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Showdown looms in Honduras

Interim President Roberto Micheletti vows to have ousted President Manuel Zelaya arrested if he returns Thursday. Hondurans are concerned about foreign intervention.

By Sara Miller Llana – Staff writer, Tim Rogers – Correspondent / July 1, 2009

Soldiers stand guard on a corner near the presidential residence in Tegucigalpa, Wednesday. Honduras' interim president, Roberto Micheletti, warned that the only way ousted President Manuel Zelaya will return to office is through a foreign invasion but a potential showdown was postponed when Zelaya delayed his plans to return to Honduras.

Dario Lopez-Mills/AP


Tegucigalpa, Honduras; and Managua, Nicaragua

International pressure on the coup leaders in Honduras could force them to accept leftist President Manuel Zelaya back into the country under a political arrangement in which he promises not to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling against changing the Constitution to allow him to run for another term.

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Mr. Zelaya could resume power until elections at the end of the year and then go quietly back to the countryside, which he promised to do Tuesday in front of the United Nations.

But so far, newly appointed interim president, Roberto Micheletti, is having none of it. He warns that if Zelaya returns, he will be arrested.

Zelaya plans to come back this weekend in what could be a showdown, leading to speculation – and veiled threats – about how regional leaders, particularly Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, may intervene.

The stakes are high. Emilio Alvarez, Nicaragua's former minister of international relations, says political crises of this nature in Central America can only be resolved in one of two ways: an agreement is worked out between both sides, or a violent rupture.

In the case of Honduras, Mr. Alvarez says that an agreement has to be worked out, because "the other option would be Chávez invading by air, sea, and land from Nicaragua. And that can't happen – it would be worse than the coup itself."

Under-the-table talks?

Alvarez says he suspects some sort of agreement is already being worked out "under the table," in which Zelaya would be allowed to finish his term in exchange for a promise not to push for another stint. The veteran analyst explains that Honduras is "the most traditional country in Central America" and has a strong cultural aversion to change, especially along the leftist lines proposed by Zelaya.

He also says that Honduras does about 70 percent of its business with the United States. If the new government decides to dig in its heels, it could – in theory – survive, even if it becomes a pariah in Latin America. "The United States is not going to impose any economic blockade on Honduras," he says.

Chávez threatens action

Mr. Chávez, however, is already beating his chest. On Tuesday morning, before departing Nicaragua for Venezuela, he told the press he was sure Mr. Micheletti would be thrown in jail. Referring to the de facto government of Honduras, Chávez said "they have already imprisoned themselves by their own situation."