In shift, Honduras looks to itself to break leadership impasse

With international mediation efforts having failed thus far to broker a resolution to the ousting of President Zelaya, everyone from Honduran businessmen to church leaders to other politicians are offering proposals.

Rodrigo Abd/AP
Soldiers stand guard Friday near the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, where ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya

A Nobel Peace Prize laureate tried and failed. Pressure for a brokered solution has also come, to no avail, from presidents, top diplomats, and the world´s most credible global organizations.

Now, a new round of ideas, deals, and calls for dialogue is emerging from the one place so few had looked before: Honduras itself.

Some think a solution is impossible without the outside world. But from church leaders to well-heeled businessmen, new compromise proposals from within the country are being floated to end the standoff between ousted President Manuel Zelaya and the interim regime of Roberto Micheletti.

In part, the calls are ones of desperation. Mr. Zelaya returned home last Monday in a bold attempt to regain the presidency, and tensions have since mounted. And as presidential elections slated for Nov. 29 in Honduras near – polls that the international community promises not to recognize if the standoff does not end first – there is a sense among sectors of society that they must act where such organizations as the Organization of American States (OAS) and United Nations (UN) have thus far failed.

"There are extreme sides supporting Zelaya and Micheletti, but most are in the middle," says Roger Marin, a political analyst in Tegucigalpa. "And they are getting tired, and really worried. They were afraid we were about to face real violence."

Three months of turmoil

No clear solution stands out, three months after Zelaya was arrested by the military and deposed for attempting to carry forward with a vote to consider constitutional change, which critics say was intended to undermine democracy and scrap presidential term limits. Zelaya denies this, and says he must be returned to power; Mr. Micheletti says he must be tried for treason and abuse of power.

The key mediation effort, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias's San Jose Accord, has failed over the issue of Zelaya's return. The two contenders have not met, even though both claim the presidency, with Micheletti running the country and Zelaya holed up in the Brazilian Embassy, into where he sneaked last Monday.

Opinions in Honduras about whether Zelaya should return as chief of state are still starkly divided, but overwhelming both is a desire to see an end to the region's worst political crisis in decades.

"The San Jose Accord was getting nowhere … weeks passed and nothing happened. Instead of waiting for Arias, or the UN, or the OAS, we should do something," says businessman Adolfo Facusse, president of the National Association of Industries, who presented his own proposal for negotiation to Micheletti.

Mr. Facusse, whose visa was revoked on a trip to Miami under US pressure to solve the crisis, calls for the return of Zelaya to office – after the business community vocally supported his ouster – so long as peacekeeping forces ensure he abides by the plan.

"I looked at the San Jose Accord and said, what is the problem?" he says. "We talked to many people. They say they do not trust Zelaya to do what he signs."

Some in the private sector have dismissed the idea as the plan of one man. But amid concerns that foreign investment is drying up and that the business community could find itself increasingly isolated, Facusse defends it as a basis from which to instigate dialogue. "There is change in the air, we all sense it here," he says.

Catholic Church's compromise

The Roman Catholic Church has also proposed its own compromise. Bishop Juan Jose Pineda, who has served as an intermediary between Zelaya and Micheletti, is now floating a proposal, based on the San Jose Accord, that is dubbed the "Accord of Tegucigalpa." He has called both to the negotiating table, but not leaked details of the proposal.

And voices that had staunchly been justifying the overthrow of Zelaya are now spending more air time on dialogue. Gen. Romeo Vasquez, the head of the armed forces who oversaw Zelaya´s ouster, urged all sectors of society to come together to reach a consensus.

Candidates weigh in

Presidential candidates have also applied more pressure. Porfirio Lobo, a top conservative candidate in the race, recently told Micheletti he would withdraw his support for the interim government if he did not open up channels of negotiation with Zelaya.

"We were not trying to put conditions on anyone," says Mario Canahuati, Mr. Lobo's adviser."What we cannot have is any more violence."

The main candidates have sat down with Zelaya and Micheletti recently. But Micheletti hardened his stance with a new decree, which he later said he would revoke, that put limits on the right to assemble and freedom of expression, while Zelaya called for insurrection from the embassy. The nation has suffered through curfews, airport closures, and cuts in aid.

The weariness over the standoff has served a purpose, says Miguel Calix, an analyst in Tegucigalpa, prompting action where there had been inaction. "The more radical both sides become, the more space opens up for dialogue," he says.

International support will still be crucial. For starters, there is deep distrust among supporters of Zelaya that internal actors are looking for a compromise, from the business elite to the church.

"The church supported the coup before, and supports it now," says Carlos Paz, a journalist with Radio Globo, which calls for Zelaya´s return to power.

The OAS will visit Tegucigalpa next week to help support negotiations. Brazilian lawmakers also visited Tegucigalpa this week, to check on their embassy and visit with lawmakers.

But ultimately, says Mr. Marin, a solution must come from within. "This is our problem," he says. "Not the international community´s problem."

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