TEGUCIGALPA, Oct 7 (IPS) – Talks began Wednesday between delegates of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and de facto leader Roberto Micheletti, under international observation, to seek a solution to the crisis triggered by the Jun. 28 coup.
At the ceremony to start the talks, which will be overseen by foreign ministers and Organisation of American States (OAS) diplomats, the regional body’s Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said "we are not here for mutual recriminations, but to seek concrete solutions."
He also said the dialogue should give rise to a solution based on the San José Accord – the agreement proposed in July by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias in failed talks that he brokered.
The central point of the Arias plan is the reinstatement of Zelaya – although with significantly limited powers – to complete his term, which ends in January. The plan would also create a coalition government and grant an amnesty for all political crimes committed during and after the coup.
In addition, Zelaya would refrain from any attempt at rewriting the constitution, and the Nov. 29 elections would take place as planned, but under heavy international supervision.
The de facto government’s foreign minister Carlos López stressed that the state of siege declared on Sept. 27 had been lifted Tuesday.
He also called for the normalisation of the situation at the Brazilian embassy, where Zelaya has sheltered since sneaking back into the country on Sept. 21.
The embassy has been surrounded since then by the security forces, which have subjected the people in the compound to constant harassment that was condemned by the United Nations Security Council.
López told the roughly 60 Zelaya supporters in the embassy to leave the building, and promised them full guarantees.
Before the talks started on Wednesday, the police once again used tear gas to disperse protesters outside the U.S. and Brazilian embassies. Zelaya’s supporters have held daily demonstrations, often clashing with the security forces, since he was removed from the country by the military on Jun. 28.
The de facto regime has faced near total international isolation. Measures such as harshly worded condemnations, the withdrawal of ambassadors and the cancellation of visas and economic aid have been taken by the United Nations, the OAS, the European Union and the United States.
Insulza insisted that two stations closed down by the regime – Radio Globo and Canal 36 – be reopened, and said the talks should not drag on. "None of this should take too long, since we all have Honduras’ best interests at heart," he said.
Canadian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Americas, Peter Kent, called for free, fair and transparent elections with the backing of the international community.
He said the crisis must be resolved as soon as possible, and that sitting down at the negotiating table is not a sign of weakness, but of political will to solve the problem.
One of Zelaya’s delegates to the talks, former interior minister Víctor Meza, told Insulza, the foreign ministers and the large crowd of business leaders, politicians, trade unionists and representatives of civil society at the ceremony that he was late because not until Wednesday was he allowed to talk to the ousted president, "who is subjected to harassment and is hemmed in" at the embassy.
The former minister also complained about the harsh crackdown on the demonstrators, who he referred to as "my compatriots and yours" in an outspoken speech that astonished his listeners.
By means of a tortuous and difficult process, Honduras has built up democratic institutions, but it has failed to build a culture of democracy to defend it from the attacks of "political backwardness" and "authoritarianism," such as what occurred in June, said Meza.
That process of building institutions, he said, included the creation of the office of the public prosecutor, which "at the best of times was a defender of Honduran citizens," and the separation of the police from the military. But "a new police force was not created, and today we are victims of that error," he added.
In a statement to IPS, Meza said Zelaya was in favour of the San José Accord. "Their attempts to change its name now don’t modify the essence of its central points, which are the solution to the crisis," he said.
"It’s not a question of looking behind us, but of looking to the future, by means of dialogue," he said. But the talks must not lend themselves to "hypocritical delaying tactics only dialogue will pull us out of this dark tunnel and the state of uncertainty in which we are living."
Bernard Martínez, the presidential candidate of the social democratic Innovation and Unity Party, said the two sides "have agreed on the conditions and probable points on the agenda for the next few hours and days."
The OAS delegation is made up of the foreign ministers of Canada, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica and Mexico, the deputy foreign ministers of the Dominican Republic and Panama, as well as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, the OAS ambassadors from Argentina and Brazil, and Spain’s Secretary of State for Ibero-America.
The members of the delegation, who arrived in Tegucigalpa on Wednesday, plan to meet with Micheletti and Zelaya before heading back to their countries Thursday.
In a nationally broadcast address Tuesday night, Micheletti said the key points of the negotiations are aspects of the San José Accord and others that have emerged over the past week in conversations with Zelaya’s representatives.
Zelaya’s spokesman Rasel Tomé lamented what he called the "soft, complacent approach" taken by the OAS delegates who prepared the terrain for the foreign ministers’ visit, and who "submitted themselves to the agenda proposed by Micheletti, rather than the agenda of the legitimate president of Honduras."
"President Zelaya expects to be reinstated by Oct. 15 and he wants full guarantees for the country’s citizens to participate in the Nov. 29 general elections, to choose a new government that is to take office on Jan. 27, 2010," said Tomé.
Zelaya and the National Resistance Front Against the Coup d’Etat denounced that more than 100 people have been killed, over 500 have been injured, and hundreds have been arrested as the security forces have clamped down on protests over the last three months.
But the regime denies such allegations, and has only acknowledged the death of 19-year-old Isis Obed Murillo, who was shot by the security forces at Tegucigalpa airport on Jul. 5 when Zelaya’s attempt to return to the country by plane was thwarted by the military. The young man was among the Zelaya supporters attempting to reach the runway.