Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rifts Appearing, OAS Delegation Re-Invited

At this rate, my respondents should just take over this blog. They have more to say than I and say it more colorfully and cogently too. So, here they are below, with today’s media articles appearing below that. At least I still have a few faithful readers, though some, like Hondurans themselves, are getting tired of it all. The 2 AP articles are pretty repetitious. Chang's is a new name in the press. As mentioned before, I have met Adolfo Facusse, quoted below, and his wife in connection with their support for medical brigades held in the capital.

A close follower of the Honduras situation comments: MSM without exception, indeed to the point of tiresome repetitiousness, describes Zelaya as being "holed up" in the Brazilian embassy, whereas one of the leftist websites you quoted uses the term "has taken refuge." The Times and the Post have noted that Obama is characteristically not taking sides and have offered both pro- and anti-Zelaya interpretations of this. For sure they haven't accused the president of playing into the hands of a wannabe fascist dictatorship.

The thing is, you can't be sure how closely the army is working with Micheletti and how much of a hold General Vasquez has on the troops. It's undeniable that civil liberties have been taken away, but whether because the present regime is "repressive," "fascist," &c or because the people in charge believe that the measures they've instituted are the lesser of two evils is not as clear to me as it is to the writers on the websites you quoted. Are the people (person?) now in charge starting to make the omelet of a dictatorship by breaking eggs, or is the idea to hurt a relative few for the sake of protecting a more prudent/cautious majority? Left or right, it's always the extremists who man the barricades. What it seems like, from what you've learned, is that most of the people simply want all this to stop and normal life, hard as it's always been, to resume. Therefore, the responsible thing to do is keep the matches out of the children's hands until order can be restored. That would be fine if there was certainty (a) that order would in fact be restored soon and (b) that "order" wouldn't represent a giant step in the wrong direction. Aren't we now past the date Arias had given? That poor man must be wondering what to do next.

Here’s another comment: Presumably, the Latin guy, sees a game of chicken: Zelaya believes that he can force an end game in which the army are swayed by huge public demonstrations to lay down their arms, let the people perform for the TV cameras in an unambiguously pro-Zelaya fashion, and . . . then what? Micheletti says, “Aw gee, I guess they do want you, Mel. Here then, you take over.” More likely, Zelaya expects that Obama, who has tried to stay out of it, will jawbone Micheletti and do what Chavez hasn’t been able to accomplish, namely, make the de facto government go away.

Doesn’t it kind of look as though everyone is still winging it? Newspaper articles suggest that Zelaya couldn’t have made it into the Brazilian embassy without the help, or at least the assurance of no interference, of the Honduran army. This makes intuitive sense, but it’s hard for someone who’s never been there to have a real feel for the dynamics of the situation. Instead of each side waiting for the other to blink, each side seems to be waiting for the other to move another pawn, with neither willing or able to think far enough ahead to arrive at checkmate.

I don’t think either of these guys is really a leader. Micheletti, of course, has said he doesn’t want to be, and he can only damage himself more by adding to the impression that perhaps in fact he does. Whether his recent actions will later be interpreted as repression a la Stalin or a la Lincoln won’t be known for a while. But what Zelaya risks is looking at best silly and without a plan, at worst, cowardly. He’s well protected, but he’s asking his people to put their immediate futures, perhaps their lives, on the line. What if he calls a “spontaneous” demonstration and nobody comes?

Suppose an agreement is reached to let Zelaya address the nation publicly, for as long as he wants, to answer the charges that led to his exile. Would he be capable of anything like Castro’s “History Will Absolve Me” speech to Batista’s court after the Moncada Barracks fiasco? Nothing he’s done since I became aware of his existence leads me to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Here’s someone else: The high command would also like to keep their positions and to avoid being deposed by an army mutiny or a popular insurrection. They also know that if the Arias proposal is accepted after September 29 they are not in danger of being cashiered by Zelaya since the army passes under the commando of the Electoral Tribunal. So know they have a higher probability of keeping their positions under the acceptance of the Arias plan than by continuing the repression against Zelaya's backers.The high command is also probably being pressured by their US advisors not to continue to provide support for the de facto government.

The presidential candidates and the political parties probably believe that the approval of the Arias proposals and the return of Zelaya to the presidency would not pose any danger for them as long as the army is kept out of his control and that the only way the elections can be held is if all public protests cease with his return to the Presidency.

So all the stakeholders are gradually accepting the idea that Zelaya should return to the presidency because this would not pose an immediate danger for them as long as the army is kept out of his control and it is the only way to return to normalcy and to hold the forthcoming presidential elections.

What could wreck or block an agreement now would be Zelaya's insistence on enrolling his own political party and advancing a candidate for the coming elections or any sign on his part that if returned to the presidency he could engage in some sort of hanky panky!

The political situation in Honduras is very variable and changes very rapidly but I continue to believe that the key to the situation lies magnitude of the public protests and in the evolution of the swing portion of the Honduran armed forces.
The heightened public protests and the increase in the repression of the population have led to a growing discontent in the lower and middle ranks of the armed forces that could lead to a declaration of neutrality and the cessation of repression or even an a revolt against the high command and the de facto government.

If this occurs it means the end of the de facto government and the seizure of power by Zelaya for the foreseeable future without being bound by the provisions of the Arias Mediation Proposals. Therefore the pressure is on the supporters of the de facto government and the Honduran Oligarchy to head off this possibility and to accept the Arias proposals to ensure their political survival.

However, future developments depend on the Zelaya supporters maintaining the level of the political protests leading to a pro Zelaya shift within the army lower and middle levels. If the public pressure dies down and the Micheletti regime thinks the situation is under control or that Zelaya would not keep the terms of the Arias agreement they will continue to block Zelaya's return to power.

Honduran soldiers raid building
Associated Press

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 10:53 AM

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Soldiers and police enforced an emergency decree suspending civil liberties Wednesday despite promises by the coup-imposed government to lift the measures criticized by its own allies as going too far. About 150 police and soldiers acting on the decree raided the offices of the National Agrarian Institute, occupied by supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya since the June 28 coup. Authorities detained 54 farm activists and Zelaya supporters, police spokesman Orlin Cerrato said. "The decree is being discussed by a lot of sectors, and appeals have been filed," he said. "But it remains in force."

Cerrato said the action was aimed at recovering control of the building, which contains valuable land title records. One of the detained activists, farmer Jose Irene Murillo, 69, said he feared "they are going to destroy the records of the small farmers, because the big landowners want the land."

Lawmakers have made clear Congress will revoke the emergency security crackdown if
the interim government does not, said Rigoberto Chang, a congressman with the conservative National Party. Congress has the power to lift or modify the decree issued Sunday that bans unauthorized gatherings and lets police arrest people without warrants, rights guaranteed in the Honduran Constitution. It also allows authorities to shut news media for "statements that attack peace and the public order, or which offend the human dignity of public officials, or attack the law."
Interim President Roberto Micheletti backtracked on the decree Monday, saying he had agreed to reconsider the move at the request of congressional leaders. Wednesday's raid contrasted sharply with recent overtures to end the crisis from those who supported the coup. The country's political and business elite have been urging Micheletti this week to meet face-to-face with Zelaya after growing weary of the turmoil that has paralyzed Honduras.

The leftist leader also has indicated he is ready to break the stalemate. Zelaya said Tuesday night that he was encouraged by a plan proposed by an influential business chamber for putting him back in office and ending the crisis. The plan includes bringing foreign troops to Honduras to ensure that if Zelaya was restored to the presidency, he would respect an international mediator's proposal that his powers be strictly limited.

Zelaya said it was "good sign" that "conservative sectors of the country are analyzing a proposal" that includes his reinstatement. "We will make the respective analysis," Zelaya said in an interview with Channel 11. "We hope to enter into talks with those who are making this proposal in the next hours."

The disagreement over the security decree was the biggest public rift between Micheletti and the Congress that put him in power after soldiers forced Zelaya into exile June 28 in a dispute over changing the constitution.

The interim government has been increasingly on the defensive since Zelaya sneaked back into the country on Sept. 21 and took refuge at the Brazilian Embassy. Micheletti initially insisted on the decree to counter what he said were calls for "insurrection" by the ousted leader's supporters.

But conservative politicians expressed fear it would endanger the Nov. 29 presidential election, which they consider Honduras' best hope for regaining international recognition. The ballot was scheduled before the removal of Zelaya, whose presidential term expires in January.

Chang said leading conservative lawmakers "weren't even consulted" about the security crackdown. "It took us by surprise," he said. "We were scared because they weren't taking us into account at all." Chang criticized the closure of two pro-Zelaya broadcasters Monday under the decree, saying such moves could encourage protesters who have been largely peaceful to turn to violence to get their views across.

Despite the dispute, there has been no groundswell of support among lawmakers for allowing Zelaya to return to power, as governments worldwide have been demanding.

Adolfo Facusse, the president of the National Industry Chamber, proposed over the weekend that 3,000 troops from conservative-led nations be sent to Honduras if Zelaya is restored to office. He said Tuesday that the force could be U.N. peacekeepers. "Zelaya would have a number of limits on his authority," said Facusse, whose association vocally supported Zelaya's ouster. Facusse says he discussed parts of the plan with Micheletti, including a proposal to make the interim president a congressman-for-life.

Chang said lawmakers were open to considering any proposals for resolving the political standoff "no matter how unlikely they might appear," but he said there was no need to have foreign troops in Honduras. Micheletti so far has been staunchly opposed to putting Zelaya back in office.

Cracks deepen among supporters of Honduran coup
Associated Press
Wednesday, September 30, 2009 2:00 AM

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Cracks are deepening among supporters of Honduras' coup-imposed government, with business leaders softening their opposition to reinstating the ousted president and lawmakers threatening to revoke an emergency decree limiting civil liberties.

Lawmakers have made clear Congress will revoke the order if the government does not, Rigoberto Chang, a congressman with the conservative National Party, said Tuesday. Congress has the power to lift or modify the decree.

Interim President Roberto Micheletti backtracked on the emergency order Monday, saying he had agreed to reconsider the move at the request of congressional leaders. But the order appeared to remain in effect Tuesday.

olice prevented hundreds of demonstrators from marching in support of ousted President Manuel Zelaya for a second straight day. Two broadcasters that had criticized the coup remained shuttered, although one of them, Radio Globo, was transmitting on the Internet a day after police raided its offices and confiscated equipment.

The disagreement over the security decree was the biggest public rift between Micheletti and the Congress that put him in power after soldiers forced Zelaya into exile June 28 in a dispute over changing the constitution.

The interim government has been increasingly on the defensive since Zelaya sneaked back into the country on Sept. 21 and took refuge at the Brazilian Embassy. Micheletti initially insisted the government needed to restrict freedom of speech and assembly to counter what he said were calls for "insurrection" by the ousted leader's supporters. But conservative politicians expressed fear the emergency decree imposed Sunday would endanger the Nov. 29 presidential election, which they consider Honduras' best hope for regaining international recognition. The ballot was scheduled before the removal of Zelaya, whose presidential term expires in January.
Chang said leading conservative lawmakers "weren't even consulted" about the security crackdown. "It took us by surprise," he said. "We were scared because they weren't taking us into account at all."

Chang criticized the closure of the two pro-Zelaya broadcasters, saying such moves could encourage protesters who have been largely peaceful to turn to violence to get their views across. "It's less damaging to talk on the television or radio than being on the streets throwing stones," the congressman said. "A decree of that nature could endanger the elections."

Despite the dispute, there has been no groundswell of support among lawmakers for allowing Zelaya to return to power, as governments worldwide have been demanding.

Influential business leaders, however, have indicated they are open to the idea of reinstating Zelaya. They proposed over the weekend that 3,000 U.N. peacekeepers be sent to Honduras to ensure that if Zelaya was restored to the presidency, he would respect an international mediator's proposal that his powers be strictly limited.
"Zelaya would have a number of limits on his authority," Adolfo Facusse, president of the National Industry Chamber, which had vocally supported Zelaya's ouster, said Tuesday.

Facusse said previously that he discussed parts of the plan with Micheletti, including a proposal to make the interim president a congressman-for-life. He said the peacekeepers could come from conservative-led nations like Colombia, Panama or Canada.

Chang said lawmakers were open to considering any proposals for resolving the political standoff "no matter how unlikely they might appear," but he said there was no need to send foreign troops to Honduras.

Micheletti remains staunchly opposed to putting Zelaya back in office.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, the mediator in U.S.-backed talks who put forward the proposal for returning Zelaya to office with limited powers, commended Micheletti for saying he would reverse the security decree. But Arias criticized him for refusing to budge on reinstating Zelaya. Micheletti "has not moved an inch" in negotiations to return Zelaya to power, Arias said at a business forum in Miami.

Earlier Tuesday, Gen. Romeo Vasquez, the military chief who oversaw Zelaya's ouster, implored Hondurans on both sides to join in resolving the crisis. "All sectors of society should put aside their differences to unite the homeland," Vasquez said.

Honduras says OAS delegation can visit
CNN Online
29 September 2009

A controversial emergency decree limiting some freedoms in Honduras remained in place Tuesday, despite de facto President Roberto Micheletti's stated intention to repeal it. The controversy over the decree, which limits constitutional rights such as freedoms of expression, travel and public congregation, became the latest obstacle toward a resolution between Micheletti and deposed President Jose Manuel Zelaya. The decree was a response to the unexpected return of Zelaya to Honduras. He has been holed up inside the Brazilian embassy in the Honduran capital for more than one week.

Micheletti has been meeting with Honduran supreme court justices and congressmen about steps to repeal the decree, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias told CNN en Español.

Arias, a mediator between the two sides, said he spoke with Micheletti on the phone about the issue. "If the decree is repealed, it would be a very good thing," Arias said. The measure had not been repealed as of Tuesday night, but Micheletti has said that he would listen to the wishes of the other branches of power.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International became the latest human rights organization to condemn the measure. "Honduras risks spiraling into a state of lawlessness, where police and military act with no regard for human rights or the rule of law," said Susan Lee, Americas Director at Amnesty International, in a statement. "Roberto Micheletti must urgently rescind the decree and send clear instructions to the security forces to respect human rights in all circumstances and at all times."

In another development, the head of the armed forces, Romeo Vasquez, said that a solution to the crisis would come soon, CNN en Español reported. But the general gave no details of how that solution would come.

Meanwhile, Honduras said a delegation from the Organization of American States can visit Friday, five days after a group of OAS representatives looking to help the country end its political turmoil was turned away. The OAS officials were not allowed in although they had been invited, the Honduran government said in a statement late Monday, because they arrived too soon. The de facto government was carrying on "conversations between the political actors, local business and religious leaders" and was not ready for the visitors, the statement said. The OAS held an emergency meeting Monday and issued it's own statement saying the organization "deplored" Honduras' refusal to allow the diplomats into the country.

Monday night's statement by Honduras also defended the emergency decree.
The 45-day decree announced Sunday night forbids any unauthorized public gatherings, allows officials to make arrests without a judicial order and lets the government close down news media that threaten "peace and order." "This decision was made because (Zelaya) was calling for insurrection ... but I'm going to listen to the other powers of the state and we're going to make the most wise decision in the interests of Honduras," Micheletti said, according to the newspaper La Prensa.

Zelaya, who was ousted in a June 28 military-led coup, has called for talks with Micheletti, who has vowed that the former president will never regain his post. Micheletti also has said Zelaya would be arrested if he leaves the Brazilian embassy here in the nation's capital. The crack-down under the emergency order was swift Monday as Honduran police and military seized the Canal 36 TV station and Radio Globo stations

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hondurans Are Weary, Obama Is Accused of Foot-dragging by Policy Center

More and more, Hondurans on the ground are telling me they just want this fight to be over. But there has been little movement by the interim government, other than some general and contradictory statements. It does seem that this struggle has become a contest of wills between the two principal players.

Military asks Hondurans to find peaceful solution
Associated Press

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 3:15 PM
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- The general who oversaw the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya implored all sectors of Honduran society to join in resolving the country's deepening crisis Tuesday, a message that seemed aimed at calming an uproar over a government order suspending civil liberties. Gen. Romeo Vasquez's comments on Channel 5 television came hours after interim President Roberto Micheletti said he would accept congressional calls for him to reverse the emergency decree suspending civil liberties that he had announced on Sunday. But little had changed on Tuesday. Two critical broadcasters remained shuttered and police faced off with about 500 demonstrators who sat in the middle of a street after officers blocked them from marching.

Micheletti also said he would allow an Organization of American States team whose arrival was blocked this weekend. The OAS hopes to persuade the coup leaders to bow to international demands they reinstate Zelaya, who was arrested and expelled from the country on June 28. Micheletti's backpedalling reflected the largest public show of dissent within the ranks of his supporters to date. Conservatives expressed fear that Sunday's decree would endanger the Nov. 29 presidential election, which they consider Honduras' best hope for regaining international recognition.

The message by Vasquez seemed aimed at easing domestic and international protests that escalated after the government imposed the restrictions in response to Zelaya's surprise return home. The decree suspended freedoms of speech and assembly and allowed warrantless arrests. Officials also closed dissident television and radio stations and expelled OAS employees. "I am sure that Hondurans will find a peaceful solution soon to the crisis we are facing," Vasquez said, adding that "All sectors of society should put aside their differences to unite the homeland."
Zelaya, speaking via telephone to a United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York said the decree was proof that the interim government "is a fascist dictatorship that has repressed the Honduran people."

The interim government said the measures were needed to counter calls for an uprising by Zelaya's supporters ahead of the three-month anniversary of the June 28 coup. The reversals came in a roller-coaster 24 hours.
Micheletti first gave the Brazilian government a 10-day ultimatum to get rid of Zelaya - who has been holed up at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa since sneaking back into the country Sept. 21 - warning Brazil it would have to take down its flag and remove the embassy crest. Then on Monday, Micheletti said he wanted to send "a big hug" to Brazil's president and pledged nothing would happen to the diplomatic mission.

Micheletti also announced late Monday that he would soon cancel the measures and that an OAS delegation would be welcome to help mediate talks scheduled for early October. Micheletti said his decision came after talking to congressional leaders, who were concerned about the decree's effect on the election, in which all the major candidates oppose Zelaya's policies. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who mediated U.S.-backed talks between the two sides, commended Micheletti for saying he would reverse the decree, but he criticized him for refusing to budge on reinstating Zelaya. Speaking at a business forum in Miami, Arias said Micheletti "has not moved an inch" in negotiations to return Zelaya to power with limited authority - a plan brokered by Arias. He warned that the results of the November presidential election in Honduras will not be recognized unless the terms of his San Jose Accord are met.

The decree was declared as Zelaya called for a "final offensive" against the government, and Micheletti said pro-Zelaya media outlets were calling for violence. One of the closed broadcasters, Radio Globo, was transmitting on the Internet Tuesday, a day after police raided its offices raided and confiscated equipment.
All the drama belied the fact that throughout three long months, demonstrations by both sides have been largely peaceful. The government says three people have been killed since the coup, while protesters put the number at 10.

On most days, pro-Zelaya marches have been accompanied by mocking "Goriletti" gorilla dolls dancing on poles, while the Jesus Aguilar Paz School band beats out a samba-like "punto" rhythm from Honduras' Garifuna region, sending protesters into hip-swaying dances. But in deeply divided Honduras, even the high school band is split: the more conservative horn section quit, while the drums renamed themselves "The Band of the Resistance" and have marched in about five dozen protests to demand Zelaya's reinstatement.

Honduras Coup Regime Suspends Constitutional Rights, Closes Media, Threatens Brazil (from Center for Economic and Policy Research)
Dan Beeton
28 September 2009

WASHINGTON - September 28 - The Honduran de facto regime suspended constitutional guarantees to civil liberties, including freedom of assembly and freedom of the press, for 45 days on the eve of mass protests planned to mark the three-month anniversary since the coup d'etat against President Manuel Zelaya took place. The regime has also shut down Radio Globo, a prominent independent media outlet that has covered anti-coup activities and that reportedly has a journalist inside the Brazilian embassy where Zelaya is staying, and TV station Channel 36.

"After 90 days and not one word from the Obama administration on the abuses in Honduras, it looks an awful lot like a tacit endorsement of the repression by the U.S. government," said Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

"Certainly the de facto regime must have gotten the idea that they have a blank check from the Obama administration for any crimes that they commit. That's one reason they're doing this."

The suspension of civil liberties would last at least until just a few weeks before the scheduled November 29 elections, and is likely to further call into question the elections' legitimacy.

The regime also issued an ultimatum to Brazil over the weekend, warning the Brazilian government that it has 10 days to decide what to do about Zelaya, and a regime spokesperson warned that since Brazil broke off diplomatic relations with the coup government, it could remove the flag and shield from the Brazilian embassy, making it a "private office." Brazilian President Lula da Silva rejected the threats, saying that his government "doesn't accept ultimatums from coup-plotters."

In the three months since President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown, the coup regime has committed numerous human right abuses, including thousands of arrests and detentions, beatings, and the closing down of independent media. This has been documented, reported, and denounced by major human rights organizations throughout the world: Amnesty International, the Center for Justice and International Law, Human Rights Watch, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights and others. Some opponents of the regime have also been killed, tortured, and raped, and Honduran human rights groups have accused the government of responsibility for these crimes.

Honduran Labor Organizer Dead After Tear Gas Attack
Lindsay Beyerstein
In These
28 September 2009

The tense standoff in Honduras has entered its second week. The latest phase of the crisis began last Monday, when the country's democratically elected president, Mel Zelaya, slipped back into the country last week after nearly three months in exile following a military coup on June 28.

Zelaya has taken refuge inside the Brazilian embassy, in the capital city of Tecucigalpa, from where he is calling on his supporters to rise up against the ruling junta and restore him to power. It's not clear from English-language media how serious Zelaya is about inspiring resistance, but of course, the junta is painting his utterances as incitements to armed insurrection.

Twenty-four-year-old labor organizer Wendy Elizabeth Avila died after suffering an asthma attack last week when police bombarded demonstrators outside the embassy with teargas. Avila's funeral was held yesterday; protest organizers say they will file charges against the police.

The entire country was briefly placed under de facto house arrest after Zelaya's return. On Sunday the regime asserted the right to shut down any media "offending the dignity" of public officials. A new curfew went into effect yesterday.

Amnesty International released a report last week detailing widespread human rights abuses by the regime against peaceful protesters.

Monday, September 28, 2009

More Turmoil

I spoke too soon yesterday, saying that things had settled down somewhat in Honduras. Today, after Zelaya’s call for his supporters to converge on the capital, it was back to chaos again. More repression and the interim government’s shutdown of opposing media outlets, though later Micheletti backed down and promised to restore them. (See articles below.) Though, if their equipment has been confiscated, what good will that do? Things to seem to have become very ugly; something has to give. Of course, this sort of strife is just what Micheletti wanted to avoid by keeping Zelaya out of the country. However, either his intelligence was faulty or segments of the military secretly cooperated with Zelaya.

A blog reader asks: What's the deal with Micheletti? Surely his own people pointed out months ago that the exile part was wrong; presumably Arias did, too. Yet he hasn't wavered. Apparently the decision to send Zelaya away was made in haste, but one must wonder by whom, and whether constitutional or other objections were raised at the time. It's beginning to look like government service, including national elective office, is not an area that attracts the best and the brightest in Honduras.

Some have questioned what the referendum was actually about. I don't know first-hand exactly what the referendum ballot said, nor have I read the Honduran constitution, but it supposedly was aimed at making constitutional changes in an unauthorized manner. I've relied on press reports, information from Hondurans and other sources, and the Congress Research Service report. The rest of the Honduran political establishment, including the supreme court, thought what Zelaya was doing was illegal and forbidden by the constitution, but, unless he submits to a judicial proceeding where all the evidence is presented and the fine print analyzed, we'll never know, assuming there could even be an independent proceeding at this point. We'll never know because it's not likely to ever get to that point. So, never mind the legalities and past mistakes on both sides, who said or did what to whom and when, let them sign an agreement now with guarantees (with outside unbiased monitors, if such exist), stop arguing, and get on with the election and back to normal life. This charade has gone on long enough. Zelaya is not going for a second term now, that seems obvious. In that respect, the political establishment has won out in the short term. Long term is harder to predict.

Neither side has conducted itself in a statesmanlike manner, but let's hope they’ve gained some political maturity in the process. However, given the strong feelings on both sides, I still say that it's surprising that more deaths and injuries have not occurred. This is a country where soccer patrons are killed leaving a game, where violent crime and vehicle accidents are epidemic, where marauding gangs descend on unsuspecting villagers. Of course, government forces should take more care to avoid injuring protesters and media censorship is unacceptable. The interim government has not acted wisely or well and has stubbornly dragged its feet, ignoring economic sanctions and worldwide condemnation.

But talk about double standards, Cuba, that Latin American beacon, has had no free elections, complete censorship, and a ban on unauthorized gatherings for more than 50 years; has executed and imprisoned countless thousands; and now has former government officials serving sentences of up to 25 years for daring to suggest another economic path. No voices have been raised about that. And Raul Castro, appearing in Managua with his arm around Zelaya, had the gall to admonish Honduras to re-instate its democratically elected president! No wonder the Honduran political establishment feels defensive! As volunteer Caribbean Coordinator for Amnesty International USA, I happen to have a greater knowledge than most people about human rights violations in Cuba, so that’s a double-standard I’m particularly sensitive about.

Someone sent me a Wall St. Journal column today that says that Lula and other Brazilian officials have argued that they have nothing to say about human rights violations and lack of free elections in Cuba because that would be interfering in that country's internal affairs, but Brazil apparently has no compunctions about intervening in Honduras's internal affairs. Hondurans are now telling me via e-mail that they're tired of the whole thing, that it has become a fight between two egoists. They just want it to stop!

Here is a long analysis and prediction from one of my commentators: I believe that Zelaya returned because he was afraid that if he did nothing, protests would die down and Micheletti would be able to run out the clock. He was convinced that this was the only way he had to try to force the de facto government into handing power over to him. He expected his presence in Tegucigalpa to increase public protests and that this would increase the possibility that the army would crack under the pressure and refuse to continue to repress the Honduran protesters. My gut feeling is that Micheletti is still confident that the army will not crack and will continue to repress the population and, as long as this is true, he simply will not accept Zelaya's return to power and will continue, as before, to try to run out the clock, to hold presidential elections, and hand over power to the winner. If this is not possible, he will try to hold out at least long enough so that if Zelaya returns to power, he will no longer have control over the army since it will have already passed to the Electoral Tribunal, under the terms of the Arias agreement.

I also believe that Micheletti is confident that if his army backing begins to slip, he will have sufficient warning to be able to accept to the Arias mediation proposal. Micheletti is confident of this since Zelaya has already voiced publicly his willingness to accept the Arias proposal. This leads Micheletti to believe that it is to his advantage to hold out for as long as he can, since he has the possibility to try to reach a better outcome by doing so and he is at least guaranteed the Arias mediating proposal if things do not work out.

But this, of course, places strain on the middle ranks of army officers who really do not give a damn who is president of Honduras and would like to continue their military careers and to live quietly in their own country without becoming unpopular with their countrymen. Many of them come from the poorest segments of Honduran society and have strong family and friendship links with a lot of Zelaya civilian supporters who would not favor the continued repression of popular protests. Also Zelaya probably returned to Honduras with the backing of at least a portion of the military.

Micheletti runs the danger that his support in the army and the police might give way suddenly without any advance notice and not give him time to negotiate his acceptance of the Arias proposals with his opponents. Thus, if the timing of Micheletti or his top military supporters is off, there could be very dangerous consequences for all of them and for their families and possessions. In the face of a neutral or hostile military and police, he and his supporters might suddenly have to run for their lives into embassies or foreign countries to avoid being lynched by hostile mobs. In my view, by returning to Honduras, Zelaya regained his momentum and has significantly bettered his chances to regain the presidency,

If the army splits and part of it supports Zelaya while the rest backs Micheletti, the situation could even erupt into a civil war that would eventually require an OAS-commanded foreign military intervention to re-establish peace and carry out a transparent, impartial presidential election. But whatever, the immediate result, I continue to believe that the actions of Micheletti and the Honduran oligarchy have made Zelaya a political martyr and the most influential political figure in Honduras for the rest of his life.

Whatever may happen in the next few months, if Zelaya lives long enough, he is destined to one day return to the Honduran presidency and to carry out changes that will alter the future of this former Central American backwater. All of a sudden, quiet little Honduras has been plunged into political turmoil and has awakened from feudalism. Things have begun to move and Honduras will never be the same again!

Soldiers raid Honduran media outlets
By MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press Writer, Sept. 28, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Honduras' coup-installed government silenced two key dissident broadcasters on Monday just hours after it suspended civil liberties to prevent an uprising by backers of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Dozens of soldiers raided the offices of Radio Globo. Officials also shut down Channel 36 television station, leaving it broadcasting only a test pattern.

Rene Zepeda, a spokesman for the interim government, said the two outlets had been taken off the air in accordance with a government emergency decree announced late Sunday that limits civil liberties and allows authorities to close news media that "attack peace and public order."

Supporters of the deposed leftist president vowed to march in the streets Monday in defiance of the emergency order and carry out what Zelaya calls a "final offensive" against his ouster on the three-month anniversary of the coup. "They took away all the equipment. This is the death of the station," said Radio Globo owner Alejandro Villatoro, describing the dawn raid on the station. Station employees scrambled out of an emergency exit to escape the raid that Villatoro said involved as many as 200 soldiers. He said the office remained surrounded by soldiers. It was the second time soldiers have barged into the station — the first was June 28, the same day Zelaya was ousted.

The interim government has long argued it is trying to preserve democracy in Honduras, and even cited the fact that pro-Zelaya media such as Channel 36 were operating freely as proof. But the emergency decree showed a tough new stance domestically and internationally, a reversal from last week, when interim President Roberto Micheletti indicated his administration was willing to hold talks with Zelaya, who has taken shelter at the Brazilian Embassy after sneaking into the country a week ago.

The Organization of American States in Washington called a high-level emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the Honduras crisis after the interim government expelled at most members of an OAS advance team that had arrived Sunday to try to restart negotiations. Micheletti's Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez said the team had not given advance warning of its arrival and said it did not come "at the right time ... because we are in the middle of internal conversations."

Officials also issued an ultimatum to Brazil on Sunday, giving the South American country 10 days to turn Zelaya over for arrest or grant him asylum and, presumably, take him out of Honduras. Lopez said Brazil had broken relations by withdrawing its ambassador and said if it does not restore ties, the diplomatic mission would become a private office — implying it could be raided by police.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva responded, saying that his government "doesn't accept ultimatums from coup-plotters." Micheletti has pledged not to raid the embassy where Zelaya has been holed up with more than 60 supporters. The building is surrounded by armed police and soldiers, who have been there since baton-wielding troops used tear gas and water cannons to chase away thousands of his backers when he returned to the country Sept. 21. Protesters say at least 10 people have been killed since the coup, while the government puts the toll at three.

The government's suspension of civil liberties limits rights guaranteed in the Honduran Constitution: The decree prohibits unauthorized gatherings and allows police to arrest without a warrant "any person who poses a danger to his own life or those of others." It also allows officials to shut down media outlets for "statements that attack peace and the public order, or which offend the human dignity of public officials, or attack the law." The Honduran Constitution forbids arrests without warrants except when a criminal is caught in the act.

In a nationally broadcast announcement, the government explained it took the steps it did "due to the calls for insurrection that Mr. Zelaya has publicly made." Zelaya is demanding to be reinstated and has said that Micheletti's government "has to fall."

While many nations have announced they would send diplomatic representatives back to Honduras to support negotiations, the interim government said Sunday that it would not automatically accept ambassadors back from some nations that withdrew their envoys.

Coup-installed Honduras leader to revive liberties
Associated Press, September 28, 2009 7:34 PM EDT

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - The coup-installed president of Honduras backed down Monday from an escalating standoff with protesters and suggested he would restore civil liberties and reopen dissident television and radio stations by the end of the week. Riot police ringed supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya who gathered for a large-scale protest march, setting off a daylong standoff. The government of interim President Roberto Micheletti declared the march illegal, sent soldiers to silence dissident broadcasters, and suspended civil liberties for 45 days.

But in a sudden reversal, Micheletti said Monday afternoon that he wanted to "ask the Honduran people for forgiveness" for the measures and said he would lift them in accordance with demands from the same Congress that installed him after a June 28 coup. He said he would discuss lifting the measures with court officials "as soon as possible," adding: "By the end of this week we'll have this resolved." He also repeated his pledge not to attack the Brazilian Embassy, where Zelaya has been holed up with 60 supporters since sneaking back into the country on Sept. 21. He even sent "a big hug" to Brazil's president, a day after giving him a 10-day ultimatum to expel Zelaya or move him to Brazil.

The increasingly authoritarian measures by the government had prompted international condemnation, though the U.S. representative to the Organization of American States also had harsh words for Zelaya, calling his return to Honduras "irresponsible and foolish." The Micheletti government says Zelaya supporters are planning a violent insurrection. So far, protests have seen little bloodshed - the government says three people have been killed since the coup, while protesters put the number at 10. Protest leader Juan Barahona said that could change."This mass movement is peaceful, but to the extent they repress us, fence us in and make this method useless, we have to find some other form of struggle," he said.

Micheletti made clear that even if the emergency measures are lifted, "that doesn't mean the police are going back to barracks." Monday's march drew hundreds of people, many of whom covered their mouths with tape to protest government censorship. Protest leaders insisted that thousands more were trying to join but were stopped from leaving poorer neighborhoods or from traveling from the countryside."There is brutal repression against the people," Zelaya told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday.

The emergency decree issued Sunday bans unauthorized gatherings and lets police arrest people without warrants, rights guaranteed in the Honduran Constitution. It also allows authorities to shut news media for "statements that attack peace and the public order, or which offend the human dignity of public officials, or attack the law." In late afternoon, police allowed the protesters to board buses and leave.
Government soldiers raided the offices of Radio Globo and the television station Channel 36, both critics of the Micheletti government, and silenced both. Afterward, the TV station broadcast only a test pattern. Radio Globo employees scrambled out of an emergency exit to escape the raid that involved as many as 200 soldiers. "They took away all the equipment," said owner Alejandro Villatoro. "This is the death of the station."

Two journalists covering the raid for Mexico's Televisa and Guatemala's Guatevision were beaten by security forces, who also took their camera, according to Guatemala's ambassador to the Organization of American States, Jorge Skinner. He asked the InterAmerican Human Rights Commission to intervene.

The OAS held an emergency meeting in Washington on Monday after Honduras expelled members of an OAS advance team trying to restart negotiations between the two sides. Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez said the team had not given advance notice of its arrival. U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley condemned the expulsion. "I think it's time for the de facto regime to put down the shovel," he said. "With every action they keep on making the hole deeper."

Lew Amselem, the U.S. representative to the OAS, also condemned the expulsion as "deplorable and foolish." But had equally harsh words for Zelaya. He said returning without an agreement "serves neither the interests of the Honduran people nor those seeking the peaceful reestablishment of the democratic order in Honduras." He added: "Those who facilitated President Zelaya's return ... have a special responsibility for the prevention of violence and the well-being of the Honduran people." He did not say to whom he was referring.

The increasingly authoritarian actions by the interim government signaled an abrupt shift in strategy after appealing for foreign support and arguing it ousted Zelaya to preserve democracy. Only last week, Micheletti argued in a letter to the Washington Post that his government was not a coup, citing as evidence that freedom assembly was still allowed: "They do not guarantee freedom of the press, much less a respect for human rights. In Honduras, these freedoms remain intact and vibrant." He argued that the international community will have no choice but to recognize a Nov. 29 vote - "the ultimate civil exercise of any democracy - a free and open presidential election."

Zelaya supporters noted that the emergency decree effectively outlawed any campaigning until two weeks before election day. "If they can't campaign ... what happens then to the electoral solution?" asked protest leader Rafael Alegria.
Analysts called the shift a sign that the Micheletti government is feeling increasingly threatened. "It certainly shows that they're worried that Zelaya might be able to disrupt the government," said Heather Berkman, a Honduras expert with the New York-based Eurasia Group. "Zelaya's only recourse really is to mobilize people on the streets. I'm sure that Micheletti and the government know that and they're going to do whatever they can to prevent that." She called it a risky move: "They're damaging their own credibility, and really hurting the economy."

September 28, 2009
Honduras Bars Diplomats as Political Crisis Grows

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — The de facto government of Honduras expelled four diplomats from the Organization of American States on Sunday and threatened to shut down the Brazilian Embassy, where the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, has been holed up for a week. In a sign of rising tension, the government issued a decree Sunday that banned unauthorized gatherings and allowed the authorities to shut down broadcasters and arrest anyone deemed to pose a threat to their lives and that of others.
The diplomats were members of an advance team planning a visit of foreign ministers from member countries to try to negotiate an end to the political crisis here. The organization had been invited by the de facto government to hold talks here, then disinvited, and invited again before being turned back at the airport on Sunday. Carlos López Contreras, the foreign minister of the de facto government, said Sunday that the group had arrived before the government said it could. “They fell on us by surprise,” he said. A fifth member of the team, John Biehl of Chile, was allowed to stay, Mr. López said, because he was a key player in the Honduran crisis mediation in Costa Rica.

In Washington, José Miguel Insulza, the O.A.S. secretary general, said the expulsion was “incomprehensible, since it was the very same de facto government of Honduras that had agreed to the visit.” The O.A.S. permanent council will meet Monday to discuss the situation.

The government also gave Brazil a 10-day deadline to either grant Mr. Zelaya political asylum or hand him over for trial on a catalog of charges including treason and abuse of authority. Mr. López said that if Brazil did not comply within 10 days, the embassy would lose its diplomatic status. “As a courtesy, we are not planning to invade the place,” he added.

The government’s actions on Sunday, ostensibly aimed at keeping its grip on power, seemed to highlight its increasing isolation as the interim president, Roberto Micheletti, appears to lurch between hard-line stances and offers to negotiate.
The Brazilian government brushed off the threat against its embassy. “Brazil will not comply with an ultimatum from a government of coup-mongers,” President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told reporters on Sunday at a meeting in Venezuela. He had previously said that Mr. Zelaya could remain in the embassy as long as was necessary.

The Micheletti government also seemed to be moving toward breaking relations with Spain, Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela. In a statement on Saturday, it said that ambassadors from those countries were not welcome back unless those countries recognized its representatives. The government statement told diplomats from those four countries who are in Honduras to turn in their credentials and leave their embassies.

Mr. Zelaya has been living at the Brazilian Embassy with about 65 family members, supporters and journalists since he secretly returned to Honduras last Monday. Mr. Micheletti has said that Honduran troops, which have cut off the area around the embassy, will not raid the compound.

Mr. Zelaya’s stance has also been erratic. His cellphone calls, broadcast on sympathetic stations, swing between calls for peaceful protest and cries like “Restitution or death!”

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Interim Government Gives Brazil Ten-Day Deadline

From various reports, it appears that the Honduran capital, the scene of most action, has settled down somewhat. Utilities have been restored to the Brazilian Embassy, though it is still surrounded by security forces. Demonstrations on each side have gotten smaller, but persist. Zelaya has asked to talk with Micheletti, but, so far, the latter has refused. However, Micheletti has agreed to let Arias come in to try again to mediate again. An intriguing idea is being floated of letting Zelaya return as president for an hour or a day, then letting a caretaker government take over, presumably not including Micheletti, who has become a highly controversial figure.

A reader comments in frustration that Micheletti is hard to understand. Maybe he's controlled by the anti-Zelaya business interests. Maybe he's just not all that bright; for sure he lacks the geopolitical experience of world leaders of bigger, more cloutful countries. By the same token, the Melistas [Zelaya supporters] in DC and elsewhere must cringe at his absurd theatrics. The Micheletti government needs to be plopped down in the middle of a strictly run 12-Step meeting where the topic of the night is the step (I think it's no. 10) that includes the words "and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it." It would be explained to them that although "promptly" is the ideal, any time you can bring yourself to admit your error ahead of the ax, you'll be better off doing it. Yet these guys still haven't acknowledged that they were wrong to forcibly exile Zelaya. I don't understand why Zelaya himself hasn't leaned on them for that -- refuse to address the charges against him until he can be brought before a properly constituted tribunal, but insist that the exile is illegal and if the de facto government wants any pretense of legitimacy, it needed to arrange for his secure return, like on about June 30. Why could not Hillary have troubled herself to call up a translation of the Honduran constitution, studied the sucker with her vaunted hard-workership, and pointed this out?

Yes, Micheletti has admitted that exiling Zelaya was a mistake—look at the all the trouble it's caused—but he hasn't tried to remedy it yet, three months later. What is he waiting for? For September 29, as one of my blog commentators insists? For Oscar Arias? Now the interim government has given Brazil ten days to define Zelaya’s status, whatever that means, threatening to take unspecified measures after that, as per the following newspaper articles. Further below is an online article that I had missed before. The three dead mentioned there include two reported deaths right after Zelaya was removed from the country in late June. It’s not clear how the deaths occurred and there is no evidence for the charge of “selective killings.” Utilities to the Brazilian Embassy were restored soon after they were cut off. Food is being supplied to the embassy from some source. Nonetheless, many of us share the author’s impatience, even though his rhetoric may be overblown.

Honduras de facto government sets deadline over crisis
Sunday, September 27, 2009 1:49 AM

TEGUCIGALPA - Brazil has ten days to decide on the status of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who took refuge in the Brazilian embassy on Monday after sneaking back in the country, the de facto government said on Saturday.
Zelaya was overthrown and exiled by troops after a coup in June, but this week he returned home, sparking a tense face-off with the de facto government that has promised to arrest him in Central America's worst crisis in years. "We urge the Brazilian government to define the status of Mr. Zelaya in a period of no more than ten days," the de facto administration said in a statement. "If not, we will be obliged to take additional measures." The statement did not give details on those measures.

Hundreds of soldiers and riot police have surrounded the Brazilian embassy. The United Nations Security Council on Friday condemned harassment of the Brazilian embassy.

Zelaya, a logging magnate, upset conservative elites by allying himself with Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez. He demands to be restored to power, but the de facto government says November elections will resolve the crisis.
His return has stoked tensions in Honduras, a coffee and textile producing nation. One man was shot and killed in a clash between police and Zelaya supporters this week as pressure mounted to let the leftist return to power.
The United States, European Union and Organization of American States have urged dialogue to bring Zelaya back to office. But the de facto government insists that he must face justice at home.

Soldiers toppled Zelaya at gunpoint and sent him into exile in his pajamas after the Supreme Court ordered his arrest, saying he had broken the law by pushing for constitutional reforms critics say were an attempt to change presidential term limits and extend his rule.

In Honduras, Talking, Takeout, but No Accord
By MARC LACEY and ELISABETH MALKIN, September 27, 2009, New York Times

MEXICO CITY — It looked for a while as though the next bizarre twist in the political standoff in Honduras would come about because of hunger pangs. Manuel Zelaya, the deposed president, had been complaining for some days that the Brazilian Embassy, where he and dozens of supporters were holed up, was running out of food. The options were grim: he could starve as a martyr, or leave the embassy and face certain arrest. But on Thursday, human rights workers managed to get past the military barricade outside with home-cooked chicken and takeout from Burger King, allowing this most unconventional international saga to conclude its third month unresolved.

Just as Mr. Zelaya’s removal from office on the morning of June 28 in a most atypical coup d’état has stuck to no script — he was sent packing in his pajamas by soldiers who carried both automatic weapons and a court-issued arrest warrant — the crisis that followed has left veteran diplomats, foreign policy experts and even the participants themselves scratching their heads. Predicting the next twist and turn has proved to be just as challenging as finding a viable solution to bringing together two stubborn men of the very same party who find themselves seemingly miles apart.

It was initially thought that Mr. Zelaya’s surprise return to the country on Monday might force a quick settlement. World leaders, riveted by the daring entrance, would redouble their efforts.Hondurans, massing in the streets, would ratchet up the pressure. The de facto government would wilt under all the pressure and restore Mr. Zelaya to his former perch.

But nearly a week later, little had changed. World leaders reverted their gaze to Iran and other crises, the street protests were largely contained, and while Mr. Zelaya and the man who replaced him, Roberto Micheletti, talked about talking, they had not yet done so, at least directly. “There’s a lot of noise around the margins that did not exist a week ago,” said Christopher Sabatini, senior director of policy at the Council of the Americas. “But whether it affects the nub of the problem is unclear. This stalemate operates according to its own logic, or lack of logic.”
While the principals have not communicated, emissaries have shuttled between them, giving some hope of movement. The immediate questions about Mr. Zelaya appear to be centered on whether he will be allowed out of the embassy and, if he is, whether he would be considered the president, a private citizen or some amalgam.

But the clock is ticking. Looming before all the actors is the presidential election called for Nov. 29. The vote, if it is allowed to proceed, compounds the pressure on negotiators to resolve the crisis quickly while it paradoxically offers an expedient way out, an electoral do-over that would allow Honduras to simply drop the curtain on the whole drama and move on.

Tempting as that may be, leaders in the hemisphere are united in their fear that allowing the coup to stand sets a dangerous precedent in a region where coups have too long been the norm. The State Department suggested this month that it might not accept the election results if the Micheletti government remained in power to administer them. Other governments in the region, including Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, have issued even more iron-clad threats.

The warnings appear to have gotten through to the candidates running for office, who were selected before Mr. Zelaya was ousted but face the prospect of becoming, if they emerge on top, the president of a pariah state. “I think they should take that statement very seriously,” Hugo Llorens, the American Ambassador to Honduras, told reporters in Tegucigalpa, the capital, on Friday.

The candidates have turned in recent days into negotiators, albeit anxious ones. Last week, just before Mr. Zelaya’s return, five of the six candidates went to Costa Rica, where they met with President Óscar Arias and called for national reconciliation. But, clearly worried about how their political backers would react to overt support for Mr. Zelaya’s return, four of them would not explicitly endorse the plan Mr. Arias had negotiated to resolve the conflict, which would restore Mr. Zelaya to power until January, when the new president is to take office.

One of the contenders is Elvin Ernesto Santos, of the same Liberal Party that includes both Mr. Micheletti and Mr. Zelaya. Mr. Santos had been Mr. Zelaya’s vice president before souring on him and voicing support for his removal. Mr. Santos’s main opponent is Porfirio Lobo, of the National Party, who has been more equivocal on the political machinations.

On Thursday, the candidates met with Mr. Micheletti at the president’s office and then trooped over to the Brazilian Embassy, where they sat down with Mr. Zelaya. “What they’re trying to do is make Micheletti and Zelaya start talking,” said Miguel Angel Bonilla, a spokesman for the Lobo campaign. “They need to start thinking about the damage they are doing to Honduras.” Mr. Lobo, like many Hondurans, was exasperated with both of them. “Life in Honduras has to go on,” he said in an interview on Saturday. “Micheletti and Zelaya is an episode that is over in four more months.”

The candidates did not achieve a breakthrough, but the Organization of American States, which has also sought to broker negotiations, did not even manage to get its delegation into the country after being invited, disinvited and then apparently re-invited by the de facto government.

So far, the sanctions — the stripping of visas of the coup leaders and their financial supporters, the withholding of aid and the harsh words emanating from Washington and elsewhere — have failed to break the de facto government, prompting a rethinking of the approach. “Right now, the carrot we can offer is that an agreement would bring an end to the international condemnation, which we know is beginning to hurt them,” said a Congressional aide in Washington who is involved in the negotiations.

The fact that barely six months remained in Mr. Zelaya’s term when he was forcibly removed, as well as the fact that he is limited by the Constitution to a single term, may prove to be an opportunity. Some of the officials scrambling to cobble together a deal have proposed that Mr. Zelaya become president again for a day or even an hour, a symbolic restoration before resigning and ceding power to a caretaker government that would conduct the elections and prepare for a new, untainted leader.

There is no evidence right now that either side would agree to this. Mutual pardons would probably have to be included in any deal, since the prospect of lengthy trials involving Mr. Zelaya or his political enemies makes many Hondurans wince.
Lingering in the background of any discussion about how the situation in Honduras might unfold is the threat of violence.“At least four of the five scenarios I can think of lead to violence because of the polarization,” said Rosemary Joyce, an anthropologist at Berkeley who has worked in Honduras for decades. “The mutual demonization of those who don’t agree is a problem.”

Whether Mr. Zelaya’s return to Honduras has brought the crisis any closer to resolution remains to be seen. How long he can hold out in the embassy may turn on his fondness for burgers and cold chicken.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Washington Post Editorial Sees Honduran Elections as Way Out of Stalemate

First, let me apologize for misspelling Micheletti’s last name yesterday on this blog, in case anyone noticed.

A recent reader of my blog asked for a summary, as she did want to go back through all the previous postings, so I will repeat here some of what I told her in case other readers have the same problem. Of course, I am speaking from my own experience; other observers may and will have other opinions. Like many situations, the Honduras situation is not as clear-cut as it seemed at first. I have Honduran friends on both sides and also in the middle. When Zelaya was removed from the country by soldiers at gunpoint, it sure looked like a coup, which the whole world assumed it was, including Hillary (and including me). Then, it turned out that the soldiers were acting on civilian orders. Zelaya had been told by the supreme court that he could not carry out a referendum, as that is forbidden by the constitution, never mind the business about a second term, no referendums (referenda?), period. Although it's quite true, as some have pointed out, that if the referendum had been carried out and had gone in his favor, he might not have been able to run again himself right away, still the referendum was asking whether people wanted to amend the constitution to allow consecutive presidential terms.

In recent years, Latin American presidents have been able to serve only one consecutive term to prevent dictatorships from arising. This pattern was broken by Chavez, who was first elected in 1998 and promised to step down, but is still there and consolidating his power day-by-day, so that my friends working in human rights in Venezuela say they now have no room to breathe. Through providing cheap oil and advice to Ecuador and Bolivia, Chavez has won them over and their presidents also are now running for consecutive terms. Cheap oil to Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador has helped leftist leaders get elected there--Honduras was surrounded. So, when Honduras also started getting cheap oil (since withdrawn, of course) and Zelaya began an alliance with Chavez, the rest of the Honduran political establishment started getting nervous. And when Zelaya proposed the referendum using ballots printed in Venezuela and bringing in Venezuelan advisers (still there), they got very nervous, including members of his own party. Unfortunately, the Honduran constitution does not have an impeachment clause, which would have allowed Zelaya to be judged inside Honduras, so, when he disobeyed the supreme court and was going ahead anyway with the referendum, the constitutional successor, Micheletti, a member of his own party, assumed the presidency, as was legal, according to the legal dept. of the US Congressional Research service, as I’ve said before in this blog.

But what to do then about Zelaya, who ignored the court? The constitution also says that a Honduran citizen cannot be removed from the country by force. So, it was not a classical coup, but it was not a peaceful transition either. They didn't know how else to stop him, so they removed him from the country. Micheletti now admits that was a mistake--they should have undertaken some legal proceeding against him inside Honduras, though impeachment was out. They didn’t have much time to think matters through and removed Zelaya hours before the proposed referendum.

One of the commentators on my blog had said it's a double standard to fault Zelaya for perhaps wanting a second term, while Uribe in Colombia is now seeking a third term. Well Uribe has been criticized in the US and Colombia for that, though he’s popular with most Colombians (so it seems). The US has not taken a position against his third term, but neither has the US taken a position against Zelaya, to the contrary, aid has been withdrawn and his reinstatement is supported by the US. So the US has expressed no double standard there. Where there is a double standard, in my opinion, is that when earlier this year, Chavez threw out the mayor duly elected in Caracas, whose population of five million is not far behind the whole of Honduras' seven million, and then summarily put in his own unelected man in instead, no one in Latin America or the US said "boo" and, yet, there is this big hue and cry about Zelaya. That seems more of a double standard. But, of course, Chavez has oil and many countries are beholden to him and he also supplies considerable oil to the US. Honduras has nothing that anyone else wants.

Now that aid and loans have been withdrawn from Honduras and the world consensus is that Zelaya should serve out his term until it ends in January, and with threat that the US and the world community will not recognize the Nov. elections, the interim government is in a bind. They don't want to lose face or give in, but they need to find some acceptable way out, never mind what the constitution says. They just want to make sure Zelaya doesn't try something funny, or try to double-cross them or carry out reprisals. There will have to be an amnesty across the board, even for criminal elements and looters who have taken advantage of the situation.

Obama, for his part, wants a compromise, a consensus solution, an agreement both sides can live with and abide by--that's his preferred stance on most issues. He also doesn't want Big Brother USA to solve the Honduras standoff,; rather, he wants Arias to get in there and do it as a regional leader. (Go back and read all my blog postings.)

If that's not a clear explanation, it's because, in my opinion, it's not a clear matter of black and white. If it had been a real military coup, then, of course, everyone should be against it.

But now, after Zelaya snuck back into the country and took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy, things have gotten really messy. There has been violence, looting, and wanton destruction. There is even greater polarization. The economic situation, already dire before, is getting even worse. Something has to give, and very soon; it's become an emergency now. One hopeful sign, the Peace Corps is still nanging in there.

The following Post editorial sees the November elections as the way out, but that will happen only if the world recognizes them and restores aid and loans. The election campaign is proceeding in Honduras, with Zelaya’s former vice president as the candidate for his own Liberal Party.

Washington Post Editorial
Honduras Gets Messier
But there is a clear exit strategy: elections
Friday, September 25, 2009

THE LAST time we addressed the political crisis in Honduras, a tiny Central American country that has become the focal point of a big regional power struggle, we pointed out that the leaders of a de facto government were playing into the hands of their enemies. Roberto Micheletti, the head of that regime, says that he is determined to prevent ousted president Manuel Zelaya from aping the assault on democratic order pioneered by Mr. Zelaya's mentor, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Yet, by refusing to accept an international mediator's plan that would have paved the way for elections and ensured Mr. Zelaya's political retirement, Mr. Micheletti -- egged on by a handful of allies in Washington -- gave the Chavez camp an opening.

The result was this week's Venezuelan-engineered secret return by Mr. Zelaya to the country and his appearance in the Brazilian Embassy, from where he has sought to foment the populist revolution that he has wanted all along. Fortunately, he is failing miserably so far. After a couple of days of street demonstrations, Tegucigalpa was getting back to normal Thursday, and Mr. Zelaya was reduced to making hysterical accusations about being bombarded with radiation and toxic gases by "Israeli mercenaries."

Such behavior ought to deter any responsible member of the Organization of American States -- starting with Brazil -- from supporting anything more than a token return by Mr. Zelaya to office. The Obama administration has backed such a restoration (as have we) so as to void Mr. Zelaya's illegal removal from the country by the army in June and thus uphold the larger principle of respect for democratic order in the region. Now the United States ought to make clear that any further attempt by Mr. Zelaya or his supporters to cause public disorder or violence will mean the reversal of the U.S. position -- leaving him as a permanent ward of those in the Brazilian government who cooperated with his caper.

The only good way out of the Honduran crisis is to go forward with the presidential election scheduled for Nov. 29 and to do so in a way that will allow Hondurans to freely express themselves and governments around the region to accept the results. At the moment, no government is willing to sanction a vote overseen by Mr. Micheletti's administration, and the United Nations has withdrawn its support for the process. If his aim is really to save democracy in his country Mr. Micheletti must act quickly to legitimize the election. The simplest way to do that is to accept the plan put forward months ago by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias -- though any formula that leads to an internationally recognized vote will do. Without a path to elections, the domestic conflict will only intensify -- and that, again, will only help Mr. Zelaya and Mr. Chavez.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Zelaya Receives Communion, Michelleti Agrees to Arias Mediation Visit, Battles Among Media

Regarding Honduras, is Obama (via Hillary) a flip-flopper, indifferent, deliberately ambiguous, or genuinely trying to steer a conciliatory, middle course?

Some readers have faulted me for not making daily posts. Dear friends, I do have a job and many other responsibilities, so please be patient. I’m doing my best.

El Tiempo Latino, a local Spanish-language newspaper dated today, September 25, reports on the curfew that was ignored by Zelaya supporters, resulting in 113 arrests and one death, vandalism against fast food outlets, and the looting of businesses. Washington Hispanic adds that Zelaya accuses the interim government of pressuring him to commit suicide, something he has no intention of doing.

This just in from a Honduran friend inside the country: This is just a conflict between politicians in their struggle for power. T

his next from an observer based in the US: Barbara, I read the blog and it is very interesting. However, I think Micheletti likes his current status too much to care for his country. Zelaya is no saint, but if Uribe could change the law in Colombia to run again with no problems, why cannot the Hondurans do the same? I tell you why, double standards. Uribe is a US friend, so there was not much opposition there. Zelaya was stupid, or smart enough, whatever way you see it, to get close to Chavez. After all, oil prices were killing us, and are killing us in the US, Chavez is offering Honduras cheap oil. Empty bellies are a very persuasive reason in this case. The elites in Honduras, including the army, live in a different world. That is why they are so stubborn, geopolitics is a very foreign concept to them, unless is affects them directly. Micheletti likes the "status" of being President, event if that position is a curse in itself. I wish Obama had been more direct about this. He is a lawyer, not a historian. Sadly.

I agree that empty bellies and the need for oil are very persuasive. While the US has apparently taken no official stand against Uribe’s third term in Colombia, many US observers have strongly protested. However, Uribe does seem to be genuinely popular in Colombia, unlike Chavez these days—according to reports I get from inside sources in both countries, not any polls. I disagree that the Honduran military rank-and-file are an elite. They are mostly from the very poorest segment, though army service does offer them an avenue of upward mobility. My book and blog give the example of the army sons of Blanca, one of my rural village health volunteers, one of whom became an officer leading troops in Iraq. As to whether Micheletti enjoys the status of being president, it’s entirely possible. By taking the stand he has, he may have convinced himself that it’s the morally right and politically correct course.

Another correspondent asks whether Micheletti is so dead set against letting Zelaya resume office even for a little while because he fears a spectacular populist initiative that could sway the vote? Again, I have no insight into Micheletti’s state of mind.

Someone else comments: The riots that were expected by Zelaya's presence have started with sacking of stores. The de facto authorities responded with repression and curfews but the situation could become critical if public protests continue. Business interests will demand order and will ask the government for more repression. But the international community will interpret renewed repression as violations of human rights. Meanwhile, there will be a sizeable portion of the military that does not favor repression and is discontent and another portion that sympathizes with Zelaya and is trying to channel military discontent into a populist coup d' etat. An explosive mix to say the least and one that could break either way or erupt into a civil war. Where would you like to be in the present situation inside the frying pan, inside the fire or outside of the kitchen watching someone else doing the cooking?

Lots of comments coming in right now, including some predicting that military elements will turn against Micheletti in a counter-coup. Here is one of the more colorful comments: This whole mess has the feeling of a self-fulfilling prophecy, a Greek tragedy with Micheletti in the role of Oedipus. Moreover, like in a Greek tragedy, Micheletti is full of hubris and is unaware of the fact that he is but a tool in the hands of the Gods, or to describe it in modern terms, he is under the influence of historical forces over which he has no control. Finally, to complete the metaphor, instead of murdering his father and marrying his mother, Micheletti, while seeking to preserve them, will eventually manage not only to wipe out the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court but also to screw his own oligarchy in the process!

The Wall St. Journal, in an editorial published September 23, 2009, faults Zelaya for the current bloodshed, since he urged his supporters to converge on the capital, shouting “Fatherland, restitution or death” (an eerie echo of Fidel Castro’s exhortation “Fatherland or death”). The editorial exhorts the US to urge Zelaya “to turn himself over to Honduran authorities for arrest and trial.” Of course, that’s not going to happen.

Honduras articles collected by the Washington Post website today are too numerous to reproduce here. They report that both Zelaya and Micheletti say they are open to talks, that the UN Security Council was to take up the Honduras matter today, that Brazil wants to talk directly with Obama, and that the interim government believes that the upcoming elections will provide a solution, even though the ability to have fair elections is being disputed. The Carter Center has indicated that it will monitor the November elections.

An article in today’s Wall St. Journal (no e-mail version available) shows a photo of Zelaya receiving communion at a Mass being held inside the Brazilian Embassy. An emissary of Cardinal Rodriguez reportedly met with him, while protests and counter-protests continued outside the embassy. Zelaya reportedly accused Israeli mercenaries of blasting the embassy with high-frequency radiation, which Micheletti denied. After receiving an appeal from for US President Jimmy Carter, Micheletti agreed to allow a mediation visit by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. Meanwhile, media reports accused Zelaya of misusing government funds for caring for his horses and his ranch. At least if the battle takes place in the media, it’s better than out in the street where people can get hurt. (See article below next paragraph.)

On a completely different topic, I was invited recently to a forum at the Hudson Institute, a right-leaning think tank located in Washington, DC. The main speaker was Dr. Jyttee Klausen, Danish author of a book published by Yale U. Press entitled The Cartoons that Shook the World. Klausen is a professor at Brandeis and Harvard. She appeared on a panel with a Muslim woman who appeared unveiled and whose name I don’t recall. Dr. Klausen said that Yale published her book, but without the page that showed the actual cartoons as they had initially appeared, although that page had been cleared beforehand. She showed us the removed page, as it had appeared originally in an obscure Danish publication, looking fairly innocuous to Western eyes. Six months after the cartoons had first been published, a worldwide movement against them was initiated by radical Muslims, who added some more flamboyant images to the originals and sent them all around the world via the Internet, resulting in a trade boycott of Danish goods by Muslim countries and the deaths of over 200 people. The voices of moderate Muslims, Klausen and her fellow panelist argued, are drowned out because of fear. Fear of reprisals may also have motivated Yale Press to remove the page depicting the cartoons, although the justification offered was along the lines of wanting to avoid offending Muslim religious sensibilities. Klausen showed examples of early Muslim art representing Mohammed in face and body, then later, with a veil over his face. Much of the Koran exhorts followers to be peaceful and conciliatory, and satire and disagreements appear in historical Muslim texts. However, now, only the most radical interpretations hold sway, violence is emphasized, and any pictorial depiction of Mohammed is strictly forbidden as blasphemous. So was the original publication of the cartoons in Denmark a matter of freedom of expression, or was it a hate crime, discriminatory and racially motivated, like swastikas and nooses? That’s the crucial question. Klausen argued that Muslim extremists are imposing their views through death threats not only on the majority of Muslim who actually are moderate, but also on non-Muslims, and are extending their censorship to the West and threatening traditional Western freedoms.

September 25, 2009
Battle for Honduras Echoes Loudly in Media

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — “The lies of Manuel Zelaya” intones a stern voice as a picture of Mr. Zelaya, the deposed president of Honduras, flashes on the screen. Then to the ring of a cash register, images flash by of Mr. Zelaya’s cowboy hat, horses, a private plane, Times Square. While he was president, Mr. Zelaya bought jewels, paid for trips and maintained his horses with money he stole from the Central Bank and the Treasury, according to the television advertisement produced by the de facto government. Headlines from Honduran newspapers pop up onscreen as if to demonstrate the truth of the accusations. The spot, and others like it, are regular fare on Honduran television and radio, where the fierce political battle dividing Honduras plays out amid assertions of all kinds, no matter whether they are rooted in fact. Mr. Zelaya’s return to the country on Monday has turned up the volume on the media war — one in which the government’s voice is the loudest, but in which Mr. Zelaya is a skilled and equally slippery combatant.

“Mr. Zelaya has a terrorist plan,” another government ad asserts, accusing the deposed president of using the Brazilian Embassy, where he has taken refuge, as his general command. That followed an ominous warning that “foreign groups and military planes” had managed to enter Honduran territory. The government spots are the most extreme example of the allegations that have become the diet of the Honduran airwaves.

Even before Mr. Zelaya was ousted in a coup on June 28, television and newspapers, controlled by a handful of wealthy businessmen, were opposed to him. Along with a state television station, the government of Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president, has many vehicles with which to discredit, if not smear, Mr. Zelaya. On Wednesday night, for example, government television reported, without attribution, that Brazil had promised to reinstate Mr. Zelaya in return for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

But Mr. Zelaya has his own media allies, notably the Radio Globo radio station, which broadcasts around the clock, opening its microphones to callers and repeating its own set of rumors and misrepresentations. Mr. Zelaya is a frequent caller to the station and to others around the world, where he makes his own outrageous claims: Israeli commandos have been hired to kill him; he is being secretly poisoned by gas and radiation; Mr. Micheletti is preparing to storm the Brazilian Embassy.

“Nobody in Honduras gives the truth 100 percent,” said Alejandro Villatoro, the owner of Radio Globo and a legislator allied with Mr. Zelaya. He said that the reports of repression by the police and soldiers that had become a staple of his station were not broadcast on government-allied media. The government clearly has the advantage, he said, noting that he and his reporters were briefly arrested the day of the coup. That experience has made him determined to keep the station on the air, even though the government frequently blocks his programming (most recently with children’s bedtime stories). Advertisers have pulled their spots since the coup, and so he is financing the station’s $15,000 to $20,000 monthly budget.

Each side argues that it is countering the other side’s lies. “Our goal is to tell people the truth,” said a government media adviser who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak for the government. “They are running a disinformation campaign.” The competing accusations continue when the two sides discuss what led to the crisis. According to a recent analysis of the legal issues of the case prepared by the Law Library of Congress in Washington, both Mr. Zelaya and those who ousted him appear to have broken the law.

In Mr. Zelaya’s case, he flouted court rulings ordering him not to conduct a survey on whether to convene a citizens’ assembly to change the Constitution. Eventually, the chief prosecutor filed a complaint with the Supreme Court accusing Mr. Zelaya of treason and abuse of authority, among other charges. That led to an arrest warrant that was carried out on June 28.

But Mr. Zelaya was not formally arrested when soldiers raided his home. Instead, the army detained him, took him to the airport and put him on a plane to Costa Rica, even though the Honduran Constitution says no citizen may be handed over to foreign authorities.The military has said it decided to remove Mr. Zelaya from the country to reduce the likelihood that his detention would cause unrest. After initially defending the decision, members of the de facto government have come to see it as a mistake.

Norma C. Gutierrez, an international law specialist who prepared a legal analysis for American lawmakers last month, criticized both sides. Her bottom line: the case against Mr. Zelaya was rooted in constitutional and statutory law. His removal from the country was not.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Afrer Zelaya’s Return, Increased Turmoil, Violence

Since Zelaya is reportedly still inside the Brazilian Embassy accompanied by 70 family members and supporters, the situation could soon become uncomfortable now with utilities cut off. There are probably no woodstoves, wells, or latrines inside the embassy compound, facilities that allow many rural Hondurans to live without utilities (and to make a negligible carbon footprint). With Honduran airports now closed, my friends in the IHS brigade slated to go the Mosquitia in October must be biting their nails. Other medical brigades must be shut out of Honduras.

Furthermore, clashes have between security forces and Zelaya supporters have increased, creating an emergency situation in the country, something US official had feared if Zelaya returned without an agreement already in place. My prior observation that the security forces, all things considered, have been somewhat restrained, seems to be giving way to more violent repression. I can identify with the demonstrators, remembering having been caught up with Chilean crowds back in 1988 when we were being dispersed with tear gas and water cannons. That was when I was in Chile as an election observer for the referendum that gave Pinochet a resounding “No” vote. After Micheletti’s statesmanlike declaration a few days ago in the Washington Post, he seems to be silent now. He explained his position to the international community in the US press, but is not explaining anything, as far as I know, to his own people.

Perhaps the interim government is trying to hold out until the magic date of September 29, two months before scheduled elections, mentioned as key by one of my frequent commentators on this blog. He seems to think that after that, Zelaya cannot constitutionally change the top military commanders, but perhaps Zelaya doesn’t care all that much anyway about the constitution as it’s currently written. He previously backed a constitutional assembly to change it and may be building up support for that again. With all that has happened since Zelaya’s expulsion in late June, popular support may well be growing for the type of constitutional changes that Zelaya supports. Furthermore, September 29 is almost a week away and a lot can happen before then.

Obama wants the parties and regional actors, especially Arias, to try to work things out and not have Washington be seen as Big Brother intervening with a heavy hand. His whole approach to foreign affairs is multilateralism. As he told the UN General Assembly, “Don’t expect America to fix everything.” The US military base located not far from Teguc has remained conspicuously quiet during these last 3 months. Brazil has asked the UN Security Council, at its meetings in New York City, to take up the Honduras matter. Can the blue hats be far behind?

A blog reader has this to say about Micheletti: If he were to share what he thinks Zelaya would do to remain in power if allowed to resume office next week, there'd be more sympathy for his hardnosed position…I suppose the Red Cross is on the way to the Brazilian embassy with food and water and non-battery-operated cell phone chargers. It seems unlikely that Zelaya's appearance at the embassy surprised everyone there…I'm not impressed with the 15-hour trip. Zelaya is relatively young and presents himself as vigorous. If he had to ride kidney-punishing vehicles for miles over barely drivable terrain before being passed off to the next car or bus, at least no one was looking to steal his earrings, pick his pocket, and he didn't have kids peeing on him. I'm sure you've put up with worse.

This just in today from a website called Democracia Participativa:

Tegucigalpa, Sept.22.─ Honduran soldiers on Tuesday surrounded the Brazilian embassy where deposed president Manuel Zelaya is holed up seeking reinstatement, using tear gas to drive off thousands of his supporters.

The dramatic scenes in Tegucigalpa came hours after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had appealed for calm as the crisis was raised on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Soldiers in face-masks used truncheons and tear gas to break up a demonstration by about 4,000 pro-Zelaya demonstrators, before encircling the embassy compound.
The de facto government had extended a curfew and closed the Central American country's airports after Zelaya made a surprise return and took refuge in the embassy on Monday.

Setting the stage for a confrontation, Zelaya called on supporters to converge on the capital as the government extended what had been a night time curfew until 6:00 pm Tuesday to try to head off protests.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Demonstrators Are Dispersed from Brazilian Embassy, Utilities Cut off

Obama’s modus operandi is to seek compromise and consensus, but in the Honduran case, as in others, that has proven rather difficult. I suspect that, with everything else on his plate, he wishes the annoying Honduran crisis would simply go away. However, now with Zelaya’s return, that cannot happen. Unless Zelaya and his family are going to take up permanent residence in the Brazilian Embassy, something has to give. By Latin American standards, although demonstrators have been abused and two even killed, given that this clash has been going on for 3 whole months, I think the authorities there have shown some restraint. Let's see if that continues now that Zelaya is back in the country.

Zelaya’s associates must have known about his overland trek to return to Tegucigalpa, as they’d predicted a change before the end of September, but they certainly kept the secret well. Was Zelaya assisted by some members of the armed forces? That possibility must be worrisome to Micheletti. Certainly Micheletti must feel under seige, not only with the whole world tunred against him, but surrounded by countries whose left-leaning governments are sympatheic not only to Zelaya, but also to Chavez, considered the mastermind behind Zelaya.

The Brazilian Embassy has warned the de facto government not to storm the embassy. However, demonstrators were dispersed with teargas, and water and electricity were cut off to the embassy. (See articles below about Zelaya’s return.)

One commentator remarks: An original way to continue to keep public pressure on the de facto government. But there is a potential price to pay. If Zelaya does not get back into power by September 29 and the Micheletti administration holds elections and turns over power to the elected administration, it is possible that the future Honduran government will not drop charges against him and, if so, he is liable to be holed up in the Brazilian embassy for a heck of a long time. Not too long, I would say, if the utilities are cut off. And the violence seems to be ratcheting up.

Referring to quite another part of the world, a long-term Burmese political prisoner, whose case was assigned to my local Amnesty International group, was reported released with a group of several other prisoners. We were thrilled. Alas, U Win Htein is still behind bars, contrary to what was initially reported, a huge disappointment. An associate of Aung San Su Kyi, he has been behind bars for at least a decade. We must now redouble our efforts.

This comment from an American living in Honduras came in on last Thursday’s blog, referring to a WW4 statement regarding Ramon Custodio:

La Gringa said...
Ramón Custodio has had his visa revoked therefore it would be impossible for him to visit the US.
That WW4 report must have info from another country! There is ONE vice-president in Honduras. There are 128 diputados. There are 6 candidates for president.
September 18, 2009 4:40 PM

September 23, 2009
Mystery in Honduran Leader’s Return

MEXICO CITY — He is the most wanted man in Honduras, with a face and black bushy mustache known to every soldier, police officer and border guard in the land. So as the political standoff in Honduras entered a surprising new chapter, the big question Tuesday was how in the world Manuel Zelaya, the deposed and exiled president, managed to sneak back into his country undetected. In a car trunk? With the help of loyal soldiers? In a disguise? Under the protection of other countries? Every option was being considered and debated in Tegucigalpa, where the population is very much divided on Mr. Zelaya.

His unexpected appearance at the Brazilian Embassy on Monday certainly surprised the government that ousted him nearly three months ago and had vowed to arrest him on 18 charges if he dared return. After initially denying that Mr. Zelaya had come back, the government was forced to send soldiers and police officers on Tuesday to disperse thousands of Zelaya backers who defied a curfew and massed outside the embassy for a glimpse of their erstwhile leader.

That Mr. Zelaya wanted to return was no secret. He buzzed the capital in a small plane on July 4 and stepped several feet across the border later that month from Nicaragua, to the delight of his supporters. In both instances the Honduran military stopped him. How he did so this time and, even more important, whether his presence will help resolve the standoff in his country, are the subject of fierce debate.

“Everyone has been working hard to reach a peaceful resolution to this crisis,” said a senior State Department official, when asked about Mr. Zelaya’s reappearance. “Zelaya’s return was unexpected, and for him to do this without consulting those parties certainly was not helpful. That said, it’s a reality and it could have the effect of forcing people to make decisions they have avoided making — or it could cause the situation to destabilize.”

Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president, promised not to storm the Brazilian Embassy, where Mr. Zelaya, in his trademark white cowboy hat, and dozens of friends and family members are now trapped. However, the government did cut off water, electricity and telephone service to the building. But he appealed Tuesday to the international community for dialogue to resolve the crisis, which began June 28 when the military, the courts and the legislature decided that Mr. Zelaya had violated the law by scheming to extend his term beyond that allowed in the Constitution, and therefore had to go. But despite worldwide condemnation of Mr. Zelaya’s removal, Mr. Micheletti has refused to cede power. Elections are to be held Nov. 28 to choose a new president, but many countries have said they will not recognize the results and that Mr. Zelaya must be allowed to serve out his term.

From inside the Brazilian Embassy, Mr. Zelaya described his return to reporters as an arduous 15-hour slog that required trekking through the mountains and navigating back roads in buses, cars and trucks to get around military checkpoints. He said he was helped by a Honduran citizen, whom he refused to name. “They didn’t realize when I entered,” Mr. Zelaya said on Honduran radio. “I mocked them.”

Various reports have emerged of Mr. Zelaya’s convoluted journey, which may have involved the help of other countries. After initially insisting that Mr. Zelaya was not in Honduras at all but was in a luxury hotel in Nicaragua, Mr. Micheletti said he had learned that the ousted leader had gone through various Central American countries, apparently in an effort to disguise his movements, before entering Honduras.

At the border town of El Amatillo, just across from El Salvador, a Honduran immigration agent working the evening that Mr. Zelaya entered the country said she did not see him. “But there are a lot of mountain passes where he could have crossed,” she said.

The Spanish newspaper El País, citing an unnamed Salvadoran official, reported that Mr. Zelaya was a passenger on a Venezuelan plane that landed without authorization on Sunday night in El Salvador. He was met, it said, by a car belonging to the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, the Salvadoran governing party. Both Venezuela and El Salvador have leftist governments sympathetic to Mr. Zelaya. Where Mr. Zelaya went next, though, no one seemed to know.

The Honduran military denied that his return was a major security breach. “Military intelligence did not fail,” Adolfo Lionel Sevilla, the de facto defense minister, told El Heraldo, a Honduran daily newspaper. He added cryptically, “Everything can’t be publicized because it would create anxiety.”

One worry is that some members of the Honduran military loyal to Mr. Zelaya may have aided in his return. “There is a certain amount of concern among Hondurans about how Zelaya got into the country,” said Christopher Sabatini, editor of Americas Quarterly, a New York academic journal. “It’s hard to imagine that he could get in without some cooperation from the military. And Micheletti, in particular, has to be worried about whether he really has control over all his forces.”

One Venezuelan newspaper said Mr. Zelaya hid part of the time in a car trunk. Other accounts had him pulling up at the Brazilian Embassy in a vehicle with diplomatic plates that belonged to the Central American Parliament. Whether the Brazilians knew he was coming was a matter of debate.

The State Department official said the United States had been aware that Mr. Zelaya wanted to return to Honduras, because he had vowed to do exactly that during his last visit to Washington. But the official said the United States was caught unawares by Mr. Zelaya’s appearance at the Brazilian Embassy, since he was expected in New York this week to address the United Nations.

After tear gas was fired to disperse protesters and scores of curfew arrests were made Tuesday, the State Department official said the United States was deeply concerned about the de facto government’s actions. He said he had heard reports that the security forces had taken control of houses surrounding the embassy, prompting the United States to send “strong signals” to Mr. Micheletti that they expected the government “to respect the inviolability of diplomatic territory and personnel.”

Tensions Rise In Honduras Over Coup
Violence Feared as Exiled President And De Facto Leader Refuse to Buckle
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, September 23, 2009
In a battle of wills that threatened to explode in bloodshed, the two men who claim to be leader of Honduras both insisted Tuesday that they would not back down, as soldiers in the country's capital fired tear gas to disperse supporters of the leftist president who made a dramatic return three months after being flown into exile by the military.

De facto president Roberto Micheletti said in an interview that he would not cede his office to President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted because of what the country's Supreme Court viewed as his efforts to stay in power beyond the one-term limit. Zelaya is now holed up in the Brazilian Embassy.

Still, as U.S. and Latin American diplomats worked feverishly to defuse the crisis,
the de facto president acknowledged that unofficial contacts had been established between his side and the Zelaya camp. "We are content this is going on," Micheletti said from the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. He said, however, that he would not accept "impositions" from those close to Zelaya.

The coup in small, impoverished Honduras has brought unified condemnation from a hemisphere determined to prevent a return to the military takeovers of the past. But Honduras's neighbors -- and its most important trading partner, the United States -- have appeared impotent in the face of the crisis.

On Tuesday, Honduran soldiers used truncheons, water cannons and tear gas to disperse thousands of Zelaya supporters outside the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, according to news reports from the country. Zelaya, who was inside with about 70 friends and relatives, told reporters, "We are ready to risk everything, to sacrifice."

He had suddenly appeared in the capital a day earlier, after a secret 15-hour trip through the country. Police and soldiers quickly swarmed the area around the embassy, raising fears of violence.

"Given the reports we have received, and the poor track record of the security forces since the coup, we fear that conditions could deteriorate drastically in the coming days," Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

The U.S. government appealed to both sides to remain calm and urged Micheletti's government to respect the Brazilian diplomatic premises, which it agreed to do. U.S. diplomats in Washington and at the United Nations -- including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton -- met with Latin American diplomats to try to resolve the crisis. "The fact is, Zelaya is there. . . . We have to now try to take advantage of the facts as we find them," said one U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He said the United States and other governments were urging talks between Zelaya and Micheletti and that there were "initial feelers" between the two sides.
Asked if he was willing to negotiate with Zelaya, Micheletti said in the interview that he would impose conditions: "We want to hear from Mr. Zelaya first, before negotiations, that he's ready to accept the elections on the 29th of November, that he's ready to support the next government."

Zelaya has said he will not recognize the presidential elections unless he is allowed to return to power, as envisioned under the "San Jose accord," which was brokered in U.S.-backed negotiations this summer. Under the pact, Zelaya would be allowed to conclude his term as scheduled in January 2010, but his powers would be reduced and elections would be moved up by a month. Zelaya has said he is willing to sign the accord, but Micheletti has refrained.

The de facto leader said he did not trust that Zelaya would leave office as scheduled. He also said officials had discovered numerous cases of corruption linked with Zelaya. Under the San Jose accord, amnesty would be granted to people on both sides for political crimes.

But Micheletti made clear he did not envision amnesty for Zelaya. "We have laws in the country. If he presents himself to the authorities, the courts, I think he's going to have a fair trial," Micheletti said.