Honduras' Congress ended hopes of reversing a coup that has isolated one of the poorest countries in the Americas, voting against reinstating ousted President Manuel Zelaya despite intense international pressure to do so.
The vote Wednesday was part of a U.S.-brokered deal to end Honduras' crisis that left it up to Congress to decide if Zelaya should be restored to office for the final two months of his term — and lawmakers voted against the idea by a resounding 111-14 margin.
Zelaya, who listened to the proceedings from his refuge in the Brazilian Embassy, said even before the vote that he wouldn't return for a token two months if asked. He said he should have been reinstated before Sunday's presidential election and urged governments not to restore ties with the incoming administration of Porfirio Lobo.
"Today, the lawmakers at the service of the dominant classes ratified the coup d'etat in Honduras," Zelaya said in a statement released after the vote. "They have condemned Honduras to exist outside the rule of law."
The Obama administration and some Latin American governments had urged Honduran lawmakers to reinstate Zelaya, who was seized and flown out of the country on June 28, generating worldwide calls for his reinstatement, foreign aid cuts and diplomatic isolation.
But Honduras' interim leaders have proven remarkably resistant to diplomatic arm-twisting since the June 28 coup, rejecting near-universal demands that Zelaya be restored to his office before the previously scheduled election. Now lawmakers have even snubbed international demands that he be allowed to serve the final two months of his presidency.
Lawmaker after lawmaker insisted Wednesday that they were right the first time when they voted to oust Zelaya for ignoring a Supreme Court order to cancel a referendum on changing the constitution. That vote happened hours after soldiers stormed into Zelaya's residence and flew him into exile in his pajamas.
‘Dad you defended democracy’
Zelaya opponents accuse him of trying to hang on to power by lifting a ban on presidential re-election, as his leftist ally Hugo Chavez has done in Venezuela. Zelaya denies such intentions.
"My vote is (a lesson) for anyone who pretends to perpetuate himself in power. My vote is so that my son can look at me and say 'Dad you defended democracy,'" said Antonio Rivera of Lobo's conservative National Party.
Lawmakers loyal to Zelaya expressed dismay.
"How can we call this a constitutional succession when the president's residence was shot at and he was taken from his home in pajamas?" said Cesar Ham, a lawmaker from a small leftist party that supports Zelaya. "This is embarrassing. He was assaulted, kidnapped and ousted by force of arms from the presidency."
While legislators debated, 300 Zelaya supporters protested behind police lines outside Congress. Zelaya had won over many poor Hondurans with his initiative to rewrite the constitution, promising he would shake-up a political system dominated by two traditional parties with little ideological differences and influenced by a few wealthy families.
Congress is dominated by Zelaya's own Liberal Party, which largely turned against him in the dispute over changing the constitution. Many Liberals voted against him Wednesday.
The Supreme Court and three other institutions submitted opinions to Congress all recommending that Zelaya not be reinstated because he faces charges of abusing power and other infractions.
First coup in 20 years
Honduras' interim leaders insist the victory by Lobo, a wealthy rancher, in the regularly scheduled presidential election shows their country's democracy is intact.
However, many Latin American countries, especially those led by left-leaning governments, said recognizing the election would amount to legitimizing Central America's first coup in 20 years.
That stance wasn't unanimous in the region, though.
Washington urged Zelaya's reinstatement but it stopped short of making that a condition for recognizing Lobo's government. Costa Rica, Peru, Panama and Colombia backed the U.S. view.
Zelaya's reinstatement was not required by a U.S.-brokered pact that was signed by both the deposed leader and interim President Roberto Micheletti. The pact requires only that a unity government be created for the remainder of Zelaya's term, leaving the decision on restoring Zelaya to office up to Congress.