US Stance Confuses Ousted Honduran Leader

Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya works at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, Nov. 4, 2009.
AP Photo/Esteban Felix
Ousted President Manuel Zelaya is asking the Obama administration why, after pressing for his reinstatement, it now says it will recognize upcoming Honduran elections even if he isn't returned to power first.

In a letter sent to the U.S. State Department on Wednesday, Zelaya asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton "to clarify to the Honduran people if the position condemning the coup d'etat has been changed or modified."

His request came after Washington's top envoy to Latin America, Thomas Shannon, told CNN en Espanol that Washington will recognize the Nov. 29 elections even if the Honduran Congress decides against returning Zelaya to power.

A U.S.-brokered deal reached last week leaves Zelaya's reinstatement in the hands of Congress, but sets no deadline as to when lawmakers must decide. Delays in the expected vote have generated fears in the Zelaya camp.

"Both leaders took a risk and put their trust in Congress, but at the end of the day the accord requires that both leaders accept its decision," Shannon said.

The U.S. has repeatedly pressed for Zelaya's reinstatement. President Obama was explicit in a speech this summer: "America supports now the restoration of the democratically elected President of Honduras."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday that the United States considers what happened in Honduras a coup and that Zelaya should be reinstated, but he said the focus now should be on implementing last week's deal between the ousted president's representatives and the interim government of Roberto Micheletti.

"We've made our position on President Zelaya and his restitution clear. We believe he should be restored to power," Kelly said. "Our focus now is on implementing this process and creating an environment wherein Hondurans themselves can address the issue of restitution and resolve for themselves this Honduran problem."

The deal left reinstatement in the hands of Congress, but hours after shaking hands, Zelaya and others indicated a behind-the-scenes arrangement had been made with Congress to reinstate him.

"This signifies my return to power in the coming days, and peace for Honduras," he said.

His comments, and U.S. approval of the deal, left many believing Congress was ready to put him back in office.

"I think it was sort of assumed that there was a deal with Congress to reinstate him," said Dana Frank, a historian at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "But the U.S. negotiators may have underestimated the sheer nutso chaos of Honduran politics."

The leaders of Honduras' Congress said Tuesday they would consult the courts and prosecutors before deciding when to submit the measure to the full Congress for debate, which they said could be after the elections.

Congressional secretary Roberto Lara said lawmakers are still waiting to hear the opinions from the Supreme Court, which ordered Zelaya's ouster, the human rights commissioner, and the country's prosecutors, who charged him with betraying the homeland, abuse of power and other crimes.

Also Wednesday, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, who were in Honduras to oversee implementation of the agreement, said they met with Zelaya, Micheletti and other officials, and have begun the creation of a unity government.

According to the pact, the unity government, which should include both Zelaya and Micheletti supporters, needs to be established by Thursday. The verification commission, which also includes two Honduran representatives, didn't say if the deadline would be met.

"I saw that everything takes time here but I'm convinced that we're now focused on bringing different groups together to create a new cabinet," Solis said.

Juan Carlos Hidalgo, project coordinator for Latin America at Washington-based Cato Institute, said he doesn't expect Hondurans to be swayed by U.S. pressure.

"If Congress doesn't reinstate Zelaya, it certainly will be a diplomatic embarrassment for the United States since they pressured so much for his reinstatement and even threatened to not recognize the election results," said Hidalgo. "But not recognizing a popular vote was a dead-end road for the U.S. and they knew it."

Late Wednesday, unknown assailants threw an explosive device at an anti-Zelaya radio station in Tegucigalpa, forcing the station to suspend a live radio show.

HRN Radio reporter Romulo Matamoros told TNH Television station that assailants threw the explosive artifact from the street and that a technician working in the control cabin was slightly hurt.

"This was an aggression against freedom of expression," Matamoros said.

The Honduran media has often been at the center of tensions since the coup. Several media outlets and other institutions critical of Zelaya have been attacked, while Pro-Zelaya television and radio stations have complained about being yanked off the air in the days immediately following the coup.