Pressure is mounting for a quick resolution to the Honduran crisis, which pits ousted President Manuel Zelaya against de fact President Roberto Micheletti, as delegations representing the opposing sides arrive in Costa Rica this weekend for the second round of mediation talks.
While both parties deliver ultimatums and exchange threats through the media, impatience is growing among countries watching from the sidelines, as several call for stronger intervention.
Meanwhile, peacemakers are crossing their fingers that the crisis will be solved before the battles that have been waged in newspapers becomes more than just print on a broadsheet.
But Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who stands as the lead mediator in the peace negotiations, is not making any promises about a swift resolution.
“Arias has been clear that it depends on the parties involved,” said Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno, who is involved in the mediation. “They will ultimately decide whether an agreement can be reached.”
Zelaya and Micheletti haven’t met face to face since Zelaya was forced from his home country on June 28 while still in his pajamas.
Despite occupying the same capital city last week in San José, the two men exited after brief – and separate – meetings with Arias. Delegations were left to carry out the peace process in their places.
in the Inflexible
Both sides came out swinging after the first round of mediation talks on Thursday night.
Facing a sea of cameras and reporters who made camp outside of Arias’ home, representatives of Zelaya raised their fists against the de facto government of Micheletti and said, “We will not let a small group of people use our armed forces to …take away our democracy.”
The delegation of Micheletti responded by saying – repeating it slowly several times so that it was understood – “We will not negotiate. The Honduran Constitution will not be negotiated.”
As the talks play out, neither side has shown any intention of bending its position, leaving Arias in the uncomfortable position of having lost the first round and requesting more time.
“I never wanted to create false expectations. The truth is that very little can be resolved with only one meeting in the conflict that separates the people of Honduras,” said Arias, speaking to the press at the conclusion of the first round of negotiations on Friday.
“What we have accomplished here is a profoundly frank dialogue with very different (arguments). There will be a second and, perhaps, third round until we can achieve peace,” the Nobel Peace Prize laureate added.
Between the Mediation
The first move resembling a concession came mid-week from Micheletti, who offered to step down as Honduran president if Zelaya pledged not to return.
The former president of Congress told the press on Wednesday, “If the decision (to step down) will bring peace and tranquillity to the country – and Zelaya never returns – I am willing to do it.”
Micheletti’s offer came after the Organization of the American States (OAS) issued a call to all member countries to continue pressuring the de facto government with trade embargoes and reduced aid.
The international community can assist in continuing to apply “pressure that might help the ongoing work to bear fruit,” said OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, in a statement.
Zelaya also made some noise this week, when he called for Micheletti to leave office by Saturday or face “alternative measures.” And, he called on Honduran citizens to stage demonstrations against the de facto government.
“Hondurans have the right to insurrection,” he said in Guatemala, adding that “it’s a legitimate right that is included in Article 3 of the Constitution.”
Even as comments circulate away from the mediation table, the Arias administration reiterated its confidence in the potential of dialogue.
On Wednesday, Stagno said that Costa Rica maintains the support of the OAS, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States, among others, to continue its work as mediator.
“The conversation needs to continue, and I think the parties involved agree it needs to continue,” Arias said during the first round.
What the Analysts Say
Antonio Barrios, an international relations professor at the NationalUniversity, said he doubts Zelaya will be able to return to his home country.
“If Zelaya is ever permitted to return to Honduras, it will not be to do more than testify before a judge on all of the charges of which he is accused,” Barrios said. “I do believe that Zelaya can return to Honduras, but not as president. He will return to appear before a judge.”
Not even pressure from the international community can help reinstall the constitutionally elected president, Barrios said.
Eventually, countries will recognize the stress caused to Honduras, the third poorest country in the Americas, and renew diplomatic relations, he said.
“I am very pessimistic about this second round of negotiations,” Barrios said. “I don’t think the mediation process will arrive at a positive conclusion. Neither group is willing to bend and this inflexibility will result in more of the same.”
Although the mediation process failed to reach a resolution within the first 48 hours of dialogue, it’s no fault of Costa Rica’s president, said Luis Guillermo Solís, a political analyst and professor at the University of Costa Rica.
Arias, who bridged nations during the peace talks of the 1980s, a mission which won for him the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize, is certainly capable of resolving this conflict, but it takes time, Solís said.
“This is a process,” he said. “It has worked before. I don’t see why it can’t work now…It just takes time.”
Tim Rogers contributed to this report.