TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras, June 1 (UPI) -- Honduras' diplomatic isolation since the disastrous coup of 2009 is easing slowly and one of the first steps will restore the impoverished Central American country to the membership of the Organization of American States.
The OAS membership carries its own rewards -- restoration of aid and respectability -- but by winning back its seat at the Washington headquarters of the community Honduras hopes to make some progress in Europe and the rest of the world, which remains closed to the country.
Honduras plunged into deep diplomatic waters when the coup, sanctioned by the country's Supreme Court and carried out by the military, catapulted elected President Manuel Zelaya into exile and triggered violent discontent, arrests and torture in detention of pro-Zelaya dissidents.
An unspecified number of deaths in confinement and in the streets remain unconfirmed by officials fearful of a new cycle of violent political infighting.
Zelaya had courted displeasure by seeking to stage a referendum that his critics said would have bypassed the constitution and given him an extended term in office. Zelaya denies the accusation.
In five months of crisis that followed, the military took charge and supervised a presidential election in November 2009, only to have the result rejected by most of Latin America.
The United States, which recognized the presidency of Porfirio Lobo as the best available compromise in tough conditions, worked behind the scenes to help Lobo restore democratic order and inter-faction reconciliation.
Last month Zelaya returned to Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, after Venezuela and Colombia, aided by Washington and the OAS, struck a deal that guaranteed his freedom and also will allow him and his aides to resume political activities.
All's not over yet. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington that Honduras has "made a lot of progress in the past months in getting itself back on a solid democratic path."
He said the U.S. administration viewed Zelaya's return "as a step in that direction and we believe that they should be brought back into the OAS."
Toner spoke before the OAS voted to readmit Honduras, which it suspended in 2009 when Zelaya was forced from power. Of the 33 countries attending a special OAS session, only Ecuador opposed the move, saying those who deposed Zelaya hadn't been punished.
Lobo's election in November 2009 was dominated by promises of post-coup goodwill and reconciliation. After a court in Honduras dropped all corruption and political fraud charges against Zelaya, the brokered deal also cleared the way for him to participate in Honduran politics.
However, questions remain over repeated claims of human rights violations after the coup and even under Lobo's administration. The number of arrests, deaths and injuries in streets protests or among those still held in prisons remains unknown.