As Honduran foes near a deal, crisis 'almost at an end'

Representatives for Manuel Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti claim an 'exit' is within sight. The people of Honduras just want the crisis resolved.

By , Staff writer and correspondent

After three months of a tense political standoff wearing on its citizenry, Honduras is as close as it has been to a deal that could see one of two men step down as president.

Representatives of both ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who was deposed June 28, and Roberto Micheletti, who was sworn in as interim president hours later, say that an “exit” has been found.

The sides did not release details of a potential agreement, nor had either explicitly agreed to any plan yet. But a possible breakthrough brought hope to Hondurans on the street, who have worried over aid that has been withdrawn from the international community, revoked visas, and the battered image of a country that prides itself on being one of peace.

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“It affects my life, it affects the whole world,” says Leoncio Reyes, a small business owner in Tegucigalpa, who added that it’s more important to him that the crisis end rather than which side comes out victorious. The crisis, he says, “has set the entire country back.”

How Honduras got here

Zelaya was arrested by the military June 28 for forging forward with a vote to consider a constituent assembly, even though the Supreme Court had declared such a move unconstitutional. He was packed to Costa Rica, and since then the world community has denounced his ouster as a coup that must be reversed.

Negotiations have failed over the issue of his return as president. Nobel Prize Laureate and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias had attempted a proposal known as the San Jose Accord, but it broke down over the issue of Zelaya's return to the presidency.

Mr. Micheletti and his supporters have insisted that they perpetrated no coup, but rather a constitutional transfer of power took place. They have said Zelaya will never return to office.

Zelaya has been holed up in the Brazilian embassy after sneaking back into Honduras in the wake of failed negotiations on Sept. 21. Micheletti has said that should he step outside, he will face an outstanding arrest on treason and abuse of power charges.

"I wouldn't talk of an end to the political crisis, but an exit, yes," Victor Meza, a Zelaya aide, told reporters, after leaving negotiations today in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. "We have agreed on one unified text that will be discussed and analyzed by President Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti.”

Pressure is mounting

Both sides are under pressure as a new presidential election nears Nov. 29. Some countries have said they will not recognize the results – which could mean continued withholding of aid and continued suspension from international bodies such as the Organization of American States – if Zelaya is not first returned to power.

Geouany Zapata, a motorcycle specialist in Tegucigalpa, said an agreement between the two sides would help get international support for the November elections, the most important step toward resolving the crisis. “It’s affected us in every way,” Zapata says.

Members of the OAS traveled to Honduras last week to get the two sides talking on a plan that roughly follows the outline of the San Jose Accord. That would include a truth commission and require that Zelaya drop plans to revise the constitution, since critics feared he was attempting to scrap term limits. Zelaya denies this.

Both sides have reportedly dropped one element in the San Jose Accord that would have granted amnesty to players on  both sides. Many have speculated that Micheletti is trying to stall negotiations until presidential elections.

"We are going to meet with the people from the commissions right now. As I understand it, Zelaya is asking that Congress determine if he can return or not," Micheletti said in an interview that aired on state television. "But it is the Supreme Court that has to decide."

Crisis 'almost at an end'

In a more hopeful sign, the head of the armed forces and of Zelaya's ouster, Romeo Vasquez, said that resolution was near. "I know that we have advanced significantly, we are almost at the end of this crisis," he said over local radio.

OAS Secretary General, Jose Miguel Insulza, reiterated that plans are moving steadily forward. “I don’t want to cause an excess of optimism, this won’t be over until it’s finished, but there have been some good advances that allow us some hope that there’s a Honduran solution to a Honduran problem,” he said.

But optimism will be hard to contain. Belinda Castañeda, walking through downtown Tegucigalpa sporting a Honduran soccer jersey for tonight’s match with El Salvador, said she hadn’t heard of the possible agreement, but was excited at the news.

“It gives me hope,” she says.

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