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.

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