Talks between teams appointed by ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya and his de facto replacement Roberto Micheletti, mediated by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, collapsed over the weekend.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (while traveling in India) placed a call to de facto president Micheletti, reminding him of the "potential consequences of failure" to reach an agreement that would allow Zelaya's return. And in a related development, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has put a hold on the confirmation vote for Arturo Valenzuela as Assistant Secretary of State, blocking in the process the appointment of current Ass't Sec. of State Thomas Shannon's as ambassador to Brazil.
And in an extremely late-breaking development, the coup government in Honduras has announced the expulsion of Venezuelan diplomats from the country.
More on the flip...
The sticking point in the Arias-led negotiations, non-negotiable for both sides, is the return of Zelaya to office to serve out the rest of his term. This point is not only Zelaya's bottom-line in the talks, but it also remains the minimal demand of the international community. In this context, it is worth recalling that to date not a single nation in the world has officially recognized the coup regime in Tegucigalpa; nevertheless, despite his isolation Micheletti has made clear that Zelaya's return to office is completely unacceptable to the de facto regime. Talks are scheduled to resume tomorrow, and Arias, like the good mediator he is, remains optimistic an agreement can still be reached. Zelaya, for his part, has announced that he will return to Honduras this weekend regardless of whether an agreement is reached.
Arias has put forward a seven-point plan to allow Zelaya's return, which if implemented would have the effect of emasculating the president's power for the six months remaining in his term (the Honduran constitution establishes January 27 as the unamendable date for the transfer of executive power). Under the terms of the plan, Zelaya would have to accept a "unity government" including representatives from all political forces in the country -- including those responsible for having him deported in his pajamas -- and he would also have to abandon his signature project of a sweeping constitutional reform. Zelaya, however, has unconditionally accepted all seven points, but the coup masters in Tegucigalpa reject both Zelaya's return to office and conferring amnesty upon him.
Clinton's call to Micheletti was a direct response to this intransigent stance. Clinton's spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters, according to the Los Angeles Times,
that Clinton made it clear that the United States was ready to use its enormous leverage over Honduras if Micheletti's government does not comply.
The administration has so far withheld $18.5 million in aid to Honduras, but it could also stop an additional $180 million in development aid. The United States also has huge leverage through trade because 70% of Honduras' exports go to the United States.
It is not clear from the reporting that Clinton explicitly threatened a trade boycott, but the US embassy in Honduras had already announced last week the suspension of the development aid. The LA Times also reports that the EU has announced a suspension of an additional $90 million in development aid.
US Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens has been working furiously behind the scenes to convince Honduran elites who have backed the coup to withdraw their support.
Llorens ... met Thursday with business leaders, most of whom supported the coup. Llorens warned that the Micheletti government would never be recognized and that Honduras risks further sanctions if a solution is not found, a participant said.
"He urged us not to block an agreement," said one entrepreneur who attended the meeting and agreed to discuss it on condition that his name not be used. "His tone was very firm."
In return, the racist buffoon Enrique Ortez Colindres -- whose reference to Barack Obama as a "n.. field hand" caused an international incident and forced his resignation as the coup government's foreign minister -- threatened to have Llorens declared persona non grata and expelled from the country.
Ortez has worthy ideological soulmates in the US Senate. Last week a group of seventeen senators wrote Clinton asking her to reassess US policy towards Honduras, based on their evidence-free assertion that the coup plotters acted "lawfully" when they overthrew the president. As he placed the hold on Valenzuela's appointment, DeMint said:
President Obama rushed to side with Chavez and Castro before getting the facts. Now it's clear that the people of Honduras were defending the rule of law.
In fact, DeMint is the one who has rushed to judgment. Both the Honduran military and the president of the Honduran Supreme Court (in Spanish, English summary if you scroll downhere) have declared publicly that Zelaya's deposition and exile were not legal. And DeMint ignores that not only Chavez and Castro, but every single government in the world -- left, right, and center -- has condemned the illegality of the Honduran coup and refused to recognize the regime.
Finally, in a story that broke as I was composing this diary, AFP is reporting tonight that Micheletti has given Venezuelan diplomats 72 hours to abandon Honduras. The diplomats rejected the order, and Venezuelan chargé has declared their intention to remain on post:
We do not recognize the government of Roberto Micheltti. It is a de facto government, led by a coup and supported with bayonets.
AFP adds in its story that Arias fears Honduras is on the brink of civil war. If Zelaya returns to the country without an agreement with the increasingly intransigent rightwing thugs who currently govern it -- in open defiance of the international community -- that fear may come true.