Honduras: Ousted Zelaya predicts attempts to assassinate him

Interim Honduran President Micheletti is downplaying Zelaya's return, though the Brazilian Embassy's utilities were cut off and police beatings have increased.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya stretches before a mass Thursday at Brazil's embassy in Tegucigalpa. Honduras' interim President Roberto Micheletti has vowed to arrest Zelaya if he leaves the shelter of the diplomatic mission.
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Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is warning that the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, where he has been holed up since Monday, could be stormed by "mercenaries" who would attempt to assassinate him.

"A group of mercenaries could enter here to carry out a killing," Mr. Zelaya was quoted as saying on Spanish National Radio, adding that Honduran interim leaders could cover it up as a suicide.

His foes dismiss this as political opportunism. Still, Roberto Micheletti, who has been in power since Zelaya was forced out of the country by the military June 28 over a constitutional conflict, has proven himself to be unwavering, even obstinate. As aid to Honduras was cut, global condemnation became shrill, and electoral support was withdrawn, Mr. Micheletti has only dug in his heels.

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"Micheletti is a hard-liner, and in some ways that does not help. But if he didn't have that personality he would not have survived all this pressure," says Jorge Aguilar, the president of a smaller opposition party, the Innovation and Unity Party – Social Democrat (Pinu), which is divided on the issue of Zelaya's ouster.

Will Micheletti negotiate?

Still, Mr. Aguilar says he believes Micheletti will choose the route of negotiation. "I don't think the Micheletti administration is going to push it that far.… I don't think he'd do anything like [storming the embassy] that would trigger the end of Micheletti."

Concern over the interim government's intentions grew after water and electricity to the Brazilian Embassy were cut on Tuesday. The US urged authorities to respect "the inviolability of the embassy of Brazil in Tegucigalpa and the individuals on its premises." Brazil called an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

Human rights groups, like Amnesty International, have denounced a rise in police beatings since the crisis ignited; since Zelaya's return, police told the BBC that at least one person has been killed in clashes between protesters and authorities.

Despite fears otherwise, Micheletti has said he has no intention of violating international law by invading the Brazilian Embassy. Instead, he has tried to keep the focus on the upcoming presidential elections and even downplayed Zelaya's return. Earlier this week he told the nation: "The presence of Mr. Zelaya in this country does not change our reality."

In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Micheletti claimed that Hondurans, too, simply want to move on. "Amid all of the claims that are likely to be made in coming days, the former president will not mention that the people of Honduras have moved on since the events of that day or that our citizens are looking forward to free, fair, and transparent elections on Nov. 29," he wrote.

"Right now, things have worked out better for [the interim government] than I would have anticipated when Zelaya was first removed," says John Carey, a Latin America expert at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. "They want to cling to the status quo."

However, current events could put the agenda out of Micheletti's control. For starters, if tensions mount on the streets, mistakes on the part of authorities could easily be made, dramatically changing the equation, says Mr. Carey.

What about the Nov. 29 elections?

The presidential candidates looking to win the nearing Nov. 29 race could put pressure on Micheletti to resolve the crisis as quickly as possible. The leading candidates, including the Pinu candidate, are to meet with Micheletti today to discuss plans to renew mediation, says Aguilar.

Already a leading candidate, Porfirio Lobo, was quoted in the local press saying he'd withdraw support for Micheletti if he does not attempt to resolve the crisis peacefully through negotiation. (Micheletti has, since then, said he is open to resume dialogue to bring the crisis to an end.)

Still, Robert Pastor, a Latin America expert at American University in Washington, D.C., says it's not clear that the candidates understand the degree of isolation they could face if an agreement is not reached, and that they could be exerting more pressure on finding a face-saving alternative for all parties. "If an agreement is not reached, there is the very real prospect that no one will recognize the [November] elections, and the struggle will go on indefinitely," he says. "The actions now will hurt later.… By the time real economic sanctions hit, it will hit the next government."

But the main issue in a so-far failed negotiation plan under Costa Rican President Oscar Arias – the return of Zelaya to carry out his term – is still a challenge. And while Zelaya's risky move to sneak into the country could backfire on him, particularly if violence explodes, he could also be making it harder for Micheletti to operate. "The critical question is whether Micheletti has the political space internally to negotiate," says Mr. Pastor. "To the extent that Zelaya appears to be generating or provoking chaos, he actually reduces the political space for Micheletti to compromise with him."

Will Zelaya's return force a change in Honduras? Click here to read how the situation could play out.

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