Published: July 30, 2009
Updated: 08:23 pm
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - Honduras' interim leader has backed off his opposition to restoring Manuel Zelaya to the presidency but wants concessions to mollify reluctant business leaders, a former Honduran government official said today.
Interim President Roberto Micheletti's refusal to consider Zelaya's reinstatement had been a key stumbling block in talks on solving the Central American nation's political crisis following the June 28 coup.
Micheletti told the chief mediator in the conflict, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, that the door was open to Zelaya's reinstatement, said the former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge information from a private conversation. The ex-official, who has been in frequent contact with Micheletti, said he spoke Wednesday with the interim leader.
Arias, meanwhile, said Micheletti has asked him to send an envoy to Honduras to jump-start negotiations.
Arias, who said he was considering the proposal, said the envoy would have to meet with several sectors, "especially businessmen ... who have been very reluctant to consider the possibility that Zelaya be reinstated."
There was no immediate reaction from Zelaya, whose supporters protested in Honduras on Thursday. Clashes with police left at least one man seriously injured.
Nearly all foreign governments have condemned the coup, and the United States and the European Union have suspended millions of dollars in development aid to Honduras.
The U.S. stepped up the pressure this week by suspending the diplomatic visas of four Honduran officials and warning it was reviewing the visas of all members of the interim government.
The U.S. State Department declined to name the officials, but the interim government identified them as the president of Congress, the defense minister, the national human rights ombudsman and the Supreme Court justice who signed the order for Zelaya's arrest.
Arias warned Honduras could face more sanctions.
"Certainly, there has been a lot of international pressure ... visas have been revoked and more visas could be revoked," he said. "And I can't reveal other sanctions that many other countries are considering."
The former official said Micheletti is seeking several changes to a compromise proposed by Arias last week that would restore Zelaya as president of a coalition government. The changes are aimed providing stronger guarantees that Zelaya will not resume efforts to change the constitution, an initiative that prompted his ouster.
The agreement already stipulates that Zelaya must drop ambitions to change the constitution. But among other proposals, Micheletti is suggesting that before Zelaya returns, an international commission would be put in place to would monitor compliance with the agreement.
Micheletti wants an agreement that will respect "the dignity of Hondurans who repudiate the return of Mr. Zelaya, giving them guarantees that if Mr. Zelaya returns to the presidency it will not be an obstacle, an impediment to the democratic, electoral process," the ex-official said.
In a statement earlier today, Micheletti also said the proposed compromise should be strengthened to "ensure that Zelaya abides by the constitution and allows the election of a new president in the November elections."
Juan Ferrera, coordinator of an umbrella group of pro-business civic groups, said there is strong opposition to Zelaya's return among more than 80 members, but that it still might be negotiable with certain guarantees — for one, that Zelaya does not seek re-election.
Zelaya, a wealthy rancher who veered the left in the middle of his presidency, denies seeking reforms to allow his re-election. But many Hondurans interpreted his call for a referendum for a constitutional assembly as a move toward perpetuating himself in power and implementing a socialist agenda similar to that sought by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
"I don't see his return as viable if it does not come with some condition that guarantees that he doesn't turn over Honduras to people affiliated with Hugo Chavez," Ferrera said.
Meanwhile, thousands of Zelaya supporters clashed today with police, who fired tear gas at a market in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.
One protester suffered a gunshot wound in the head and was seriously hurt, police spokesman Daniel Molina said. He said it was not clear who fired the live ammunition.
Red Cross spokesman Domingo Flores said protesters attacked an ambulance and beat three Red Cross workers, accusing them of being coup supporters.
Zelaya left the Nicaraguan town of Ocotal, where he had settled his government-in-exile, to meet in the Nicaraguan capital with U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens, according to Kathleen Boyle, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua. She had no information on the content of the discussions.
It was unclear whether Zelaya planned to return to Ocotal, where hundreds of his supporters are camped out in shelters.
On Wednesday, he warned that disgruntled military officers could rebel "at any moment" against the interim government and force his return. Zelaya said he has information that some soldiers and officers are unhappy with the leadership of military chief Gen. Romeo Vasquez.
"Have no doubt that at any moment, young military officers affected by the coup will tie up Romeo Vasquez Velasquez and force him to restore the constitutional order," Zelaya said.