Honduras Talks Stall, Peril Looms

By Thelma Mejia

Manuel Zelaya and Oscar Arias, photo: Costa Rican Presidency
Manuel Zelaya and Oscar Arias, photo: Costa Rican Presidency

HAVANA TIMES, July 20 (IPS)  – Deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya said the talks with the de facto regime that ousted him in late June were over and that he planned to return to his country.

But Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who has brokered the talks, asked for more time for the negotiations, and warned of the risks of violence.

After the second round of talks collapsed Sunday in Costa Rica, Zelaya told the press in the Nicaraguan capital that he would return to Honduras next weekend, and that “we will now start organizing the internal resistance for my return.”

Zelaya, who was pulled out of his house at gunpoint by military troops on June 28 and put on a plane to Costa Rica, also repeated in Managua that the Honduran people have the right to carry out “insurrection against oppression” and to engage in “civil disobedience.”

In Honduras, the Resistance Front Against the Coup d’Etat called a general strike. “A strike has been decided for Thursday and Friday,” said trade union leader Jose Luis Baquedano, a member of the Front.

Arias, meanwhile, asked for 72 more hours to continue seeking a compromise agreement, after the de facto government rejected the first point in his seven-point proposal: Zelaya’s reinstatement as president.

Increased Violence Looms

“The alternative to dialogue is weapons, and we don’t want that to happen in Honduras,” Arias said Sunday evening after two days of talks between the delegations sent by Zelaya and de facto President Roberto Micheletti

“We don’t want a civilian’s gun to shoot a soldier or vice versa; that is why we want to work to avoid bloodshed among the Honduran people,” said the Costa Rican leader.

Protests have been constant since the military coup took place on June 28.
Protests have been constant since the military coup on June 28.

“There could be civil war or bloodshed that the Honduran people do not deserve, which is why I am committed to continue working hard on this. If Zelaya’s reinstatement is not accepted, I will look at how we can deal with that point in greater depth, for which I am asking for three more days, in order to present a new proposal,” he added.

Arias, winner of the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end civil wars raging at the time in several Central American countries, said without elaborating that there are many weapons in the hands of civilians in Honduras.

After telling the press that no progress was made in the talks over the weekend, Arias thanked both delegations for the trust they have placed in him.

His seven-point proposal included Zelaya’s reinstatement, the ousted president’s agreement not to pursue constitutional reform, an amnesty for those involved in the coup d’etat, the establishment of a national unity government, and the moving forward of the Nov. 29 general elections to the last Sunday in October.

In addition, Arias proposed the transfer of the command of the armed forces from the executive branch to the Supreme Electoral Court, “in order to guarantee transparency and normality” during the elections, and the creation of a verification commission made up of prominent Hondurans and representatives of international bodies, especially the Organization of American States (OAS), to oversee compliance with the agreements and “the restoration of constitutional order.”

Coup Leaders Say No Dice

Carlos Lopez Contreras, designated foreign minister by Micheletti, said “the government I represent” could not accept Zelaya’s reinstatement “as it is not within our capacities to resolve, because we represent the country’s legal and judicial institutions.  Moreover, we are not a de facto government, nor the result of a coup d’etat; we are a legitimately constituted government, and we want to make that clear.”

As spokesman for Micheletti’s delegation to the talks, Lopez Contreras said Zelaya’s reinstatement would run counter to the Honduran constitution and its laws, and would amount to intervention in the country’s internal affairs.

Micheletti said Zelaya’s return to power was not negotiable, and that he would only be allowed to return to the country to stand trial.  After his ouster, an arrest warrant was issued for the president on the basis of a number of charges, including treason and abuse of authority.

Zelaya, a rich landowner who alienated his own party as well as the wealthier conservative elites after taking a turn to the left, antagonized the other branches of government, including Congress and the Supreme Court, by trying to hold a non-binding referendum on the possibility of amending the constitution.

The legal authorities and parliament declared the informal ballot unconstitutional, which precipitated a series of events that culminated in the coup on June 28, the day the non-binding vote was to be held.

With respect to the amnesty proposed by Arias, the de facto authorities did not want it to apply to Zelaya.

Mauricio Villeda, another member of Micheletti’s negotiating committee, said “cases of corruption and the squandering of public funds cannot be left unpunished.”

The head of Zelaya’s delegation, Ricci Moncada, said “we lament that the deadlines set by international bodies like the OAS and the United Nations, or by the mediator, have not been respected.”

Hillary Calls Micheletti

The U.S. government called on both sides for a greater commitment to reach a successful agreement in the talks.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton phoned Micheletti to warn him that relations with her country would be hurt if an agreement was not reached.

State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters Monday that Clinton “encouraged him (Micheletti) to continue to focus on these negotiations and also helped him understand the potential consequences of a failure to take advantage of this mediation.”

The administration of Barack Obama, along with the OAS and the U.N., has condemned the coup and demanded that Zelaya be restored to power. No country has recognised the de facto government in Honduras.

The U.S. government has already frozen 18 million dollars in military and other aid to Honduras, and on Monday Crowley said that “We have options that are available to us if the negotiations are not successful.”

Arturo Corrales, a member of the de facto government’s delegation, blamed the failure of the talks on remarks made by Zelaya in an interview published Sunday by the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, in which he “insisted that if he returns, he will install a national constituent assembly, which means he is making fun of what we are all doing here in good faith.

“It would thus seem that this (negotiating) committee named by Zelaya has no validity, because he is saying that if he returns, he will continue violating the constitution,” Corrales, one of the country’s most powerful politicians and business leaders, told IPS.

In his statements to Folha, Zelaya said “I cannot betray the people and abandon the process” for the election of a constituent assembly. “The people sent me 500,000 signatures asking that this step be taken. That is why we planned the informal referendum, which triggered the rupture and the coup,” he added.

Zelaya denied allegations that he wanted to reform the constitution in order to make his reelection possible. “I have no interest in that. I believe it’s a debate for the future, not for my government,” he said.

Zelaya Emphasizes US Influence

Raul Castro, Manuel Zelaya and Hugo Chavez
Raul Castro, Manuel Zelaya and Hugo Chavez

With regard to his close ties to controversial left-wing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his country’s supposed influence on Honduras, Zelaya said “the only country that really has an influence on Honduras is the United States.”

The ousted president blamed the current situation on the fears of those who carried out the coup that the Honduran people would have been allowed, in the non-binding referendum, to express their views and decide on their future.

The Honduran constitution specifically states that several of its articles are untouchable – including the one that bans presidents from seeking a second term, consecutive or otherwise – and cannot be modified by a constituent assembly.

That leaves any possible constitutional reform in the hands of the legislature.

In Tegucigalpa, human rights commissioner Ramón Custodio told IPS that Arias’ proposal “is interesting; it includes points on which agreement and acceptance could be achieved. This impasse is typical of any negotiations. We have to see how a solution can be found on the touchy point of whether or not Zelaya will return.”

After the coup, the de facto regime imposed a curfew and a media blackout, and suspended basic guarantees. The crackdown on pro-Zelaya protesters has left at least three demonstrators dead.

However, Hondurans appear to be polarized, with demonstrations held by both supporters and opponents of Zelaya.