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Honduras' interim president has strong support in Tampa, from his brother

TAMPA — The news was going the other Sunday morning in Aldo Micheletti's north Tampa home — Fox, maybe Spanish language TV, he can't even remember now — and the anchor was talking about how the Honduran military earlier that morning had snatched the president out of the palace in his pajamas and sent him packing on a plane.

This is the kind of report that is guaranteed to hold Micheletti's interest. He was born in Honduras 59 years ago, for one thing, but he's also enough of a student of Honduran politics to know the vice president resigned last year, which meant that by law control of the country would fall to the head of Congress.

Better known to him as his older brother, Roberto.

You'd think Aldo Micheletti, naturalized U.S. citizen, owner of his own video production company (weddings a specialty), would be overjoyed by his brother's rise to power on June 28.

Not so much.

"I didn't want my brother to be president this way," he said Tuesday.

"This way," in the eyes of almost the entire international community, means "military coup."

This is an interpretation of events that Micheletti disputes utterly, but it has been hard getting people to hear his brother's side of the story.

Even Micheletti had trouble getting ahold of his 65-year-old brother. It wasn't until Friday that he got him on the phone.

"I woke him up," said Micheletti. "It was 6 a.m. in Honduras."

The two talked for 10 minutes, enough time for Roberto to make it clear the military was not violating the constitution — it was upholding it. The Supreme Court had issued orders to take President Manuel Zelaya into custody for violating the constitution by attempting to extend his term past the four-year limit.

"You need to let people know there are two sides to this coin," Aldo Micheletti said his brother told him.

And that's exactly what he has been doing, unofficially calling on senators, the media and the State Department. He's frustrated by how little he has to show for it.

The biggest obstacle has been the United States' refusal to acknowledge the interim government. Along with the Organization of American States, the State Department has called for "the restoration of the democratic order," by which officials mean putting Zelaya back in office.

• • •

What really galls Aldo Micheletti is that the United States' support for Zelaya puts it shoulder to shoulder with Zelaya's biggest backer: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"Zelaya said he wanted to install a Venezuelan-style democracy," Micheletti said.

Like Chavez, Zelaya wanted to extend his presidential term and was pushing for a referendum he hoped would give him the okay to rewrite the constitution. But the constitution is clear, Micheletti said, that even promoting the extension of the president's term is illegal. Moreover, Zelaya ignored the Supreme Court's order not to go ahead with the referendum.

"The military was just following orders," he said. "The Supreme Court didn't say to get him out of the country, but (the military) was afraid of rioting if they put him in jail."

With an approval rating in the 30 percent range, rising crime and allegations of corruption, Hondurans on both ends of the political spectrum are not sorry to see Zelaya gone, Micheletti said.

On Tuesday, two days after his plane was refused a landing in Honduras, Zelaya arrived in Washington to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"I trust Secretary Clinton recognizes that the rule of law is why we are here today, and why Mr. Zelaya must be held accountable for his unconstitutional acts," Roberto Micheletti said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., criticized the United States for "having stood on the sidelines while Mr. Zelaya overstepped the constitution. …

"Protecting a sitting president regardless of their illegal act sets a dangerous precedent," he said.

This was welcome news to Aldo Micheletti, who said he is not sure if the interim government, starved for cash, can survive without U.S. aid until the November elections.

• • •

Micheletti came to the United States nearly 40 years ago because he had been arrested for criticizing the military junta that had overthrown the president.

"I left because there were threats on my life," he said this week. (His politics have remained consistently liberal right up through his vote for President Barack Obama in November.)

Roberto joined him in Tampa for several years in the mid '70s, running a clothing store before making his way back to Honduras where he began a decades-long political career.

"My brother has always been a liberal," Aldo Micheletti said. "He's not a conservative at all. He's not a dictator."

"He told me: 'I just want to get this over with and get out of here.' "

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Bill Duryea can be reached at duryea@sptimes.com.

Honduras' interim president has strong support in Tampa, from his brother 07/07/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 9, 2009 9:34am]

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