Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

HONDURAS: US, EU Turn Up the Pressure

Thelma Mejía

TEGUCIGALPA, Jul 15 2009 (IPS) - The United States and the European Union are cranking up the pressure for talks brokered by Costa Rican President Óscar Arias to bring about a restoration of democracy in Honduras, while urging both sides to refrain from violence.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ian said the United States is calling “on all parties, particularly President Zelaya and the de facto regime, to work together and come to a peaceful resolution that restores the democratic order,” which would mean “the restoration of the democratically elected president.”

“All parties in the talks should give this process some time. Don’t set any artificial deadlines …We have to give the process a chance,” Kelly told reporters.

He was apparently referring to Zelaya’s remark that if he is not reinstated at the next round of talks led by Arias, the negotiations will have failed. The Costa Rican leader said the meeting will be held Saturday in San José.

The European Parliament, which discussed the situation in Honduras Wednesday, condemned the Jun. 28 coup and urged the bloc’s governments not to recognise de facto President Roberto Micheletti.

Just a few days after Zelaya was pulled out of bed at gunpoint by army troops early in the morning of Jun. 28 and put on a plane to Costa Rica in his pajamas, the EU countries withdrew all of their ambassadors from Honduras.

The European Commission announced Wednesday that it had frozen its aid to Honduras, which stands at around 300 million dollars for the 2007-2013 period. However, development aid funds will not be affected, as the measure only applies to funds that are directly administered by the Honduran government.

The 27-member bloc has backed the efforts made by the Organisation of American States (OAS), which suspended Honduras, as well as Arias’ peace-brokering attempts.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke Monday with Arias to confirm his support for the Costa Rican leader’s mediation efforts, offering technical assistance and agreeing “to work together with President Arias to help the parties reach an agreement,” according to a U.N. statement issued in New York.

“The Secretary-General is confident that an open dialogue and international support will help resolve the current crisis,” the press release added.

Zelaya, meanwhile, attempted to hasten the negotiations, basically giving Micheletti one week to step down.

In remarks made from Nicaragua, Zelaya accused the de facto government of dragging out the talks to “buy time” and consolidate its grip on power.

“They have this week to comply with the resolutions of the Organisation of American States and the United Nations. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll have to take other measures,” he said.

Carlos López Contreras, who was appointed foreign minister by Micheletti and headed the mission that met with Arias on Jul. 9-10, lamented Zelaya’s comments, which he attributed to “a tense, emotional state.” But he added that “we are confident that the talks will make progress in the framework of respect and the state of law.”

The eyes of the world “are on the mediation, and if one of the parties pulls out, the dialogue will fail. But I am optimistic and I don’t want to think about the worst case scenario; we are confident in Arias’ mediation skills,” he told IPS.

Speaking during a brief visit to Guatemala Tuesday, where he met privately with President Álvaro Colom, Zelaya said the Honduran people “have the right to insurrection in defence of the constitutional order” under article 3 of the constitution.

The article says “no one owes allegiance to a usurper government” or to those who take power by “the force of arms” or by means that violate the country’s constitution and laws.

He called on his supporters to keep up the protests they have held since the coup, and urged them to redouble their efforts against the Micheletti regime.

“I have not given up and I don’t plan to do so; I am preparing to return. I won’t tell you when, so as not to tip them off,” said Zelaya.

He also challenged Micheletti to “arrest me if you can.” The courts put out an order for his arrest immediately after the coup, and his Sunday, Jul. 5 attempt to land at the airport in the Honduran capital was thwarted by barriers placed on the runway by the military.

“I will enter the country at any point; let’s see if you repress me, because I will be accompanied by the people. You coup-mongers, your days are numbered, and you deserve to be punished,” he added.

Arias said “I understand Zelaya’s wish to return and be reinstated as president as soon as possible, but my experience tells me that a bit of patience is necessary. We can advance and achieve something concrete (on Saturday), but if we don’t, we will continue on Sunday.”

Little progress was made in the first round of talks, when Zelaya and Micheletti refused to get together face-to-face, meeting separately with Arias instead.

Congressman César Ham of the left-wing Democratic Unification (UD) Party, who fled to Nicaragua after the coup, told reporters with Honduran media outlets that the support for Zelaya is “unconditional” and that a member of his party had been named to the ousted president’s negotiating committee.

Ham said Arias’ mediation must be based on three basic “non-negotiable” points: Zelaya’s immediate reinstatement, without conditions; penalties for those involved in the coup; and the election of a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution.

The coup was triggered by Zelaya’s attempt to hold a non-binding vote asking Hondurans if they wanted to install a constituent assembly to reform the constitution, which was deemed illegal by the courts and Congress.

Zelaya and his negotiating committee, headed by his foreign minister Patricia Rodas, has dug in its heels on its positions, after it was reported that the Micheletti government cancelled the credit cards and froze the bank accounts that the ousted officials were using in the name of the government.

The head of the country’s industrial association, Adolfo Facussé, said Zelaya’s call for a popular insurrection “indicates that we should get ready for violence. But I am confident that the ex-president, who I consider a friend, will recapacitate and place his trust in Óscar Arias’ mediation.

“This crisis should leave us many lessons, one of which is that there should be more control over presidents here, and over the discretionality with which parliament has operated,” he told IPS. “This is a political question that has to be resolved by the politicians, in order to guarantee us legal and investment security.”

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