Honduras Offers Deal on Zelaya

Supporters of ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya protested this week outside the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa.
Supporters of ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya protested this week outside the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa. (By Esteban Felix -- Associated Press)
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 28, 2009

Two months after the president of Honduras was removed in a coup, the country's interim ruler offered Thursday to resign and accept the ousted leader back into the country -- as long as the exiled politician gives up his claim to the presidency, officials involved in the negotiations said.

The offer, made privately at a meeting in Washington, was immediately rejected by the secretary general of the Organization of American States, which has been helping to broker the discussions, according to one of the interim government's top negotiators.

But the negotiator, Arturo Corrales, said he was hopeful the proposal would nonetheless break a deadlock in the talks. "It's the starting point for the conversations," he said.

Ousted president Manuel Zelaya's ambassador to the OAS, Carlos Sosa, said late Thursday: "We don't accept this. . . . This is an effort to keep winning time and make it seem like they're talking."

The surprise offer came as the Obama administration was examining stiffening penalties against Honduras's de facto government, which has resisted diplomatic efforts to restore the leftist president to power.

Zelaya was detained by the military on June 28 and whisked out of the country. The coup was denounced by all countries in the hemisphere, which are grouped in the OAS, and by the OAS secretary general, Jose Miguel Insulza. However, many Hondurans, particularly from the upper and middle classes and the powerful political parties, have opposed Zelaya's return.

So have some Republicans in the U.S. Congress, who note that Zelaya was removed after the Honduran Supreme Court ruled that he had broken the law by organizing a referendum that could have allowed him to evade the one-term presidential limit. Zelaya is a close ally of leftist President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who has tried to create an anti-U.S. bloc in Latin America.

President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica led OAS-backed negotiations on a deal that would allow Zelaya to return with reduced powers.

According to the new proposal, interim leader Roberto Micheletti would resign, as would Zelaya, and the person next in line in the constitutional order would take over the presidency. Zelaya could return home, but would not be permitted to finish his term, which ends in January. Micheletti would support amnesty for anyone involved in political crimes related to the coup, including Zelaya.

Until now, Micheletti has said Zelaya would face potential prosecution if he returned.

"We regard this as a significant change in Mr. Micheletti's policy, and his willingness to immediately resign shows that this is not about his power, but it is about the rule of law," said Lanny Davis, a former White House official in the administration of President Bill Clinton who now represents a group of Honduran businessmen seeking a negotiated solution to the crisis.

Since the coup, the United States has cut off about $35 million in assistance to the country. In addition, it has revoked the U.S. visas of several top officials and this week halted the issuance of most temporary visas, including those for Honduran tourists and business travelers.

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