White House backing of Zelaya starts to draw criticism

The U.S. co-sponsored a successful U.N. resolution supporting Honduras's ousted leader Tuesday as Republicans began to speak out against the Obama administration's condemnation of the overthrow.

Manuel Zelaya, who was arrested and forced into exile Sunday, addressed the U.N. General Assembly after the unanimous vote on the resolution sponsored in part by Bolivia, Mexico, Venezuela and the United States.

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"The resolution that the United Nations has just adopted unanimously ... expresses the indignation of the people of Honduras and the people worldwide," said Zelaya, who began his speech by thanking Venezuela and Ecuador.

President Obama, meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Monday, said the U.S. would "stand with democracy" in the face of the overthrow.

"We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there," Obama said. "It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backward into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday that the ouster "should be condemned by all."

When contacted for comment by The Hill on Tuesday, the office of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said the senator was reserving comment until the situation in Honduras becomes clearer.

Zelaya planned to return to Honduras on Thursday accompanied by the head of the Organization of the American States, which was to meet in Washington after the U.N. session to formulate a response.

"I believe, if he — if he does come either today or tomorrow, that he will likely meet with officials from the State Department, some of whom, as I said, have been in contact," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in Tuesday's briefing, repeating this when pressed by a reporter about whether Zelaya would meet with Obama.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has urged Zelaya to try to speak with Obama while in D.C., saying the American president's support would "deliver a major blow" to Honduras's interim government.

But that support for Zelaya, who was arrested and forced into exile on Sunday after pressing ahead with a constitutional referendum that would have allowed for his reelection, is gradually drawing more criticism of the White House.

"Manuel Zelaya trampled the Honduran Constitution by pushing for his illegal referendum to allow him to rule indefinitely, and by firing the top military official, General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, when he refused to comply with Zelaya's unconstitutional orders," Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) said in a statement to The Hill on Tuesday.

"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. He consistently ignored the checks and balances which are essential to a democratic government."

The referendum had been judged illegal by Honduras's highest court and was opposed widely through political and military circles, including within Zelaya's own party.

Soldiers took away Zelaya, still in his pajamas, from the presidential palace Sunday morning and put him on a plane to San Jose, Costa Rica. An interim president, Roberto Micheletti, was selected by the country's Congress on Sunday. Micheletti says that no coup occurred and Zelaya was legally removed by the courts and Congress for violating Honduras's constitution.

"Zelaya has used the Chavez playbook to turn Honduras into a satellite nation for the spread of Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution, joining the likes of Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and others," Mack said. "It's not surprising that Zelaya decided to head to Nicaragua after his ouster and is being flown by a Venezuelan chartered jet."

By Monday, Zelaya was in Managua for the meeting of the leftist Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), whose member states are Honduras, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

And in his regular "Reflections of Fidel" column Monday, Cuba's Fidel Castro said "what is happening [in Honduras] will be a test for the OAS and for the current United States administration."

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"Even Mrs. Clinton had declared that Zelaya is the only president of Honduras, and the Honduran coup leaders can’t even breathe without the support of the United States," Castro wrote.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich accused Obama of siding with Castro and Chavez on his Twitter feed Tuesday.

"Sadly the obama administration has joined castro and chavez attacking honduran supreme court and congress for defending their constitution," Gingrich tweeted. "Having castro call for defending democracy should convince any reasonable person that honduras was on the edge of a leftist dictatorship."

Chavez has threatened to "take actions" for Zelaya if needed and put the Venezuelan military on alert Sunday, while Micheletti vowed to "go to war" if "this gentleman" interfered.

"We should not worry about the threats posed by Hugo Chavez, we should no longer worry about the threats posed by Rafael Correa, we should no longer worry about the threats by Daniel Ortega," said Micheletti, a former speaker of the nation's Congress.

Honduras' attorney general said later Tuesday that Zelaya will be arrested "as soon as he puts a foot on Honduran soil" to face charges that could carry up to 20 years in prison, a move guaranteed to escalate tension in Latin America -- and in Washington, as well.

"The Honduran Supreme Court, attorney general, and the Congress were right to confront Zelaya as he ignored the law and gutted the Honduran Constitution," Mack 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."

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