Honduras: OAS chief may seek compromise

Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza arrives Friday. Micheletti, who heads the interim government, has said he would be open to early elections and a referendum.

Police arrested a supporter of Honduras's ousted President Zelaya during a demonstration in San Pedro Sula Thursday. The Organization of American States is sending a mission Friday to try to break the impasse over what many global powers are calling a coup.

The arrival of the head of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Honduras Friday could mean the entrenchment of stalemate: The group wants ousted President Manuel Zelaya reinstated as president of Honduras, while the interim government vows not only to refuse his rule, but to arrest Mr. Zelaya should he return home.

But the two sides could be closer to compromise than they are publicly acknowledging.

On Thursday, the interim government, headed by Roberto Micheletti, seemed to soften its position. Mr. Micheletti, who was sworn in Sunday after Zelaya was flown on a military plane to Costa Rica, said he would be open to both early elections, currently scheduled for November, and even a referendum asking citizens if Zelaya should return to carry out his final few months in office.

On the question of early elections, Micheletti said: "I have no objection if it would be a way of resolving these problems," he said.

Condemned internationally

Honduras continues to be condemned by the international community, after Zelaya was arrested by the military for attempting to push forward with plans to modify the Constitution, a move his critics say was aimed solely at scrapping presidential term limits.

When OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza arrives today in the capital, he has said he will not meet with Micheletti or members of the interim government so as not to legitimate it. The OAS has given Honduras a three-day ultimatum to restore Zelaya to power or face sanctions and suspension from the regional group.

Loans and aid have been put on hold by the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank, and commercial ties have been broken by several countries. Zelaya's ouster has been called a coup the world over, and even the US is considering suspending aid.

High cost of isolation may temper outlook

The Honduran administration has so far downplayed the isolation. But most agree that it could not stand alone for long. Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the region, a coffee- and banana-exporting nation that depends heavily on remittances from Hondurans living abroad and from exports of textiles. Both have plummeted in the wake of the global financial crisis.

Kevin Casas-Zamora, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution's Latin America Initiative, says he will not be surprised if Honduran leaders eventually back down, especially if it continues to be a "pariah" state in global eyes.

"Honduras is too small, too poor, and too vulnerable to pull it off," he says.

Even so, Mr. Insulza admitted he faced a tough task ahead.

"I will do everything I can. But I think it will be very hard to turn things around in a couple of days," he said at a summit of Caribbean leaders in Guyana. "We are not going to Honduras to negotiate. We are going to Honduras to ask them to change what they have been doing."

Wire services were used in this report.

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