Honduras agreement signed as churches speak out on abuses

By staff writers
October 30, 2009

Reports are emerging of a possible settlement that will allow President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras to resume his elected position, following a coup earlier in the year and intense efforts by the international community to restore him.

The BBC reports that an agreement to end the political crisis in Honduras, which apparently allows the ousted President to return to power, has been signed. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has said the deal is an "historic agreement". However, it still requires the approval of the country's supreme court, which earlier backed the coup.

On 28 June 2009 a coup d’état, by military and civilian agents, sent President Zelaya into exile. Roberto Micheletti, the speaker of Congress and second in line to the presidency, was sworn in as interim leader.

The coup took place in the context of a power struggle over President Zelaya's plans for constitutional change which had been rejected by the Supreme Court and the Congress and had raised concerns about democratic rule across Latin America.

In September, President Zelaya re-entered the country and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy in the capital Tegucigalpa. But the coup leaders continued to threaten to arrest him.

Meanwhile, an international ecumenical delegation urged stronger action against human rights abuses in Honduras at a meeting with the General Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS) and representatives of the US. State Department in Washington DC from 22-23 October 2009.

"The churches' concern is to overcome social polarization and violence in order to achieve reconciliation", said Noemi Madrid de Espinoza, president of the Theological Community of Honduras and a member of the delegation. "For that to happen, a just political solution based on the respect for human rights is needed", added Espinoza, who is vice-moderator of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches.

Reports from Pax Christi International and an OAS delegation which visited Honduras this month, reveal wide-spread abuses including intimidation, beatings and rape by government security forces since the June 28 coup which overthrew President Manuel Zelaya.

"My concern is that the US churches have not paid enough attention to the situation in Honduras, when, in fact, the coup against a democratically elected government is a threat to the stability of Latin America as a whole," said the Rev Dr Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA and a member of the delegation.

Kinnamon praised the Obama administration for suspending military and most economic aid to Honduras, "but more attention to the situation is warranted."

Bishop (emeritus) Aldo Etchegoyen, from the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina and a member of the delegation, emphasised that: "This is the time for President Barack Obama to continue showing the necessary leadership for the restoration of democracy in Honduras."

Now it appears that this pressure is paying off.

Other members of the delegation included the Rev. Dr Bernice Powell Jackson, WCC president from North America; the Rev Christopher Ferguson, WCC representative to the United Nations and Michael Neuroth, policy advocate on International Issues, Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ.

The delegation's 22-23 October high-level meetings in Washington follow two delegations to Honduras this summer: a WCC "Living Letters" team that met with church and civil society groups in early August, and a pastoral visit led by the Latin American Council of Churches in late September. Both delegations strongly urged the return of President Manuel Zelaya in order to hold free and legal elections within the country's constitutional framework.

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