Honduran Rivals See U.S. Intervention as Crucial in Resolving Political Crisis
When President Óscar Arias of Costa Rica set out to find a negotiated solution to the Honduran political crisis, he hailed it as an opportunity for Central Americans to show they could resolve their own problems, and he established some simple ground rules.
The ousted president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and the man who leads the de facto government that replaced him, Roberto Micheletti, were each to show up at his house with just four of their closest Honduran advisers.
On Thursday morning, Mr. Micheletti showed up with six, adding an American public relations specialist who has done work for former President Bill Clinton and the American's interpreter, and an official close to the talks said the team rarely made a move without consulting him.
Then on Friday, with the negotiations seemingly going nowhere, Mr. Arias reached out for American support of his own, telling Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that pressure from the United States was crucial to ending the stalemate.
In the two weeks since the coup against Mr. Zelaya, the Obama administration has taken great pains to distance itself from the crisis as part of an effort to make the United States just one of many players in a region that it has long dominated. And Latin American leaders have publicly expressed support for what they describe as Washington's new spirit of collaboration.
Privately, and not so privately, however, it has become clear that leaders on all sides of this crisis see the United States as the key to getting what they want.
In recent days, Mr. Zelaya and his allies, who include some of the most vocal critics of United States policy in the region, have repeatedly called on Washington to increase its pressure on Mr. Micheletti by recalling its ambassador -- the United States is one of the few countries in the region that continues to keep its envoy in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital -- and by imposing tougher sanctions.
Even Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, made a rare call to Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon Jr. on Friday to directly make an appeal he had issued earlier on television.
"Do something," Mr. Chávez had said to reporters. "Obama, do something."
Meanwhile, Mr. Micheletti has embarked on a public relations offensive, with his supporters hiring high-profile lawyers with strong Washington connections to lobby against such sanctions. One powerful Latin American business council hired Lanny J. Davis, who has served as President Clinton's personal lawyer and who campaigned for Mrs. Clinton for president.
And last week, Mr. Micheletti brought the adviser from another firm with Clinton ties to the talks in Costa Rica. The adviser, Bennett Ratcliff of San Diego, refused to give details about his role at the talks.
"Every proposal that Micheletti's group presented was written or approved by the American," said another official close to the talks, referring to Mr. Ratcliff.
With or without the presence of foreigners, Mr. Arias faces long odds against success. Mr. Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti refused to meet face to face and left the talks before the end of the first day. And while there was less hostility between the two delegations on Day 2, an official close to the talks said Mr. Arias was unable to get the groups to agree on a date for the next round of talks or even to shake hands in front of the throngs of reporters gathered outside his home.
"He told them, the Palestinians and Israelis were enemies for generations, and their leaders shook hands," an official said, referring to Mr. Arias. "You all were friends until two weeks ago. And yet you cannot make one symbolic gesture?"
But people who are familiar with the talks -- diplomats, lawyers and government officials who attended the meetings or monitored them from offices in Costa Rica, the United States and Honduras -- said the sessions produced at least one important breakthrough: leaders on both sides of the divide moved beyond their blustery statements so that mediators could identify the real obstacles to a peaceful compromise.
Among the most intractable of those obstacles, said three officials close to the talks, was Mr. Micheletti. While Mr. Zelaya indicated that he was willing to accept a compromise that would return him to office with significantly limited powers, the officials said, it appeared that Mr. Micheletti believed he could run out the clock and hold on to the presidency until his country's presidential elections in November.
The officials said Mr. Arias told Mrs. Clinton that the United States had to make clear to Mr. Micheletti that elections held by an illegitimate government would themselves not be considered legitimate.
However, one official said that the United States wanted to be careful "not to take a huge public role." He said the United States indicated that it would quietly make clear to Mr. Micheletti that the $16.5 million it has already suspended in military aid could be expanded to include $180 million in other economic development assistance that is still under review.
Mr. Micheletti's supporters are pushing back in part by paying hundreds of dollars an hour to well-connected Washington lawyers who have initiated a charm offensive from Washington. On Friday, Mr. Davis was testifying on Capitol Hill in support of Mr. Micheletti's de facto government.
And on Saturday, Mr. Davis called reporters close to midnight to notify them that Mr. Micheletti had fired Enrique Ortez, whom he had appointed as his foreign minister, for having outraged American officials by referring in a television interview to President Obama as "that little black guy who doesn't even know where Tegucigalpa is located."
[Source: By Ginger Thompson, NYT, San José, Costa Rica, 12Jul09]
DDHH en Honduras
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