Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Modest Hopes Raised for OAS Talks, Lencas Seek Asylum in Guatemala

Now, Zelaya is expressing doubts about whether he can trust members of the interim government to keep any agreement, just as they doubt they can trust him, and he also seems critical of the OAS, which has been basically on his side from the beginning. Maybe he is feeling stir-crazy, cooped up there in the Brazilian Embassy, fearing to exit without an agreement because of arrest threats. And the media curbs reported lifted yesterday apparently have not been lifted completely yet. But now there seems to be some possibility of movement after all. After promising to take a break from this blog until something new came in, perhaps optimistic pronouncements from OAS negotiators qualify. Certainly everyone is tired and is looking toward a solution. In any case, here goes. I was also heartened to discover for the first time—blogging novice that I am—that 5 people have registered as followers of my blog, all new names and faces to me. Hope what’s posted here has proved informative to all of you.

Here’s a comment and question from a blog reader: Some of your readers have sense-makingly suggested that Micheletti fears that if Zelaya were returned to office, he’d set up another party and then declare that its candidate had a right to run in the election. Hasn’t Arias been acquainted with this concern? Or perhaps it occurred to him independently. Wasn’t the point of having the mediator talk individually with each side precisely to allow both parties to outline best- and worst-case scenarios? Yet it seems that the Arias plan doesn’t cover this contingency. Obviously Zelaya would have rejected any plan that imposed prior restraints on the exercise of his presidential powers upon restoration to office, and of course there has to be confidentiality in the mediation process itself. But nothing is stopping Micheletti from saying, “Look, we can’t just let Zelaya back in with full presidential powers because here’s what he’d do. . . .” I think Micheletti would have much more sympathy from the world at large if people to whom goings-on in Honduras are just one of many long-running stories were made aware of how Zelaya apparently wants to use the letter of the law to contravene the spirit of the constitution.

According to a report in Miami’s El Nuevo Herald, 12 indigenous Lencas from Hondurans have asked for asylum in neighboring Guatemala because of alleged persecution by interim government authorities for their participation in marches in support of Zelaya. Readers of my book will recall that I spent my last year in Honduras in La Esperanza, the main city in the Lenca region. (This asylum request is also mentioned in the article below.)

Honduras talks hopes brighter, Zelaya doubts rival

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 12:46 AM

TEGUCIGALPA - The chance of a negotiated end to the Honduran crisis crept closer on Tuesday as mediators set up talks between de facto leaders and ousted President Manuel Zelaya, trapped by soldiers inside Brazil's embassy. Foreign ministers and diplomats from the Organization of American States will arrive on Wednesday in the poor coffee growing country to oversee a meeting between representatives of Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti, the de facto leader who took power after a June 28 coup.
In a live television broadcast, Micheletti said political amnesty and the division of power are on the table but did not raise Zelaya's possible return to office as a solution to a crisis that has put soldiers armed with guns and clubs on the streets, echoing Central America's Cold War-era troubles.

The visit by foreign ministers from Mexico and Central America will be Micheletti's first contact with high-level politicians on home turf since the putsch. Zelaya says Micheletti has agreed to dialogue only to gain legitimacy. "At the bottom of this there is absolutely nothing more than bad intentions," the leftist logging magnate told TV station Canal 11 by telephone from his base in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. Taking a tough stance ahead of talks, he accused the OAS of being soft on his opponent who he says is playing for time to keep the de facto government alive longer. Despite his doubts, negotiations are set for the afternoon between three of Zelaya's envoys and Micheletti's delegation.

Tensions flared when Zelaya slipped back into Honduras two weeks ago. He has been trapped since then by troops surrounding the Brazilian embassy building as Micheletti has slapped emergency curbs on pro-Zelaya media and street protests. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Tuesday said Micheletti should give up power to end the crisis.

A group of 12 Lenca Indians supporting Zelaya sought asylum in the Guatemalan embassy on Tuesday, citing death threats and beatings from security forces. Activists plan a series of anti-coup protests in the next 24 hours. Some 200 people holding candles and blowing whistles marched on Tuesday night. "We are protesting peacefully, we want democracy," said Daniel Martinez, 51, at an earlier event near Brazil's embassy. He had head and leg wounds he said were from police clubs at a march last month where one protester died in serious clashes.

Talks are to center on the San Jose agreement drafted by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias when he mediated earlier in the crisis. The document calls for Zelaya's reinstatement and a unity government until scheduled November 29 elections. Zelaya said he was worried the OAS was no longer resolute in its support for reinstating him. "It seems to me that in the last few hours the Arias plan has been practically abandoned."

Micheletti wants Zelaya to stand trial and is resisting pressure to restore the leftist who is allied with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Zelaya was toppled after riling powerful conservatives who fear he wanted to extend his hold on power.
Diplomats have praised a change in attitude from Micheletti, who has welcomed back OAS officials he expelled last month and bowed to international pressure by agreeing to lift the curbs on media and social freedoms. "We are now very optimistic. There have been very significant advances from both sides," said OAS Special Adviser John Biehl who is currently in Honduras.

However, two media outlets that had their equipment taken by masked soldiers last week are still off the air and a ban on marches of more than 20 people is still in place, pending the formal lifting of the curbs.

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