Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

CENTRAL AMERICA: Ousted President or Coup Leader to Regional Parliament?

Danilo Valladares

GUATEMALA CITY, Mar 26 2010 (IPS) - The Central American Parliament (Parlacen) has been caught up in the political confrontation in Honduras between Manuel Zelaya, the president who was ousted on Jun. 28, and the leader of the coup government, Roberto Micheletti, because the regional body is having a hard time deciding which of the two it should accept as a member.

Under the treaty that created Parlacen, all outgoing former presidents and vice presidents of the member countries – El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic – automatically become regional legislators.

But the toppling of Zelaya – who was removed from his house at gunpoint and put on a plane out of the country in his pajamas – and his replacement by Micheletti – who served out the rest of Zelaya’s term, until January – has led to a quandary: which of them should join Parlacen?

“Our founding treaty is very clear as to who forms part of Parlacen,” said Honduran lawmaker Hena Ligia Madrid of the centre-right Liberal Party – to which both Zelaya and Micheletti belong. “It stipulates that outgoing presidents of member states are immediately admitted,” she told IPS.

“In the case of Honduras, it is obvious to me, as a politician and Parlacen legislator, that the man who should come is President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, because he was elected in free elections and was sworn in as constitutional president of the republic,” she stated.

With respect to Micheletti, she said he was in the post “as the result of a military coup, and our founding charter does not say that a de facto president can become a member of this parliament when leaving that post, when it was gained in an irregular, illegal and unconstitutional manner.”

Guatemalan lawmaker Rodolfo Dougherty of the right-wing Partido de Avanzada Nacional, who is deputy chair of Parlacen’s political commission, preferred to stay out of the dispute, but told IPS that it is solely up to Honduras to resolve the issue.

“These decisions are up to the states,” and more specifically, to the election authorities, the parliamentarian said.

Besides former presidents and vice presidents, Parlacen, created in 1991 and based in Guatemala, is made up of 20 legislators from each of the six member states.

However, in December, Panama passed a law to withdraw from the regional legislature as of Nov. 24 – one of the campaign pledges of right-wing President Ricardo Martinelli, who after taking office on Jul. 1 described Parlacen as a costly, ineffective “den of immunity.”

He was referring to ex-presidents taking refuge in the parliamentary immunity from prosecution conferred by Parlacen, when they are accused of corruption.

Costa Rica has refused to join Parlacen, on the grounds that it entails a great deal of money spent for little or no return.

Representatives of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Taiwan and Venezuela participate as observers.

The dilemma with respect to which former Honduran leader has the right to a seat in the regional parliament will end up in the courts, said Parlacen legislator Víctor Manuel Galdámez of Honduras’s governing right-wing National Party.

“In the case of Honduras doubts have arisen, and when such doubts are legal in nature, the appropriate authorities will have the last word,” Galdámez told IPS, referring to the Central American Court of Justice.

Galdámez, who is arranging a consultation with the regional court, which forms part of the Central American Integration System (SICA), said the question should be resolved in one or two weeks.

The Honduran lawmaker pointed out that former Guatemalan president Ramiro de León Carpio, appointed president by Congress for the 1993-1996 period after then president Jorge Serrano (1991-1993) led a self-coup and later resigned, took a seat in Parlacen.

Despite that precedent, in his opinion, neither Zelaya nor Micheletti should be allowed to take a seat in Parlacen because both committed mistakes when they led the country. “Micheletti took power unconstitutionally…and Mel (Manuel Zelaya) committed many illegalities,” such as trying to rewrite the constitution, he said.

The coup was ultimately triggered by Zelaya’s attempt to organise a non-binding referendum on Jun. 28 on electing a constituent assembly to reform the constitution, which was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court and Congress.

Above and beyond the question of who should represent Honduras as a former president in the regional legislature, neither of the two has begun to take steps to join it.

On the contrary, Micheletti said earlier this month that “Parlacen leaves much to be desired. It has not had any real benefits for any country in Central America, only for a group of citizens who earn quite good salaries and are not even directly elected.”

Zelaya, meanwhile, has not openly expressed an intention of taking a seat in Parlacen. “He hasn’t said anything about it,” the president of Parlacen, Jacinto Suárez of Nicaragua’s ruling left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), said this month.

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