Caracas, September 21, 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez today congratulated the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya on his "heroic" return to his homeland eighty-six days after he was ousted by a military coup on June 28. Chavez also called on the coup regime, headed by Roberto Micheletti, to peacefully hand over power to Zelaya.
Chavez , who received a telephone call from Zelaya informing him of his arrival in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, during a televised inauguration of an education project in Caracas, said he was "pleasantly surprised" by the news.
"Zelaya has returned in a heroic manner," Chavez said, reporting that the Honduran President accompanied by four companions, arrived in Tegucigalpa after two days of travel by land, "crossing mountains and rivers, risking their lives."
"We demand the coup plotters in Honduras respect life; respect the dignity of the president. He is the President of Honduras and they should hand over power," he added.
Micheletti, who has repeatedly threatened to arrest Zelaya on his return, initially denied reports that the constitutionally elected president was in the country, claiming it was simply a campaign of "media terrorism," however Zelaya's presence was confirmed by the Brazilian embassy in Honduras where he sought refuge.
Speaking to the press Zelaya called on the Honduran Armed Forces to "respect the human rights of the Honduran people," as dramatic scenes broadcast by the Venezuelan-based Telesur showed thousands of his supporters converging on the Brazilian embassy to celebrate his return.
"To the commander general of the armed forces of Honduras...I peacefully make a call for sanity, so that there is no violence on the streets. The people here are unarmed, shouting for joy..." he said.
Zelaya said he had come to engage in a peaceful dialogue and called on the Honduran people to organise themselves to "reconstruct democracy" adding that the power of the people, "is capable of achieving great transformations."
Miguel Insulza, president of the Organisation of American States, confirmed today that he had spoken to Zelaya by telephone shortly after his arrival in Tegucigalpa and has called an extraordinary meeting of the OAS to analyse the situation.
Insulza is expected to arrive in Honduras on Tuesday to meet with Zelaya, meanwhile he has called on the de facto regime to guarantee the safety of Zelaya and respect the integrity of the Brazilian embassy.
The ousting of Zelaya has been almost universally condemned by the international community, including the OAS, the UN Generally Assembly and other international bodies, which have called for the "immediate and unconditional return" of the democratically elected president.
However, the response of the U.S. government has been ambiguous. Although U.S president Barack Obama and secretary of state Hilary Clinton have made comments calling for the return of Zelaya, the U.S. has failed to legally define the coup as a "coup", has been slow to cut financial aid and has continued training the Honduran military.
International pressure for the coup regime to step down has been growing. On September 10, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) confirmed that they will not recognize the results of the Honduran elections in November if these elections are carried out while the coup government remains in power.
Inside Honduras, resistance to the coup has been reflected in daily street demonstrations over the past three months, as well as numerous strikes and road blockades.
Gilberto Rios from the National Front against the Coup told Venezuelanalysis.com that the economic impact of the coup had been disastrous and that more and more sectors were joining the resistance every day.
The return of Zelaya has bought the crisis to a head.
Juan Barahona, the coordinator of the National Front against the Coup said the streets of Tegucigalpa are flooded with people protesting the coup and that "there is a mass popular reaction."
"It's very difficult for the coup regime to maintain itself in power for more than 24 hours, the armed forces would have to carry out a blood bath to stop this," he told Venezuelan Television (VTV) today.
Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, said today, "This could be the moment of truth for the Obama administration. If Zelaya is back, they will have to choose sides. It is pretty clear that the rest of the world will stand with Zelaya, for his return to the presidency, and for the restoration of democracy in Honduras."
"The arrest of Zelaya on dubious charges - which the regime has no legal authority to pursue - would increase its isolation, and possibly sanctions, from the international community," Weisbrot added.
However, Roman Vásquez Velásquez, chief of the Armed Forces today stated his support for Micheletti and the coup regime has imposed a military curfew.
In a second broadcast Chavez again called on the coup regime to step down, "The people of Honduras are in the street waiting and we hope that the coup regime gives up power and are not going to massacre the people or attempt any such madness. The world is watching."