US mission workers ask Obama to help restore Honduran president

By Ecumenical News International
July 22, 2009

Mission workers from the United Methodist Church, who are serving or have served in Latin America, have called on President Barack Obama "to take whatever diplomatic and economic steps are necessary" to restore deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya - writes Chris Herlinger.

The church workers sent a letter to Obama following Zelaya's 28 June 2009 overthrow in a coup d'état on the day Zelaya planned to hold a referendum asking voters if they would support a later vote to modify the constitution. Opponents of the deposed president said he would use such a vote to do away with term limits, and run again.

In a recent letter to the US president, 36 UMC personnel praised Obama for what they called, "the new and refreshing tone you have brought to relations between the United States government and the countries who share this hemisphere".

They applauded what they described as Obama's decision, "to immediately characterise the overthrow as an illegal coup, as well as your support for the actions of the Organization of American States to condemn the coup and call for the immediate reinstatement of … Zelaya". In their letter to the US leader, the UMC personnel referred to Zelaya as the "legitimate and constitutional president of Honduras".

"The coup d'état … represents a profound challenge to the region's recent progress in electing governments which more adequately represent the interests of those who have too long been relegated to the margins of economic and social progress," the letter said.

The mission workers asked Obama to examine "any involvement of US government-related agencies, including the International Republican Institute, in encouraging or preparing the rupture of the democratic process in Honduras".

The Washington-based IRI says on its web site [that] its mission is to act as a "non-profit, non-partisan organization committed to advancing freedom and democracy worldwide by developing political parties, civic institutions, open elections, good governance and the rule of law". Critics have charged that the IRI, among other activities, supported and trained opposition parties and leaders during a 2004 coup in Haiti. Senator John McCain, Obama's opponent during the 2008 presidential election, chairs the IRI.

"Given the long record of the US government in subverting genuine democracy throughout the region, it is important that your commitment to justice and democracy be reflected by the entire US government," the UMC-related letter said.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is acting as mediator in the Honduran crisis. Leaders of the country's current government, headed by interim President Roberto Micheletti, say Zelaya's ouster was legal because, they claim, he was trying to usurp current Honduran presidential term limits and stay in power.

The United Methodist personnel said, "We do not seek to be apologists for the administration of President Zelaya, nor do we seek to defend his actions leading up to the coup. We understand the diversity of opinion within Honduras about President Zelaya's actions, yet it is clear to us that his overthrow was carried out in violation of Honduran law."

The UMC denomination was formed in 1968 by the union of The Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church. It serves members in more than 70 annual conferences in five jurisdictional sections in the United States and also in conferences in Africa, Europe and the Philippines.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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