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Honduras' Manuel Zelaya says U.S.-backed deal to reinstate him has failed

The country's de facto leader, Roberto Micheletti, forms a new government without the ousted president. 'The accord is a dead letter,' Zelaya says.

November 07, 2009|Tracy Wilkinson

MEXICO CITY — The political crisis in Honduras deepened Friday after ousted President Manuel Zelaya declared "totally dead" a U.S.-brokered agreement that he had believed would restore him to power.

Zelaya, deposed in a military-backed coup four months ago after ignoring a court order to stop efforts to hold a referendum on revising the nation's constitution, said the accord collapsed after the de facto rulers formed a new "reconciliation government" without him.

The week-old deal had sought to bring representatives of Zelaya and his enemies into a transitional government as a way to ease the crisis and legitimize elections scheduled for Nov. 29.

"The accord is a dead letter," Zelaya said on a Honduran radio station. "There is no sense in continuing to fool the Honduran people."

He called on supporters to take to the streets and to boycott the vote, which he deemed a "fraud" designed to "whitewash" the coup.

In Washington, officials who sponsored what had been hailed as a breakthrough and "victory for democracy" said they were disappointed by the setback.

"We urge both sides to act in the best interests of the Honduran people and return to the table immediately to reach agreement on the formation of a unity government," said U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly.

"They need to move beyond the present state of chaos and uncertainty, and resolve this in a . . . peaceful, negotiated way," Kelly said.

Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, which also helped negotiate the agreement, lamented the impasse and called on the parties to move forward "without further subterfuge."

Under the accord, Zelaya and de facto leader Roberto Micheletti had agreed to let Congress vote on whether to return Zelaya to the presidency, as the international community has been demanding. But congressional leaders, who backed the coup, have yet to call a vote.

The accord also required the formation by Thursday of a temporary "unity Cabinet" with representatives for both sides.

Just before midnight Thursday, Micheletti went on national television to announce a new government that did not include Zelaya or any of his supporters.

Micheletti said he consulted political parties and a "wide spectrum of civil society" to put together the new government. He said Zelaya did not propose any candidates but still could do so.

The controversy is an embarrassing development for the Obama administration, which dispatched senior diplomats to settle the crisis a week ago but which has also sent mixed signals in opposing the coup, the first in Central America in 16 years. Washington had been firm in supporting Zelaya's reinstatement but more recently seemed to be wobbling.

Kelly, the State Department spokesman, said this week that solving the crisis was "now a Honduran process," suggesting that international pressure would be scaled back.

Many supporters of the coup in Honduras are convinced that Washington will recognize the victor in the upcoming vote, even without Zelaya's reinstatement.

Micheletti had signed on to the deal as a way to secure international recognition of the November vote. Most of the region's governments had warned that elections overseen by a coup-installed government would not be deemed legitimate.

In also signing on to the deal, Zelaya agreed to let Congress decide his fate even though the legislative body previously endorsed the coup. He apparently believed there was room for political jockeying and that he would be able to muster the votes for reinstatement. But he failed to anticipate that the Congress would not convene to vote.

"I think Zelaya was overconfident because he thought of himself as a more powerful leader than he really is," said Leo Valladares, a Honduran law professor and former human rights ombudsman. "Micheletti and his government control all the institutions of the Honduran state and so have every advantage."

Zelaya "miscalculated," said Eric Farnsworth, a former U.S. diplomat who is vice president of the Council of the Americas, an international business organization. "But I also think that the Micheletti people saw an opportunity to take full advantage and they grabbed it."

The army snatched Zelaya from his home the morning of June 28 and deported him to Costa Rica. Backers of the coup said they were acting to prevent Zelaya from illegally changing the constitution to allow for his reelection, a charge he has denied. Congress and the Supreme Court endorsed Zelaya's overthrow.

A flamboyant timber tycoon whose turn to the political left alienated the Honduran elite, Zelaya sneaked back into the country on Sept. 21 and took refuge inside the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the capital.

--

wilkinson@latimes.com

Special correspondent Alex Renderos in San Salvador contributed to this report.

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