Manuel Zelaya had few left-wing credentials upon election in 2006. Indeed, the timber magnate was swept to power by his Liberal party’s most conservative wing. But on taking office he professed sympathy for the working poor and got friendly with South America’s new wave of elected leftist leaders, including Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, America’s bete noir in the region.
News of his ousting brought supporters out on the streets, even if opinion polls only gave him around 30 percent support.
His bid to hold a referendum on allowing presidents more than one term was deemed unconstitutional – parliament’s grounds to call in the army and depose him.
“Now the people can believe they have a share, a little of Honduras: let us learn to be more Christian, more noble, more Honduran and more patriotic, more democratic. That is what we want next Sunday,” he said in his referendum campaign.
What the people got on Sunday was the army in the streets and Zelaya arrested and banished abroad. His supporters in the Liberal party had had enough. Zelaya sought, and got, support from his South American leftwing colleagues, then the OAS; the UN, and the international community, including the USA.
Zelaya increased the minimum wage, gave cash aid to single mothers and seeds and fertiliser to farmers, and scoffed at critics who said he was planning radical socialism.
Critics say he is a populist skilled at playing the right songs, but has done nothing to address Honduras’ structural and deep-rooted problems.