Both Honduran presidents remain defiant

International pressure mounts as the OAS chief is expected in Tegulcigalpa today for talks to resolve the leadership crisis.

Henry Romero/Reuters
A supporter of Honduras' interim President Roberto Micheletti holds a poster during a demonstration in front of the local United Nations office in Tegucigalpa July 1, 2009. The Honduran interim government defied international pressure on Wednesday and vowed there was "no chance at all" of Zelaya returning to office.

Tegucigalpa, Honduras – Remittances are falling, exports are dropping, and thousands of jobs have been lost: this coffee- and banana-exporting nation is hardly in a position to play geopolitical hardball.

But even as ambassadors have been recalled, international aid has been suspended, and leaders worldwide condemn Sunday’s ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, the new interim government here is refusing to step back.

“We have done nothing outside the Constitution of the republic,” Roberto Micheletti, who was sworn in as interim president of Honduras, told a group of foreign correspondents Wednesday.

The Organization of American States (OAS) has given him until Saturday to step aside before Honduras is suspended from the group. The OAS secretary-general, José Miguel Insulza, is expected to arrive here today for talks, and private discussions are reportedly under way with members of Congress and other Honduran officials to find a compromise.

The crisis was sparked by Mr. Zelaya¹s attempt to move toward eliminating term limits for presidents, even as the Congress and members of his own party rejected the move and the Supreme Court declared it illegal. After the military arrested him Sunday, the nation swore in a new president. But Zelaya could, for example, be allowed back to Honduras in exchange for promises that coup leaders will not be prosecuted.

For now the two sides are digging in, at least publicly, with coup supporters defiantly saying that Zelaya’s return means his arrest, and Zelaya, backed almost unanimously around the globe, saying he expects to return as head of state any day.

Gladys Otero, a leader in a teachers’ union in Tegucigalpa, says supporters will stay on the streets until Zelaya is returned to power. “After more than 30 years of democracy in this country, we cannot let the military take down an elected president,” Ms. Otero says. “He needs to return here to restore constitutional order, and we will stay here until he does.”

The confrontation was expected to come to a head Thursday, when Zelaya had planned to return to Honduras – a plan that coup leaders said would result in his arrest. The Supreme Court had declared that a nonbinding resolution he called for last Sunday to explore the possibilities of calling a constituent assembly was illegal.

As they scramble to find a diplomatic solution, the world continues to put pressure on Honduras’s interim government. The OAS ultimatum came on the heels of condemnation from the United Nations General Assembly. The Pentagon said it had suspended all military activities. The Inter-American Development Bank said no new loans would be made, and the World Bank also announced it would withhold funding.

Olban Valladares, a former congressman, says they will not be swayed by hostile world opinion and action. “Zelaya was not going to back down. He never listened to anyone,” says Mr. Valladares. “It hurts me. I am sad to see any president get kicked out, but it had to be done.”

For now, Honduran residents say the looming isolation of their country is a necessary reality. Walter Archila, a taxi driver in Tegucigalpa, says that repercussions from countries cutting off diplomatic and trade ties are real. “But either way we would have been isolated,” he says. “If Zelaya had stayed, we would be surrounded only by [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chávez and Cuba.”

Mr. Micheletti said Wednesday that he was “open to dialogue” with Zelaya, but says that negotiating his return to the presidency is outside the realm of possibility. He maintains that removing Zelaya was not a coup, and that the world’s cold shoulder is compensated by support at home. “I have the company of the population [in Honduras],” he says.

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