military coup and forced into exile. The crisis that led to his removal from office centered around the question of whether changes would be made to the 1982 Honduran Constitution. Zelaya proposed a national poll to gauge interest in constitutional change, which provoked a fierce reaction from opposition parties. Those responsible for the coup justified their actions on the grounds that Zelaya's interest in potentially convening a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution was illegal, and alleged that his real motive was to increase his time in office. Zelaya denied that his motive was to stay in office, stating that he intended to step down in January 2010 as scheduled, noting that his successor would be elected at the same time the vote on whether to convene a constituent assembly would occur.[36]

Under constitutional law, the President of Honduras can amend the constitution without any referendum given that a congressional majority exists. However, eight articles cannot be amended, including those related to term limits, the permitted system of government, and the process of presidential succession.[37]

Because the president can amend 368 of 375 articles without any constituent assembly, some suspected that Zelaya's true intention was to extend his rule.[37] One-time Christian Democrat presidential candidate Juan Ramon Martinez argued that Zelaya was attempting to discredit parliamentary democracy, saying, "There appears to be a set of tactics aimed at discrediting institutions... he has repeated on several occasions that democratic institutions are worthless and that democracy has not helped at all".[37]


On 11 November 2008, following requests from many Honduran groups for the convening of a constituent assembly,[38] Zelaya issued a decree organizing a poll to decide whether the electorate wanted a fourth ballot box installed at polling places for the upcoming 29 November 2009 General Election – an addition to the usual three for Presidential, Congressional, and municipal candidates. The fourth ballot would be to ask voters whether they would consider convening a National Constituent Assembly for the purpose of writing a new constitution. Later, in March 2009, Zelaya announced that first he wanted to have a preliminary poll – he suggested 28 June 2009 as a date – to ask voters whether they wanted the fourth ballot to be included in the November 2009 election.

There has been considerable debate as to whether Zelaya's call for a poll about whether to organize a constituent assembly was legally valid according to the 1982 Constitution. Article 373 of the Constitution states that the Constitution can be amended by a two-thirds majority of the normal National Congress. Only eight articles cannot be amended in this fashion; they are specified in Article 374 of the Constitution and include term limits, system of government that is permitted, and process of presidential succession.[39] Because the congress can amend 368 of 375 articles without any constituent assembly, some observers charged that Zelaya's true intention of holding a referendum on convening a constitutional convention on the same date as his successor's election was to extend his term of rule.[40] In a newspaper interview shortly before his removal from office, Zelaya stated that he had every intention of stepping down when his term ends in January 2010.[36]

The Associated Press, citing Manuel Orozco of the Inter American Dialogue, said that "His [Zelaya's] campaign for changing the constitution has energized his support base of labour groups, farmers and civil organisations who have long felt marginalized in a country where a wealthy elite controls the media and much of politics."[41][dead link]

Violation of Supreme Court rulings

The Supreme Court, without deciding on the constitutionality of the poll, ruled that a lower court ruling blocking the referendum was lawful[42][dead link]

The Supreme Court's ruling was supported by Congress, the country's attorney general, top electoral body, and the country's human rights ombudsman, who all said that Zelaya violated the law.[43] Despite the opposition of the other branches of the government, Zelaya moved forward with his plan to hold a consultative poll on 28 June 2009. In Honduras it is a function of the military to assist with election logistics; accordingly, in late May 2009, Zelaya issued a request to the military to distribute ballot boxes and other materials for the poll. The chief of the military, General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, refused to carry this out. In response, Zelaya dismissed Vásquez on 24 May. Subsequently, defense minister Edmundo Orellana and several other military commanders resigned in support of Vásquez. Both the Honduran Supreme Court and the Honduran Congress deemed the dismissal of Velásquez to be unlawful.[42][dead link][44]

By 25 June, the newspaper La Tribuna reported that the military had deployed hundreds of troops around Tegucigalpa, to prevent possible disturbances by organisations that support Zelaya and with the exception of leftist organizations, "all sectors are publicly opposed to the consultation, which has been declared illegal by the Prosecutor and the Supreme Court". The troops were deployed from the First Infantry Battalion, located 5 km East of the city, to the vicinity of the presidential residence in the West, and the airport, in the South.[45]

There is some doubt, however, that Zelaya ever actually fired Vásquez. CNN news on 27 June reported that Zelaya on 24 June had said that he would fire Vásquez; but that on 26 June Zelaya said that he had never carried out his threat and the general had not been fired. "I didn't do it", CNN quoted him as saying.[46]

The Congress, the attorney general, and the top electoral tribunal declared Zelaya's proposed referendum to be illegal.[47][dead link][43][48] Congress began to discuss means to impeach Zelaya.[49] On 27 June and again on 30 June 2009, thousands of protesters opposed to Zelaya's rule marched through the capital city.[49]


Constitutional crisis

On 28 June 2009, the country's Supreme Court issued an order to detain President Zelaya, who was subsequently seized by the military.[50] He was then brought to the air force base Hernan Acosta Mejia,[51][52][53][dead link] and taken into exile in Costa Rica.[54]

The reason given for the arrest order were charges brought by the Attorney General, and the order was to enable a statement to be made to the Supreme Court. The decision to expatriate him was, however, taken by the military themselves, knowing full well that it violated the constitution, 'to avoid mob violence.'[55][56]

Zelaya's stetson hat and mustaches were easily recognizable in Anti-Zelaya demonstrators' signs.

Following the coup, Zelaya spoke to the media from his forced exile in San Jose, and identified the events as a coup and a kidnapping. He stated that soldiers pulled him from his bed and assaulted his guards. Zelaya stated that he would not recognize anyone named as his successor, and that he wanted to finish his term in office.[57] He also stated that he would begin to meet with diplomats,[58] and attended the Summit of Central American Presidents held in Managua, Nicaragua, two days later (30 June 2009).

The National Congress voted unanimously to accept what they said was Zelaya's letter of resignation, but Zelaya said he did not write the letter.[59][dead link]

National Congress President Roberto Micheletti, the next person in the presidential line of succession, assumed the presidency following Zelaya's removal from office.[60] The event was greeted with applause in Congress, which had denounced Zelaya's repeated violations of the constitution and the law and disregard of orders and judgments of the institutions.[61]

The world — including international bodies like the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the European Union - publicly condemned the events. U.S. President Barack Obama said, "We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the President of Honduras."[62][63] Hugo Chávez threatened to invade Honduras if the Venezuelan embassy or ambassador were attacked.[64] Venezuela has said it would suspend oil shipments, and Honduras's neighbors—El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua—suspended overland trade for two days.[65] A one-page United Nations resolution, passed by acclamation in the then 192-member body, condemned the events and demanded Zelaya's "immediate and unconditional restoration" as president.[66] The resolution calls "firmly and categorically on all states to recognise no government other than that" of Mr. Zelaya.[67]

During the first five days out of country, Zelaya spent 80,000 dollars of Honduran public money on goods including hotels, food and clothing.[68][69][70]

Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, charged that the exiling of her husband was a violation of the Honduran Constitution.[71] Article 102 of the Honduran Constitution forbids expatriating or handing over of Hondurans to foreign countries.[72][73][74]

According to Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll, on October 9–13, Hondurans opposed the coup 60% to 38%, but were evenly divided on restoration of Zelaya's presidency 49% to 50% (with limited powers), or 26% to 51% (with full powers). The approval rating of Micheletti's interim presidency was 47% while Zelaya's presidency had an approval rating of 67%.[75]

Return to Honduras

On 21 September 2009, Zelaya and his wife arrived at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. Zelaya stated that to reach the embassy he travelled through mountains for fifteen hours, and took back roads to avoid checkpoints. Zelaya did not state from which country he entered Honduras. Hundreds of Zelaya's supporters surrounded the Brazilian embassy. Zelaya chanted "Restitution, Fatherland or Death!" to his supporters, raising fears[who?] that Zelaya was attempting a violent confrontation.[76][77][78][79]

Michelletti initially denied Zelaya had returned, but later admitted he had done so, stating that it "changes nothing of our reality". Michelletti later issued a curfew and asked the Brazilian government to place Zelaya in Honduran custody to be put on trial. Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim stated that Brazil did not aid Zelaya's return. Security Vice Minister Mario Perdomo ordered checkpoints to be placed on highways leading to Tegucigalpa, to "stop those people coming to start trouble".[80] Defense Minister Lionel Sevilla suspended all air flights to Tegucigalpa.[76][77][78]

Costa Rican President Óscar Arias and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged both sides to begin a dialogue toward a peaceful solution[76] and Eulogio Chavez, leader of a 60,000-member teachers union, announced that his organization would go on strike to back Zelaya.[76] Shortly thereafter, Zelaya said that "Israeli mercenaries" were torturing him with high-frequency radiation and mind-altering gas[81] and that Israeli mercenaries had installed a mobile phone jammer.[82][83]

On 27 September 2009 Honduras gave Brazil a ten-day deadline. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said that he would ignore the deadline, stating that "Brazil will not comply with an ultimatum from a government of coup-mongers".[84] Honduran interim president Roberto Micheletti warned that his government would take action if Brazil did not determine Zelaya's status soon. President Lula requested an apology.[84]

Hundreds of Honduran soldiers and Police Officers surrounded the Brazilian embassy, where protests against the coup continued.

On 29 October 2009, the government of "de facto" president Roberto Micheletti signed what United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called a "historic agreement" to let Manuel Zelaya serve the remaining three months of his term. "If Congress agrees", according to Elisabeth Malkin reporting for The New York Times, "control of the army would shift to the electoral court, and the presidential election set for 29 Nov. would be recognized by both sides. Neither Mr. Zelaya nor Mr. Micheletti will be candidates".[85]

When Micheletti announced he had, unilaterally, formed the unity government without input from Zelaya, Zelaya declared the agreement "dead" early on 6 November.[86] The United States sent diplomats to help to resurrect the pact,[87] but Zelaya insisted that he would not accept any deal to restore him to office if it meant he must recognize the elections of 29 November.[88]

Presidential Election of 29 November 2009

On 29 November 2009, a presidential election was held under a state of emergency declared in Decree PCM-M-030-2009.[89][90][91] According to the decree, the Secretary of State of the 'de facto' government was expected to participate in the military command for this state of emergency.[89] Five of the six presidential candidates retained their candidacies, while Carlos H. Reyes had withdrawn his candidacy on 9 November in protest at what he perceived as illegitimacy of the election.[92][93][94] Zelaya called for a boycott of the poll. Some Hondurans interviewed by Associated Press said that they "sought to move past the crisis with the elections", which had been scheduled previous to Zelaya's removal.[95] Early returns indicated that conservative Porfirio Lobo was elected with around 55% of the votes.[96] Official numbers for the turnout of the election falsely placed it at around 60%,[97][98] but subsequently revised the numbers to 49% turnout.[99]

Organisations and individuals in Honduras, including the National Resistance Front against the coup d'état in Honduras,[100] Marvin Ponce of the Democratic Unification Party,[100] and Bertha Oliva of COFADEH,[101] and internationally, including Mercosur,[102] President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina[102] and the Union of South American Nations,[103] said that elections held on 29 November under Micheletti would not be legitimate.

On 2 December, the National Congress began debate regarding the possible reinstatement of Zelaya to the presidency.[104]

On 4 December, Juan Barahona-led activists ended five months of daily protests demanding the reinstatement of Zelaya, saying they're moving on now that Congress has voted to keep Manuel Zelaya out of office. Juan Barahona, who had been leading protests since late June when Zelaya was forced out of the country, said that his supporters are "closing that chapter" of their struggle. Barahona said it's time for Hondurans who support policies in favor of the poor and other themes that Zelaya espoused to shift their focus to the 2014 elections.[105]


On 20 January 2010, the Dominican Republic and Honduran President-elect Lobo agreed to a deal that would allow Zelaya to be transported safely from the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa where he had been, to the Dominican Republic upon Lobo taking office on 27 January. Lobo stated that he would ensure Zelaya would leave safely and "with dignity."[106][107][108] Lobo negotiated with Dominican President Leonel Fernández. Lobo also discussed the situation with former presidential candidates who signed a statement on the agreement, as well as requesting that sanctions placed against Honduras as a result of the incident be lifted.[109] The next day, Zelaya agreed to the deal, while a close advisor said he would remain politically active and hope to later return to political activity.[110][111]

Zelaya, along with his wife, two children, and President Fernández of the Dominican Republic, left Honduras on 27 January 2010, for the Dominican Republic.[7] They continue to live in the Dominican Republic.[112] Zelaya continues to be seen as the legitimate head of state of Honduras by several countries in the region.[113]


Honduran President Porforio Lobo met with Zelaya in Cartagena, Colombia on May 22, 2011. They both signed an agreement that allowed Zelaya to return to Honduras from exile.[114] Six days later, on May 28, Zelaya flew back to Honduras aboard a Conviasa jet and was greeted by thousands of his supporters at the airport.[115][116] He gave a conciliatory speech that called for political reconciliation and increased democracy in the country.[115]


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External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Ricardo Maduro
President of Honduras
Succeeded by
Roberto Micheletti

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