Honduras Settling Down?
October 31, 2009
Deal Set to Restore Ousted Honduran President
By Ginger Thompson and Elizabeth Malkin, New York Times
Less than two days after senior American officials arrived in Honduras, the leader of the nation’s de facto government signed an agreement that would allow the return of the country’s ousted president, paving the way for an end to Latin America’s deepest political crisis in years.
The deal, which was reached late Thursday and still faces the hurdle of being approved by the Honduran Congress, followed months of intransigence by leaders of the de facto government.
After President Manuel Zelaya’s expulsion from the country on June 28, the new government adamantly refused to accept his restoration to office, despite international condemnation, isolation from its neighbors and multiple rounds of failed negotiations.
Roberto Micheletti, the leader of Honduras’s de facto government, relented only after senior Obama administration officials landed in the Honduran capital to take charge of the talks, pressing the point that the United States would not recognize the coming presidential election unless he accepted the deal.
Though senior administration officials played down their role, Latin America experts said that the agreement represented a breakthrough for President Obama, whose relations in the hemisphere were tested by the crisis.
For months, the administration resisted driving the negotiations, positioning itself as just another member of a coalition that included both its allies and its adversaries in the region. Latin American leaders took the lead in the talks, but both sides kept trying to win over Washington, long the dominant power in the region.
During a half-hour telephone call last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took a leading role, making it clear to Mr. Micheletti that the United States was growing impatient with the stalemate and demanding that democracy be restored.
Mr. Micheletti later joked with his aides that she stuck so close to her message it appeared she had a limited vocabulary. “I kept trying to explain our position to her,” he said, according to officials close to the talks, “but all she kept saying was, ‘Restitution, restitution, restitution.’ ”
Speaking on Friday in Pakistan, Mrs. Clinton called the deal a “historic agreement.”
“I cannot think of another example of a country in Latin America that, having suffered a rupture of its democratic and constitutional order, overcame such a crisis through negotiation and dialogue,” she said.
The essential elements of the agreement had largely been worked out months ago by other Latin American leaders. If Congress agrees, Mr. Zelaya will serve out the remaining three months of his term, and the presidential election scheduled for Nov. 29 will be recognized by all sides.
Mr. Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti, both members of the Liberal Party, are not candidates.
Some significant obstacles remain, not least of which is the approval of the nation’s Congress, which voted overwhelmingly to strip Mr. Zelaya of power four months ago and now has to decide whether to reinstate him.
“That is going to be the issue that is most provocative internally,” said Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon Jr., who led the American delegation, “and probably where we in the international community are going to have to pay the closest attention.”
The president of Congress, José Alfredo Saavedra, who is close to Mr. Micheletti, suggested that the legislature was in no hurry to decide on Mr. Zelaya’s fate. “At this time, nobody, absolutely nobody, can impose deadlines or terms on Congress,” he said.
The Zelaya camp also warned that there was much to do before the crisis was over. “Signing the agreement does not resolve the problem,” Carlos Eduardo Reina, an adviser to Mr. Zelaya, told local news organizations. “It opens space, it opens the door and determines what will be the path to return Honduras to legality.”
Kevin Casas-Zamora, an analyst at the Brookings Institution and a former vice president of Costa Rica, said he expected the Honduran Congress to approve Mr. Zelaya’s return because the two main presidential candidates right now had the most influence over legislators and wanted an agreement that would legitimize the election.
According to Mr. Micheletti, the accord would establish a unity government and a verification commission to ensure that its conditions were carried out. It would also create a truth commission to investigate the events of the past few months, but it would not provide amnesty for any crimes committed in connection with the coup.
That could cause tensions with the military, which roused Mr. Zelaya from his bed and summarily forced him out of the country. It is unclear what it would mean for Mr. Zelaya, who has been threatened with arrest on charges ranging from corruption to treason.
As news of the agreement spread, residents poured from their homes and workplaces across Tegucigalpa, the capital, to celebrate. Jubilation broke out in streets that had been torn with protests for months.
Latin American governments had pressed the Obama administration to take a forceful approach to ending the impasse. Immediately after Mr. Zelaya was ousted, Mr. Obama joined the rest of the region in calling for Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement. Later, the administration suspended about $30 million in aid and visas for people who had been identified as central supporters of the de facto government.
But hundreds of millions of dollars in American humanitarian assistance continued to flow, and Latin American countries, concerned about the precedent the coup had set in a region where democracy remained fragile, criticized the United States for sending mixed signals to Honduras.
There were no mixed signals this week, said officials close to the talks. “They showed the isolation the country would face, that doors would be closing to Honduras for some time to come,” said Roberto Flores Bermúdez, a former Honduran ambassador to Washington who served as a representative of the de facto government.
Mark Landler contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.
While this has no specific bearing on St. Vincent, it is encouraging to see that a right-wing coup does not automatically get US approval.