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José Manuel Zelaya Rosales (born September 20, 1952) is a Honduranmarker politician. He was President of Honduras between January 27, 2006 and June 28, 2009. A son of wealthy businessman, he inherited his father's nickname "Mel". Zelaya dropped out of college and was involved in his ranch, logging and timber trade businesses. During his presidency, Zelaya was perceived as moving sharply to the political left, forging an alliance with the Hugo Chávez linked ALBA. On June 28, 2009, in the 2009 Honduran constitutional crisis, he was detained by the military—acting on orders of the Honduran Supreme Court—but then the military exiled him in an event that has been condemned internationally as a coup d'état. On September 21, 2009 he returned to Honduras surreptitiously and resurfaced in the Brazilianmarker embassy in Tegucigalpamarker.


Zelaya was born to Manuel Zelaya Ordoñez and Hortensia Rosales Sarmiento.Zelaya was born the oldest of four children in Juticalpamarker, Olanchomarker. 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 Copánmarker, 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. 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 Olanchomarker. In 1987, Zelaya became manager of the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise (COHEP), as well as the National Association of Wood Processing Enterprises. 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.

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

Political career

He 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 Congressmarker 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.

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.

Political crisis

Zelaya's order to hold a "poll" of public opinion led to a political crisis and a Supreme Court order for his detention executed by the military, who then expatriated him.

The poll, generally referred to as a referendum by international media, intended to assess the population's desire for a National Constituent Assembly. The Supreme Court of Honduras, Congress, the country's attorney general, and the supreme electoral tribunal opposed the poll. Congress, including Zelaya's own party, discussed whether to impeach Zelaya.

A first instance court in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpamarker deemed the poll unconstitutional, despite Zelaya's claims that it was a non-binding opinion poll, and not, as his opponents claimed, a binding referendum about forms of government, presidential periods, re-election, or Honduran territory. The Honduran Constitution forbids reforms to the articles in the Constitution that refer to these aspects, but it says nothing about the formation of a National Constituent Assembly, with a mandate to write a completely new constitution. Zelaya's opinion poll intended to ask Hondurans what they felt about including a fourth ballot box in the November 2009 elections, this ballot box asking Hondurans if they wanted to form such a National Constituent Assembly. The November referendum would have required a 2/3 majority vote in Congress in order to take place. This was the case Zelaya presented to the court, but his participation in the process was denied.

The president was removed by the Army on June 28, 2009 and expatriated to Costa Ricamarker. Congress named its President, Roberto Micheletti, as President to replace Zelaya, but no country has recognized the change in office.


Manuel Zelaya in 2007.

Opinions polls consistently showed that Zelaya was one of the most disliked political leaders in Latin America. In April 2009, only one in four Hondurans approved Zelaya, the lowest approval rating of 18 regional leaders. CID-Gallup surveys in February, June and October, 2008 showed his approval rating dropping from 38% to 25% and his disapproval rating rising from 31% to 36%.

Political opponents have expressed their opposition to both his foreign policy, particularly his alliance with Hugo Chávez in Venezuelamarker, friendship with Cubamarker's Raúl Castro. In his opaque dealings, Zelaya made Honduras a member of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas.

In 2008, Zelaya's popular approval dropped amid the 2007–2008 world food price crisis and worsening drug-related violence that gave Honduras one of the highest homicide rates in Latin America. Zelaya attempted to blame the United States by calling on the United States to legalize drugs.

On July 22, 2008, Zelaya revealed that he was seeking to incorporate the country into the ALBA. In fact, he said that the country had been "observer member" "four or more months".

The Economist gave Zelaya mixed reviews for his first year in office, saying that "Despite success in fulfilling some of his campaign promises [...] Zelaya’s lack of a coherent programme has limited the government’s ability to address Honduras’s long-standing problems," and that "introducing far-reaching reforms will be difficult" in the face of vigorous opposition and "simmering social tensions." At the time of his ouster, the newsmagazine said "Mr Zelaya's presidency has been marked by a rise in crime, corruption scandals and economic populism".

Under Zelaya, government deficit increased to massive 5% of the GDP. Hundreds of thousands Hondurans lost their jobs. The purchasing power of Hondurans fell by 30% during the final year of Zelaya's government.

In 2008 he refused file the budget to Congress by September 15, as required by the constitution. He claimed it was impossible to come up with numbers. Zelaya's behavior received criticism even from his own ministers. Julio Raudales, Zelaya’s former deputy minister, said the budgetary black hole costthe country some $400 million (in external funding).

Zelaya increased military spending.

Conflict with media

Many organizations, including the Organization of American States (OAS), accused Zelaya of continuing a form of censorship system in Honduras. The United Nations and the Inter-American Press Association condemned the murders of journalists.

Zelaya complained that the main media outlets in Honduras are biased against him and do not provide coverage of what his government is doing: "No one publishes anything about me. . . . what prevails here is censorship of my government by the big media." Inter Press Service says that the vast majority of radio and TV stations and print publications are owned by just six families.

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. Honduran journalists say that most of the news media there are unabashedly partisan, allied with political parties and local power brokers.

On May 24, 2007, Zelaya ordered ten two-hour cadenas (mandatory government broadcasts) on all television and radio stations, "to counteract the misinformation of the news media." The move, while legal, was fiercely criticized by the country's main journalists' union, and Zelaya was dubbed "authoritarian" by his opposition. 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 Mexicomarker'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.

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

In 2008, The Organization of American Statesmarker (OAS) accused Zelaya of imposing "subtle censorship" in Honduras. A study, "Censura sutil en Honduras: abuso de publicidad oficial y otras formas de censura indirecta", (Subtle Censorship in Honduras: Officially Public Abuse & Other Forms of Indirect Censorship) was released in September 2008.

Attempts to modify the constitution

President Zelaya came to international attention in June 2009 when he was overthrown and sent into exile. The crisis that led to his ouster centered around his efforts to change the 1982 Honduran Constitution. Those efforts were strongly opposed by Congress, Supreme Court, the Opposing parties and even his own party (Partido Liberal) in Honduras; the forces behind his ouster justified their action on the grounds that Zelaya's efforts towards convening a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution were illegal. They alleged that his real motive was to increase his time in office; his term was due to end in January 2010 and the 1982 constitution prohibits presidents from serving a second term. Zelaya denied that his motive was to stay in office, stating that he intended to step down as scheduled in January 2010 and noting that his successor would be elected at the same time the vote on whether to convene a constituent assembly would occur.

With congressional majority, President of Honduras can amend the constitution without any referendum. However, eight articles can't be amended. These include term limits, system of government that is permitted, and process of presidential succession.

Because president can amend 368 of 375 articles without any constituent assembly, Zelaya's true intention appeared to be extending his rule. Honduran political analyst Juan Ramon Martinez has argued that Zelaya is attempting to discredit democracy, "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".

Debate over changing the constitution began early in Zelaya's presidency. Central America report of 4 August 2006 stated that proposals were being made to reform some articles of the constitution. It did not say whether Zelaya was behind those proposals. It said that the proposals were causing "tension."Michael Shifter, a Latin American analyst, said that Zelaya seems to have "a very strong appetite for power" and that he was trying to be the victim. Shifter predicted that Zelaya wouldnt get much sympathy by defying the country's institutions.


On November 11, 2008, following requests from many Honduran groups for the convening of a constituent assembly, Zelaya issued a decree organizing a poll to determine if the electorate wanted a fourth ballot box installed at polling places for the upcoming November 29, 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 want to convene 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.On 24 March 2009, Zelaya issued executive decree PCM-05-2009 for the National Statistical Institute to hold the national referendum by June 28, 2009.

Zelaya refused to give money to the National Electoral Tribunal and the National Persons Registry, which oversee elections in Honduras. It is believed that the reason was to financially asphyxiate the electoral process.

There has been considerable debate as to whether Zelaya's call for a poll about whether to organise 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 can not 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. 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. . In a newspaper interview shortly before his ouster, Zelaya stated that he had every intention of stepping down when his term ends in January 2010.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."

Zelaya violates Supreme Court rulings

The Supreme Court in Honduras ruled that a lower court ruling blocking the referendum was lawful

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. 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.By 25 June, the the newspaper La Tribuna' reported that 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.

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 through on his threat and the general had not been fired. "I didn't do it," CNN quoted him as saying.

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

On 25 June 2009, Zelaya and hundreds of supporters made a peaceful break in to the military base to take possession of previously confiscated ballots to be used in the June 28th. Also on the 26th, according to the Associated Press, government supporters began distributing ballots to the 15,000 voting stations around the country.

The Supreme Court, the Congress, and the military have recommended that voters stay home because the referendum would be neither fair to nor safe for voters. However, unions and farm groups support the referendum as a necessary precursor to economic reforms favoring Honduras's poor majority.

Constitutional crisis

On June 28, 2009, President Zelaya was seized by soldiers, acting on the orders of the Honduran Supreme Court. He was then taken to an air force base,and sent into exile. to Costa Ricamarker.

The reason given for the arrest order were charges brought by the Attorney General and the order was to enable a atatement 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.

Following his ouster, Zelaya spoke to the media from his forced exile in San Jose and described 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 will not recognize anyone named as his successor and that he wanted to finish his term in office. He also stated that he would begin to meet with diplomats, and attended the Summit of Central American Presidents held in Managuamarker, Nicaraguamarker, two days later (June 30, 2009).

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

National Congress President Roberto Micheletti, the next person in the presidential line of succession, assumed the presidency following Zelaya's removal from office.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.

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." Hugo Chávez threatened to invade Honduras if the Venezuelan embassy or ambassador were attacked. Venezuela has said it would suspend oil shipments, and Honduras's neighbors—El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua—suspended overland trade for two days.A one-page United Nations resolution, passed by acclamation in the 192-member body, condemned the events and demanded Zelaya's “immediate and unconditional restoration” as president. The resolution calls "firmly and categorically on all states to recognise no government other than that" of Mr. Zelaya.

During the first five days out of country, Zelaya had spent 80,000 dollars of Honduran public money to luxury goods, including luxury hotels, food and fine clothing. Honduras canceled his governmental credit card, as well as lease of 50 luxury vehicles, 61 mobile phone lines, and 100 bank accounts.

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

According to Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll on October 9-13, most Hondurans opposed the restoration of Zelaya's presidency. The approval rate of Micheletti government's actions was about half.

Zelaya's vocal backer in Honduras been Chavez-financed Radio Globo and its news anchorman David Romero Ellner. Romero Ellner is a former co-founder of the People's Revolutionary Union, a militant communist organization that carried numerous terrorist acts. Romero Ellner lost his political career in the Liberal Party after his daughter filed sexual abuse charges in 2002; his daughter said that Romero Ellner had raped her multiple times from the age of 10.

Return to Honduras

On September 21, 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 refused to 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 that Zelaya was attempting a violent confrontation.

Zelaya said his throat is sore from "toxic gases" and "Israeli mercenaries" are torturing him with "high-frequency radiation". Even Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim found Zelaya's rherotic excessive. Blaming the Jews has been common pro-Zelaya rhetoric; a Venezuelan-financed radio station blamed Jews for damaging Honduras and asked "why didn't we let Hitler carry out his historic mission".

Michelleti initially denied Zelaya had returned, but later admitted Zelaya's return, stating that it "changes nothing of our reality." Michelleti later issued a curfew and asked the Brazilian government to put 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." Defense Minister Lionel Sevilla suspended all air flights to Tegucigalpa.

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

On 27 September, 2009 Honduras gave Brazil a ten-day deadline. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio 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". Honduran interim president Roberto Micheletti warned that his government would take action if Brazil did not determine Zelaya's status soon. President Lula demanded an apology.

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

On October 29th, 2009, the government of de facto president Roberto Micheletti signed what 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 Nov. 29 would be recognized by both sides. Neither Mr. Zelaya nor Mr. Micheletti will be candidates."

Public opinion


  1. President Zelaya voted in as Liberal turned into ally of Chavez’ ALBA
  2. Ousted leader returns to Honduras
  3. Constitution of Honduras, Article 301
  4. William Finnegan, Letter from Honduras, “An Old-Fashioned Coup,” The New Yorker, November 30, 2009, p. 38
  5. Honduran President Ousted by Military
  6. AngusReid, President Zelaya Drops to 25% in Honduras
  7. Zelaya Legacy: Corruption and Deficits
  8. [1]
  9. IPS, October 2008, op cit., about 2/3 of the way down. Retrieved July 2009.
  10. "Honduras: Government advertising allocation as 'subtle censorship'", IPS via Soros Foundation and Open Society Justice Initiative, October 2008; retrieved July 2009.
  11. "Honduras new government is censoring journalists", Miami Herald, 1 July 2009; retrieved July 2009
  12. "In Honduras, One-sided News of Crisis", Washington Post, 9 July 2009; retrieved July 2009.
  13. Honduras: Government advertising allocation as 'subtle censorship'
  14. 21st Century Socialism Comes to the Honduran Banana Republic. Council on Hemispheric Affairs
  15. Central America Report, excerpted in University of California at San Diego libraries, "Latin American elections statistics", start of 2006 section; retrieved July 2009.
  16. Honduras Lurches Toward Crisis Over Election
  17. "Honduran President Ousted by Military", Carin Zissis, Council of the Americas, 28 June 2009; the interview was conducted with the newspaper El País.
  18. "Honduras heads toward crisis over referendum", AP via Yahoo, 26 June 2009; retrieved July 2009.
  19. The quote and other material are from [htp:// "Militares se despliegan en capital hondureña en medio de agitación politica"], La Tribuna, 25 June 2009; retrieved July 2009.
  20. "Honduras president: Nation calm before controversial vote" CNN, 27 June 2009; retrieved July 2009.
  21. Spanish Interview with the legal counsel of the Honduran armed forces, Colonel Herberth Bayardo Inestroza,
  22. English summary of interview with the legal counsel of the Honduras armed forces,
  23. New Honduran leader sworn in
  24. Venezuela's Chavez threatens invasion of Honduras
  25. Manuel Zelaya gastó L 1.5 millones en 5 días. La Prensa
  27. [2]
  28. [3]
  29. Crisis in Honduras - What was really behind the removal of President Manuel Zelaya, and is he likely to be reinstated?
  30. Blaming Israeli Mercenaries, Surviving on Biscuits, Zelaya Looks for an Endgame
  31. Zelaya Blames Jews and Israel as Scapegoats In Honduras
  32. Google hosted news
  33. New York Times, 22nd Sept 09
  34. Honduras coup

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