OAS chief adamant that ousted Honduran president return

The head of the regional group is 'optimistic' about the next round of talks, set for Saturday.

Eduardo Verdugo/AP
Jose Miguel Insulza, Secretary General the Organization of American States, speaks during a news conference in Tegucigalpa, Friday. Honduras' Supreme Court rebuffed a personal appeal from Insulza on Friday, refusing to restore ousted President Manuel Zelaya before a Saturday deadline.

The head of the Organization of American States on Thursday dismissed the latest offer from Honduras's interim president for resolving the Central American country's constitutional crisis.

But he said he remains "optimistic" about the next round of internationally brokered talks set for Saturday.

OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza insisted at a meeting attended here by ambassadors and specialists in the Latin American region that any resolution of the Honduran crisis must include a return to power of President Manuel Zelaya. Mr. Zelaya was forcibly exiled by the Honduran Army nearly three weeks ago as part of an inter-institutional power struggle pitting Zelaya against the national Congress and the Supreme Court.

The OAS leader's non-negotiable position appeared to nip in the bud a proposal from Honduras's interim president, Roberto Micheletti, who on Wednesday offered to step down to pave the way to a political resolution – but only if a deal also prevented Zelaya's return to the presidency.

Calling Mr. Micheletti's rule "a de facto dictatorship," Mr. Insulza said it was a "hopeful" sign that Micheletti is offering to step down, but added that it cannot be "at the price of taking down President Zelaya with him. That cannot happen."

The meeting Saturday will be the third attempt at talks brokered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. President Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for his role in settling Central America's cold-war-era civil wars, was called in by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the OAS when Mr. Insulza's initial attempts at resolving the crisis fell flat.

The Honduran crisis – which stems from Zelaya's attempts to reform a constitution that forbids presidential reelection and even provides for dismissal of any president who would seek to overturn the reelection ban – has laid bare a number of widening political fissures in parts of Latin America.

Those include power struggles among branches of government – especially between the executive and the legislative branches over expanding presidential powers – and conflicts between traditional elites and popular majorities.

One reason Insulza's efforts at brokering the crisis went nowhere was his early labeling as a champion of strong Latin American presidencies – especially after the OAS governing council immediately called the Honduran action a "coup," a term the anti-Zelaya forces reject.

Insulza acknowledged in his talk Thursday that the OAS is weighted in favor of member-states' executives, or presidents, since the other branches of the region's democratic government have no representation or recourse in the regional body.

He also cast doubt on Zelaya's intentions in seeking a constitutional referendum, acknowledging critics who feared the president was "trying to change the constitution in a dubious manner."

But none of that justifies the military's removal of a president, he said, adding, "You don't rape democracy to save it."

Over the long run, some officials in the region say no one should be surprised if similar conflicts continue to shake parts of Latin America unexpectedly.

A number of constitutions in the region hold the same seeds of inter-branch conflict, says Francisco Villagrán de León, Guatemala's ambassador in Washington, who adds that the OAS's Inter-American Democratic Charter has no provision for addressing constitutional shortcomings.

"Only the head of state can seek some OAS action, not the chief justice, not the head of congress," says Mr. Villagrán. "It's a constitutional problem we now see playing out, and one that will be harder to solve as a crisis."

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