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Honduran leader, Zelaya inch toward crisis talks

October 4th, 2009

Ousted President Manuel Zelaya

Honduran de facto leader Roberto Micheletti and ousted President Manuel Zelaya on Saturday edged toward negotiating an end to a political crisis triggered after troops toppled the leftist in a June coup.

Micheletti met recently with Organization of American States chief Jose Miguel Insulza in a step toward talks, and Zelaya supporters signaled they were open to dialogue brokered by an OAS mission visiting Honduras.

The deposed leader slipped back into Honduras two weeks ago and has been holed up since then in the Brazilian Embassy with his wife, son and scores of followers as troops and police ring the mission compound.

In a theatrical twist, Zelaya, a logging magnate who often wears a trademark cowboy hat, on Saturday dedicated a poem by 19th-century Guatemalan poet Ismael Cerna to Micheletti from inside his embassy refuge.

“I care not if I do not see the light of day, if in my conscious I have that of the heavens,” said Zelaya, reading from Cerna, who was jailed as a political prisoner.

Zelaya’s supporters spent Saturday singing and playing guitars and drums fashioned from scraps of wood, washing lines and plastic buckets in the embassy grounds, said a Reuters photographer inside the compound.


Troops exiled Zelaya at gunpoint in June after he riled powerful conservatives by cozying up to U.S. foe Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and fueling fears he wanted to lift presidential term limits to stay in power.

Both Honduran leaders say they are ready for talks even though there seems to be no middle ground. Micheletti says Zelaya must face treason charges and is resisting pressure to restore him. Zelaya insists he be reinstated unconditionally to office.

“In the rhetoric there is a willingness to talk and find solutions but there is nothing concrete so far,” said Efrain Diaz, a Honduran political analyst.

“The subject of Zelaya’s restoration can stall any negotiations and they should look at alternatives, such as both sides naming someone who can manage the transition,” he said.


Talks would focus on the San Jose agreement, a document drawn up by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, which calls for Zelaya’s restoration, a form of political amnesty and a unity government until the scheduled November 29 elections. Zelaya’s term had been set to end in January.

“We are hoping for assurances we can resolve this problem through dialogue,” Micheletti said on Friday. “We are talking with different sectors … with Zelaya’s people and others.”

Zelaya supporters back the San Jose deal, but also want Micheletti to lift an emergency decree imposed last Sunday that curbed civil liberties and shut two pro-Zelaya news outlets.

“If the regime accepts this agenda then we will too and we can sit down immediately for dialogue on Monday or Tuesday,” said close Zelaya ally Carlos Reina, who is inside the embassy with the deposed president.

The Honduran standoff is U.S. President Barack Obama’s first key test in Latin America after he promised a new engagement with a region.

U.S. officials have pressed for Zelaya’s restoration, but criticized his surprise return. Washington has put pressure on Micheletti’s supporters by cutting aid and revoking visas but shied away from tougher measures such as trade sanctions.

But Micheletti, a veteran politician in Central America’s No. 2 coffee grower, has resisted pressure from Washington and from some of his own political backers. The de facto government says Zelaya was constitutionally ousted and cannot return.

By Patrick Markey

(Additional reporting by Miguel Angel Gutierrez and Edgard Garrido in Tegucigalpa; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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