High-stakes talks were due to take place yesterday between the delegations of Honduran interim leader Roberto Micheletti and ousted president Manuel Zelaya to resolve the crisis sparked by last month’s military-backed coup.
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias appealed for more time to resolve the issues after Micheletti left San Jose on Thursday without meeting Zelaya face-to-face as expected.
The talks were set to continue without the leaders, however, with negotiators from both parties aiming to find middle ground between the congress-appointed new president, who insists he will stay in power, and the elected president, who is urging his reinstatement.
On Thursday first Zelaya, then Micheletti spoke separately to the mediator Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, at his home here.
“I feel satisfied because a sincere, clear dialogue has been initiated, but still, the positions are very different and certainly these things ... take time, they require patience,” Arias said. “This could possibly take more time than imagined.”
Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno said the delegations had already agreed that the Honduran Constitution should be the point of reference for the process, and that the current situation in Honduras is “unsustainable.”
On his return to Tegucigalpa, Micheletti said he was ready to return to talks “if necessary,” after earlier saying he was going back to Honduras “totally satisfied.”
“If I am invited by President Arias, I will return with great pleasure,” Micheletti said, after leaving a working team of four negotiators behind in San Jose.
Zelaya was expected to travel on to Guatemala and the Dominican Republic yesterday to drum up support, meeting with presidents Alvaro Colom and Leonel Fernandez under the auspices of the Central American Integration System.
Honduras has been roiled by protests since June 28, when Zelaya was abducted by the army and forcibly deported.
“We have made the first step,” Zelaya said after his meeting. “President Arias heard my position and that of the union and political representatives with me, which is the immediate restoration of the elected president.”
The US has suspended military ties with Tegucigalpa and is warning it could sever US$200 million in aid. The World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank have frozen credit lines.
Zelaya’s left-wing allies have also made life uncomfortable for Micheletti. Venezuela has suspended its oil deliveries to Honduras, while Nicaragua denied Micheletti permission to fly through its airspace for the Costa Rica meeting.
Amid the tension, there was speculation that a door was open to a possible solution.
The Honduran Supreme Court said ahead of the talks that if the congress granted Zelaya amnesty, he could return to Honduras without fearing an arrest warrant for treason issued against him.
Some Honduran lawmakers said they were open to an amnesty.
“It would be an acceptable formula to bring peace to the country,” Christian Democrat lawmaker Anibal Solis said.
But most Honduran business leaders opposed Zelaya’s return.
“There has been an irreversible democratic transition in Honduras, and we’re going to have to stick together to create jobs in the teeth of the global crisis and if there is international isolation,” said Adolfo Facusse, an employers’ federation chief.