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Tensions Surround Honduras Leadership Talks

October 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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With presidential elections just weeks away, negotiators in Honduras continue to work on an agreement that would temporarily return ousted president Manuel Zelaya to power. Ray Suarez reports.

JIM LEHRER: And next: another tense day in Honduras. Negotiators representing the two men who both claim to be president met again.

Ray Suarez got the latest from there a short time ago.

RAY SUAREZ: And, for that, we go to special correspondent Marcelo Ballve of New America Media in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.

Marcelo, talks between the de facto leader of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, and the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, have been going on for more than a week now. Any update on where things stand?

MARCELO BALLVE, New America Media: Well, they have been locked in negotiations for 10 hours yesterday and already six hours today.

There has been a lot of progress. Both sides have expressed optimism. But they are still stuck on the details of how Zelaya would be reinstated in power.

RAY SUAREZ: This was the day that President Zelaya had threatened that he would bring his people out on to the street, even as he is hunkered down in the Brazilian Embassy. Any sign that people are, his supporters are taking to the streets in the capital?

MARCELO BALLVE: Yes. Every day in the capital here, Zelaya supporters are out in the street. They’re organizing marches at night. They’re also holding events in all the neighborhoods that you have in the hills around the city. So, they are ready to mobilize if Zelaya isn’t reinstated.

They have also threatened to boycott the November 29 elections, and actively disrupt the elections, if it comes to that.

RAY SUAREZ: There have been repeated references to they’re being very close, one spokesman saying a deal was 95 percent completed.

What is the remaining sticking point?

MARCELO BALLVE: There’s basically three remaining sticking points. One is whether this agreement would have to go through the congress and the supreme court in order to be approved. Zelaya’s side wants guarantees that there wouldn’t be any problem.

Another sticking point — and I think the biggest sticking point — is timing. Zelaya’s side said that it wouldn’t accept Zelaya’s reinstatement after the elections. And we can tell from that, that really the question of how soon Zelaya would be reinstated in power is key, because whoever is in there the longest before the elections has more of a chance to exert pressure on the elections and exert more control over the elections.

Another question is just who would integrate this cabinet, this unity cabinet, that both sides are working out in order to have Zelaya reinstated and the country brought together moving forward.

RAY SUAREZ: Have outside forces, like the Organization of American States or the United States itself, played much of a role in brokering these negotiations?

MARCELO BALLVE: The Organization of American States has really taken the lead here. There’s been an OAS observer, John Biehl. He is a Chilean. He has been here the whole time.

And the OAS has really been sort of a lone ranger overseeing these talks. There has been international pressure and encouragement for these talks to succeed. But it’s clear the OAS has taken the lead on this and has a lot to win or lose.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, the Honduran national soccer team has qualified for the World Cup for the first time in almost 30 years. With all that is going on in the country, has it attracted a lot of attention?

MARCELO BALLVE: Yes, it’s attracted a lot of attention.

In fact, yesterday the contingent of journalists around the talks decreased dramatically because they all went out to cover the celebrations in the streets and in the churches, where a lot of Hondurans went on pilgrimage to thank, you know, their saints for — for the victory.

So, it — it definitely distracted attention from the talks. And a lot of people said. well, maybe now the country is brought together, we can have a final push and we can have more good news on the talks today.

RAY SUAREZ: Marcelo Ballve joining us from Tegucigalpa — thanks, Marcelo.

MARCELO BALLVE: Thank you, Ray.