Honduras leader backs return return of President

Posted in Latin America | 30-Jul-09 | Author: Thom Shanker and David E. Sang

Acting President Roberto Micheletti of Honduras, shown Tuesday in Tegucigalpa, is seeking an envoy’s help to forge a deal.

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - The head of Honduras's de facto government, Roberto Micheletti, has expressed support for a compromise that would allow the ousted president of his country to return to power, according to officials in the de facto government and diplomats from the region.

But the nation is so polarized over the possible return that Mr. Micheletti is reaching out to other regional leaders for help in building support for such a deal, especially among the country's elite, the officials said.

Mr. Micheletti has repeatedly refused to consider the reinstatement of the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya. But on Wednesday, the officials said, Mr. Micheletti called President Óscar Arias of Costa Rica, who has tried to mediate a diplomatic solution to the Honduran political crisis, to express his support for a plan Mr. Arias presented. The 12-point plan, known as the San José Accord, would allow Mr. Zelaya to return as president, although with significantly limited powers.

The officials said Mr. Micheletti warned President Arias that he had not been able to persuade other parts of the Honduran government, or the leaders of the Honduran business community, to go along with the proposal. So he asked Mr. Arias to consider sending a prominent international political figure to help him stem the fierce opposition.

Mr. Micheletti confirmed Wednesday night in a statement that he had asked Mr. Arias to send an international envoy.

One of those whom officials mentioned as a possibility was Enrique V. Iglesias, a former president of the Inter-American Development Bank.

"Today is an important day," said one of the officials who spoke about Mr. Micheletti's call to Mr. Arias. "President Arias essentially has Mr. Micheletti calling to say he thinks the San José Accord is a good framework, but that to make the accord work, he needs help building political support inside the country."

Another official who confirmed the call echoed that sentiment, saying, "This is good news."

The officials requested anonymity because of the delicacy of the negotiations.

The call from Mr. Micheletti came one day after the United States increased pressure on the de facto Honduran government by withdrawing diplomatic visas from four high-level officials, and as members of the Honduran Congress began their own examination of Mr. Arias's proposal.

The call was the clearest signal yet that Mr. Micheletti might not be primarily responsible for the stalemate. Diplomats close to the negotiations said there was broad opposition to Mr. Zelaya's return, led by some of the most powerful political and business leaders in Honduras.

Those leaders have felt misunderstood - some would say betrayed - by the international community's condemnation of last month's ouster of Mr. Zelaya, whom they accuse of illegally trying to change the Constitution to extend his time in power.

Honduran lawmakers and the Supreme Court have said that it was a mistake for the military to have forced Mr. Zelaya into exile, but that the accusations against him are valid. And they argue that the only way he should be allowed back is to face trial.

According to Mr. Arias's proposal, Mr. Zelaya would be allowed to finish his term, which ends in January, although elections would be moved up by one month. Mr. Zelaya would also be exempt from prosecution until after leaving office.

None of those points seemed acceptable to members of the Honduran Congress who were huddled all Wednesday to consider the Arias proposal. "Impunity should not exist in this country," said Congressman Antonio C. Rivera. "No one is above the law."