Honduran president rejects new proposal
The chief mediator in the Honduran coup crisis offered a 12-point proposal Wednesday that calls for the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya as early as Friday.
But Zelaya’s delegation immediately rejected the plan because of the conditions it attached to his return to office.
Representatives of the de facto government that deposed Zelaya said they would submit the proposal to the Honduran Supreme Court and attorney general’s office for consideration. Both institutions, however, already have rejected Zelaya’s return to power.
“The San Jose Accord,” named for the Costa Rican capital where it was drafted, “has failed,” said Rixi Moncada, head of Zelaya’s delegation.
Zelaya has vowed to return to Honduras this weekend, saying, “Only God can stop me.” He has called on supporters to flood Honduras’ borders to greet him.
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, designated mediator by the U.S. and other regional powers, read his new proposal in a news conference Wednesday in San Jose. An initial round of talks over the weekend collapsed when the delegation representing de facto President Roberto Micheletti rejected Arias’ first proposal. Arias asked for 72 more hours, a period that saw intensified U.S. diplomatic pressure before it expired Wednesday.
The new plan incorporated most of the seven points Arias proposed over the weekend but added concessions sought by the Micheletti delegation, including a promise that economic and political sanctions imposed on Honduras in the wake of the coup would be lifted, sources said.
Arias said the reinstallation of Zelaya as president remained the “key point,” but that the new proposal was “more balanced, with more bridges.”
In addition to Zelaya’s return, the accord called for moving up by one month presidential elections slated for late November, amnesty for political crimes related to the coup, the formation of a “national reconciliation” government and establishment of a verification commission to monitor compliance by all parties. Zelaya would have to refrain from his efforts to revise the constitution, the issue that his opponents cited in removing him.
Mauricio Villeda, the son of a Honduran president overthrown in a bloody coup several decades ago, spoke on behalf of the Micheletti delegation and said Arias’ plan would be taken under advisement.
But Carlos Lopez Contreras, whom Micheletti named as his foreign minister, said late Wednesday that Zelaya’s return wasn’t negotiable because the Supreme Court had spoken. “The return of this gentleman as president is impossible,” Lopez told CNN’s Spanish-language service. “If he wants to come back as a private citizen to face the courts, that’s possible.”
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Zelaya had broken the law and been removed from office legally, and therefore could not assume the post again. The court has insisted that the June 28 coup was legal because army officers who seized Zelaya from his home were executing an arrest warrant. The army has since acknowledged that it erred in deporting Zelaya.
The Supreme Court ruling against reinstatement shot down a last-minute counter-proposal from the Micheletti delegation that contained the “possible” reinstatement of Zelaya under very tight restrictions, much as Arias had sought, two sources said. It was the first time the interim government had budged from its insistence that Zelaya not be allowed to finish his term.
The Micheletti government is under increasing pressure from the United States, Latin American countries and Europe to allow Zelaya back into the presidential palace and resolve an increasingly volatile standoff. Honduras, one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries, is losing millions of dollars in trade and aid while the crisis simmers.
Opinion is divided within the de facto government over what concessions to make, according to a businessman who advises the regime.
Some members of the government believed they could offer to let Zelaya return under conditions he would find so distasteful that he would refuse. Others decided it would be better to have Zelaya back in the country, as the international community has demanded, and then neutralize him.
Success in the talks is crucial for Arias, who was awarded the 1987 Nobel Prize for his work to end Central America’s wars and who prides himself on his mediation skills. It’s also crucial for the Obama administration, which has sought to make a fresh start in U.S. policy in Latin America after years of negligence and hostility.
“This has to be seen not just as the specific case of Honduras, but as a dangerous regional precedent,” said Victor Meza, who served as Zelaya’s interior minister and is one of the few members of the deposed Cabinet not in hiding. “A failure for Arias is a failure for U.S. policy.”