Saturday, July 11, 2009
Honduras conflict: little movement
As the talks produced little, much of Honduras was paralyzed by strikes and protests, and cracks were emerging in the group of countries demanding the return of the ousted president.
July 11, 2009
Honduras Conflict Talks Yield Little Movement
By GINGER THOMPSON
SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — The two sides of the political conflict in Honduras agreed to little more on Friday than that they would meet again “sometime soon,” after two days of talks in which there was little sign of movement toward bridging the divide between them.
As the talks failed to gain traction in Costa Rica, much of Honduras was paralyzed by strikes and protests, and tiny cracks were beginning to emerge in the solidarity of the coalition of countries demanding the return of the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya.
The talks, which were mediated by President Óscar Arias of Costa Rica, have been shaky from the start, with Mr. Zelaya and the man who replaced him at the head of the de facto government, Roberto Micheletti, refusing to budge from the positions that have polarized their country. They refused to meet face to face and departed the talks shortly after they began Thursday.
Their delegates, however, continued until late Thursday night and reconvened Friday morning.
In an interview in the sweeping, wood-paneled den of his home, where he met with the Honduran delegates, Mr. Arias said that both sides had come to the table at “irreconcilable positions.” He acknowledged that by the end of the talks they had not moved much closer.
But he said he faced even worse odds when he began work more than two decades ago on agreements that ended the violent conflicts that plagued Central America throughout the cold war. The keys to making peace then are the same ones he said he would use to resolve the current crisis: “patience and perseverance.”
“No one knows Central American problems better than Central Americans,” he said. “And no one knows better how to solve our problems than we do.”
Still, the comments by members of the delegation at the end of the talks on Friday suggested that they remained far from an agreement on anything substantive.
“We know this is not going to be easy and that we are going to find many obstacles along the way,” said Milton Jiménez, who served as foreign minister to Mr. Zelaya until he was ousted from power. “But the people of Honduras continue their fight to rescue democracy, and we will continue it peacefully.”
The delegations did not set a time or a place for the next round of talks. But Mr. Zelaya’s delegates proposed that they be held in Honduras, which would conceivably allow him to return home for the first time since soldiers forced him out of the country nearly two weeks ago.
For precisely that reason, Mr. Micheletti, who has insisted that Mr. Zelaya cannot return and sent troops to the airport last weekend to prevent him from doing so, seemed unlikely to accept that proposal.
“Yesterday, I told you this would take time,” Mr. Arias said. “But the first step is always the decisive one. Our Honduran brothers have taken that step. They have looked in one another’s eyes and spoken honestly.”
Honesty, however, has failed to generate flexibility on either side. And it is unclear how long Honduras can endure the tensions likely to arise from an extended period of political limbo.
On Friday, thousands of protesters demanding Mr. Zelaya’s return blocked the highway between the Honduran capital and the country’s industrial center, San Pedro Sula, and public schools and universities remained closed because of teachers’ strikes. Meanwhile, Mr. Micheletti’s supporters said they would hold demonstrations throughout the weekend.
And a new CID-Gallup poll showed the extent of the polarization there. According to a face-to-face survey of some 1,200 people, 46 percent of Hondurans disagreed with Mr. Zelaya’s ouster and 41 percent said they approved of it. Those surveyed were also evenly divided on Mr. Zelaya himself, with 31 percent saying they had a positive image of him and 32 percent a negative one.
There were also signs of discord in the coalition of countries demanding Mr. Zelaya’s return. At a subcommittee hearing in Washington on Friday, several members of Congress criticized the Organization of American States for suspending Honduras not long after it lifted the suspension against Cuba.
Representative Connie Mack, Republican of Florida, urged the United States to cut its support for the O.A.S., which gets 60 percent of its financing from Washington. He said the organization’s response to the crisis in Honduras proved it was a “dangerous organization,” because it had sided with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, a stern ally of the ousted Honduran president, in undermining democracy in the region.
“What has happened in Honduras was not a military coup,” Mr. Mack said. “If anyone is guilty here it is Mr. Zelaya himself for having turned his back on his people and his own Constitution.”
And in Venezuela, Mr. Chávez denounced the Costa Rican talks as “a trap that set a grave precedent,” because Mr. Arias treated Mr. Micheletti, whose rise has been widely condemned as the product of a coup, with the same diplomatic protocol as Mr. Zelaya.
In Honduras, Mr. Micheletti’s foreign minister, Enrique Ortez, resigned after calling President Obama “negrito” — little black man. But Mr. Micheletti offered Mr. Ortez a new post, as minister of justice and government, Reuters reported.
Posted by Independent Intellect at 09:37