Unilateral “Unity Government” Announced in Honduras; Deal “Dead”

  (IPS) – Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya said Friday that the agreement reached last week to solve the four-month crisis triggered by a coup d’etat was "dead."

The de facto government led by Roberto Micheletti, which took over after Zelaya was removed from his home at gunpoint by the military and sent into exile on Jun. 28, announced late Thursday that he had formed a "government of unity and reconciliation" without the participation of the deposed president.

The agreement signed on Oct. 30, under pressure from a high-level U.S. mission, stated that the Honduran Congress was to vote whether to reinstate Zelaya to serve out the rest of his term, which ends in January.

The plan set a Thursday deadline for the creation of a coalition government, made up of representatives of both sides, to govern until the new president to emerge from the Nov. 29 elections took office.

In a nationally televised address, Micheletti said his government had fulfilled its part of the agreement by meeting the deadline for the presentation of a new cabinet, "in which Zelaya did not wish to form part, although we are open to incorporating the names he proposes."

Zelaya and the broad coalition of trade unions, civil society groups and other sectors that have expressed their support for him in four months of street protests, said the announcement "ridiculed" and "betrayed" the spirit of the agreement, which clearly required the ousted president’s participation in the new cabinet.

He urged voters to boycott the upcoming elections and called on the international community not to recognise the results as legitimate, unless he is returned to power before they are held. He also said he would not help "whitewash" the coup.

On Sept. 21, Zelaya slipped back into Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy in the capital. Since then, the embassy has been surrounded by troops and subject to constant harassment.

Human rights activist Reina Rivera with the Centre for Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights said the new cabinet did not include the different social sectors, as required by the agreement signed last week. She also called it a "mockery" of President Zelaya and "those of us who defend democracy."

"Hondurans must keep fighting for democracy, because we are in the shadow of the military, the real power here, and this business of the ‘national unity cabinet’ sends out a negative signal aimed at legitimising the coup d’état, thus setting a bad precedent for the rest of the world. We are hoping for a strong reaction from the international community," she told IPS.

Indigenous activist Salvador Zúñiga told IPS that "this is another slap in the face, a mockery that makes us feel indignant, but that pushes us to step up the struggle."

He said that "once again, history has shown us that the United States is not anyone’s friend; we were once again betrayed when we endorsed an agreement full of gaps and capricious interpretations."

The accord, which culminated a month of Organisation of American States (OAS) sponsored talks between the negotiating teams of Zelaya and Micheletti, required the creation of a coalition government by Thursday. However, it did not set a deadline for Congress to rule on Zelaya’s reinstatement – the only point the two sides had failed to agree on.

The president of Congress, Alfredo Saavedra of the governing Liberal Party – to which both the ousted and the de facto presidents belong – denied that there were any "delaying tactics," but refused to set a date for the session that would consider the question.

"Zelaya’s reinstatement was left aside when it was agreed that Congress would decide on the issue, in consultation with the Supreme Court," jurist Roberto Velásquez told IPS. "No specific date for that was set…The most important thing was to recognise the validity of the elections, which was guaranteed by the accord."

OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza called Friday for compliance with the accord "without subterfuges," and said the new coalition government should "naturally" be led by "the person who legitimately holds the position of president."

Meeting in Jamaica, the foreign ministers of the Rio Group, Latin America’s largest political coordinating group, called Friday for the immediate reinstatement of Zelaya.

Many Latin American governments have made it clear that they will not recognise the results of the Nov. 29 elections unless the president is restored to power.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said "Last week, Honduran negotiators reached an accord that spelled out a step-by-step process for Honduras to re-establish democratic and constitutional order and move toward national elections with the support of the international community. In the wake of the verifications commission visit, the two sides made significant progress toward a unity government.

"For that reason we are particularly disappointed by the unilateral statements made last night…We urge both sides to act in the best interests of the Honduran people and return to the table immediately to reach agreement on the formation of a unity government."

Asked about the accuracy of a statement by U.S. Senator Jim DeMint that he had received assurances from the administration of President Barack Obama that it would recognise the elections in Honduras even if Zelaya was not returned to power, Kelly merely outlined the steps to be taken under the agreement: first, the establishment of a "verification commission, then the formation of a government of unity and reconciliation, then a Congress vote on the restoration, and the elections. So far only one step has been done."

"I think we’re disappointed in both sides. Both sides are not following this very clear path which has been laid out in this accord…A unilaterally decided government is not a government of national unity," he added.

Michael Shifter, vice president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank, said the accord did not ensure that Zelaya was reinstated. "So, with the U.S. decision that they would recognise the new government (regardless), the (Honduran) Congress lost its incentive to vote for his restoration, because they knew that the U.S. had changed its position on recognising the election results.

"The only possibility to salvage this is simply try to put more pressure so that Zelaya is part of the national unity government…if it’s only Micheletti people, then it’s a joke. If they make a mockery of the accord, then the U.S. can back out."

The director of the Washington-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), Mark Weisbrot, said "I think they (the Obama administration) are going to have to reverse their position, because they’re just as isolated as (former President George W.) Bush was vis-à-vis the hemisphere, in light of the Rio Group’s very strong statement. Zelaya has to be reinstated immediately or the elections are not going to be valid.

"If the administration is indeed willing to recognise the elections with or without Zelaya, as (Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas) Shannon said on CNN, it will be directly opposed to the rest of the hemisphere.

"This administration has not denounced the human rights violations that are massive in Honduras at this point, and they’re going to have to do that….From here going forward, repression is going to be much greater," he said.

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) said that with the failure of the agreement, it "urges the United States to not recognise the results of the November election, and to publicly and clearly state this position.

"To support the elections results regardless of a return to democratic order will fatally weaken the Obama administration’s stated intention at the April Summit of the Americas to rebuild a relationship with Latin America based on partnership and through working multilaterally.

"The indecisive position of the administration since Jun. 28 has already set back previously damaged relations with Latin America even further. If the United States takes an official position to support the elections under the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti, the Obama administration will be isolated from international allies who will not recognise elections under current conditions, including Brazil, Spain, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, and El Salvador."

* With additional reporting by Jim Lobe from Washington, D.C.