Honduras talks stalled, again

Hondras

Discussions between the Honduran coup government and deposed President Manuel Zelaya appear to have stalled again.

Zelaya was sent into exile on June 28 because he was supporting a mass-based effort to add a referendum item to the Nov. 29 national elections, which would ask voters if they wanted a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution. The wealthy elites feared that Zelaya was moving Honduras to the left. They replaced him with Congress President Roberto Micheletti.

Workers, peasants, women and ethnic minorities have been carrying out almost daily demonstrations for the restoration of Zelaya. Virtually all countries in the Hemisphere, including the United States, have characterized the June 28 action as an illegal coup and have said that they will not recognize the results of the Nov. 29 elections unless the coup is reversed.

Sanctions have been imposed, which have badly pinched the economy, but Micheletti holds out.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias proposed a plan whereby Zelaya would return to the presidency, but with reduced powers. Zelaya agreed, but Micheletti refuses to do so.

On Sept. 21, Zelaya managed a secret return to Honduras, and has been besieged in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa ever since. Micheletti declared 45 days of martial law, and closed down the only TV and radio stations that supported Zelaya. Police and soldiers have been repressing Zelaya supporters, including the Garifuna ethnic group. At least 12 have been killed since the coup, including labor leaders and candidates for office.

Negotiating teams from each side have been meeting directly for a couple of weeks. There were rumors of progress that were quickly shot down by the Micheletti regime. Observers suspect Micheletti wants to keep the talks going past the Nov. 29 elections, in which neither he nor Zelaya can run. Currently, pro-coup candidates campaign freely, but pro-Zelaya, anti-coup candidates risk their lives if they do, and can't get positive press coverage because pro-Zelaya media have been suppressed.

Zelaya says that unless constitutional legality is restored immediately, nobody should recognize the elections.

Zelaya has been willing to abandon the idea of a referendum on the issue of a Constituent Assembly. Juan Barahona, a union activist and leader of the National Front Against the Coup, has withdrawn from the negotiations, because he does not accept dropping the Assembly, but wants to give Zelaya a free hand.

In the United States, the Republican Party is working to reverse the administration's support for Zelaya. In a recent editorial in the Washington Post, Reagan and Bush I leftover James Baker III promotes the idea that the November elections will solve the Honduras crisis, without mentioning that under current conditions of martial law, restricted press freedoms and general repression, no free and fair elections can take place.

Photo: AP