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Honduras in Turmoil Three Months After Coup

October 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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More than three months after a coup removed him from office, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and his rival, interim President Roberto Micheletti, remain at loggerheads. Ray Suarez speaks with Marcelo Ballve of New America Media about the situation.
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RAY SUAREZ: And joining us from Tegucigalpa is special correspondent Marcelo Ballve of New America Media, an organization of ethnic news outlets in the United States.

Marcelo, welcome.

You have been covering the talks meant to break the impasse between the forces of Micheletti and Zelaya. Is there any progress to report today?

MARCELO BALLVE: There appears to be some progress on five of the nine points under discussion, but they were really stuck on the most important point, which is the restitution of President Manuel Zelaya.

They have just broached that point today. And, really, it’s the sticking point in these negotiations. So, today really is the key day in terms of resolving this political crisis.

RAY SUAREZ: The sticking point would seem to be irreconcilable. Zelaya has — has insisted all along that he must be reinstated, hasn’t he?

MARCELO BALLVE: Zelaya has insisted all along that he’s the rightful leader of Honduras, that his being toppled on June 28 was — went against the laws of the country. The international community has agreed with him.

But the interim government has been very stubborn in resisting the international community’s request to reinstate him.

RAY SUAREZ: You have been talking to the negotiators for both sides. Have they managed to work out any of the details of the smaller points of contention?

MARCELO BALLVE: Well, they have agreed on some details. But, really, the — the question that they’re burrowing into today is the question of, if Zelaya is returned, when he would be returned, under what conditions he would be returned.

And they have been on the ninth floor of a hotel here in downtown Tegucigalpa discussing that. They have agreed on some points. They have made progress on five of the nine points. One of the points they had agreed on — they have agreed on is that there won’t be a political amnesty as part of this deal.

They have also agreed on the fact that the November 29 presidential elections will remain on that date. But, again, if — if Zelaya isn’t reinstated, the United States and other — other members of the international community have decided not to recognize those elections, or at least they have threatened that.

The — the protesters who support Zelaya say they will boycott those elections if Zelaya isn’t reinstated first. So, there’s really a lot of uncertainty hanging over those elections if these negotiations don’t work out.

Zelaya running out of time

RAY SUAREZ: Zelaya has been out of power for over three months. Isn't the un-served portion of his term getting to be a fairly small amount of time?

MARCELO BALLVE: Yes, the window is closing. And that's really -- time has really begun to mark these negotiations.

The -- in an attempt to gain leverage over the other side, Zelaya supporters and Zelaya's negotiators have said that they're imposing an October 15 deadline on -- on the negotiations, and that they will take to the streets, step up protests, and perhaps even organize a national strike if that deadline isn't met for Zelaya's reinstatement.

So, both sides are kind of engaged in an arm-wrestling match and trying to control the timing of these talks. The -- the card on the table for Micheletti's side is that, if they manage to delay until elections, they -- they hope maybe to make the argument that it's fait accompli and that the international community should just recognize whoever is chosen.

Pessimistic about being reinstated

RAY SUAREZ: Marcelo, you have spoken to Zelaya himself in his refuge in the Brazilian Embassy. What does he have to say for himself?

MARCELO BALLVE: Well, I spoke to Zelaya yesterday evening.

And he was very pessimistic about these talks. He's very distrustful of the interim government. He's distrustful of their good faith in these negotiations. And he told me flat-out that he was very pessimistic that -- that he will be reinstated as -- as Honduras' president.

RAY SUAREZ: Does he intend to remain in the presidential palace, or, if these negotiations don't end in success for him, will he leave the country?

MARCELO BALLVE: Well, that's unclear right now. He has said that he's not going to ask Brazil for political asylum, in which case, presumably, he would be sent to exile in Brazil.

Zelaya says that he's going to insist, in his struggle, as he calls it, to show the international community and the rest of the world that a coup in Latin America won't be accepted in the 21st century. He's telling me that he -- he won't back down.

So, he appears to be saying that he's willing to remain in the embassy for as long as it takes. It remains to be seen whether he can really tough it out that long, because conditions there are reportedly pretty tough. He's holed up in there with 50 or so of his supporters. They have to be sent food every day. They're surrounded by Honduran soldiers that are watching over them. So, it's really a tough situation for him to be living in day to day.

RAY SUAREZ: Marcelo Ballve of New America Media joining but from Tegucigalpa -- good to talk to you, Marcelo.

MARCELO BALLVE: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Read Marcelo Ballve's dispatches from Honduras and his interview with ousted President Zelaya on our Web site, NewsHour.PBS.org.