Pressed by cameramen and journalists at the conclusion of more than two weeks of peace talks, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias appeared visibly drained.
The frail 68–year-old head of state had borne the weight of the Honduran conflict on his shoulders, while neither the talks themselves nor the string-pulling or arm-twisting that had accompanied them had been enough to arrive at a solution.
He told the reporters who surrounded him much like pigeons encircling a slice of bread, I completed my work And if it s not accepted, my recommendation is that they look for other forums.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who led a successful effort to stitch together a fractured region during the conflicts of the 1980s, has not yet been able to mend the rift among the feuding factions in Honduras, despite what he called his best efforts.
Arias has been serving as mediator in the crisis resulting from the June 28 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya. De fact President Roberto Micheletti, former president of the Honduran congress, was installed by the legislature to lead the country until elections are held in November and a new president is sworn in next year.
After a series of mediation sessions with delegations representing both sides of the issue, and an additional 72 hours when he worked on his own this week, Arias decided to leave the problem in the hands of the Hondurans.
On the delegations of Honduras lies the great responsibility of making a way possible, even amidst bitterness and resentment, he said. The Honduran delegations know that the clock is moving forward with dizzying speed and it moves against the people of Honduras … We cannot wait (for) a perfect choice.
Before removing himself from the conflict, the mediator left a document on the table, which he called the San José Agreement.
It includes a 12-step peace accord that Arias hoped would return Honduras to normalcy.
The agreement was substantially like the one he presented to the two sides just five days earlier. That agreement called for the return of Zelaya to the presidency, offered amnesty to both parties, prohibited any short-term constitutional reforms and advanced the presidential election by a month, to October.
On Sunday, those representing the de facto government rejected the agreement, saying they could not agree to the return of Zelaya. They said he will be arrested and face various charges if he returns to Honduras.
I am sorry, Mr. President, for the proposals you have presented are unacceptable to the constitutional government I represent, said Carlos López, leaning forward to underscore his words and then falling back, almost stumbling on his heels with his force of emphasis. He offered a seven-point counter proposal, which called for Zelaya s return not to the presidency, but to the courts.
López, representing the de facto Honduran government, also requested a truth commission so that Hondurans and the wider international community would understand the reason for the coup. He agreed to a reconciliation government, composed of representatives of both parties, and he also requested a change in the date of the elections in accordance with the predilections of the elections tribunal and the presidential candidates.
Yet, the de facto government s proposal took second place to the one Arias had presented on Saturday, which is what formed the backbone of the San José Agreement.
Outside Central America
The international community has been largely supportive of the mediation process, taking a backseat while the effort to untangle the conflict unfolded in Arias living room at his home in Rohrmoser, on the west side of San José.
José Miguel Insulza, head of the Organization of American States, refused to interfere, much to the dismay of many left-leaning governments in the region.
As Arias worked for 72 more hours this week, Insulza said, I believe the alternative if we don t (give Arias this extension) results in something that none of us wants, and that is violence in Honduras.
He added, There is no civil war in Honduras, and we hope there won t be one.
Meanwhile, the international powers ramped up their pressure on the little country of seven million, choking off aid and hoping to starve the de facto government into agreeing to a compromise.
On Monday, the European Union said it would suspend $92 million in aid to Honduras. This followed a decision by the United States to suspend $16.5 million in support. The U.S. also has threatened $180 million in additional cuts.
They are completely isolated, Arias told reporters on Wednesday. The United States has cut off aid, the European Union has cut off aid and they don t have diplomatic relations with anyone.
Zelaya Gives Up on Dialogue
For his part, Zelaya is apparently taking Wednesday night s presentation of an accord unlikely to be accepted by the de facto government as a cue to return to the country from which he was taken at gunpoint fourweeks earlier.
The ousted president has threatened to return on more than one occasion. On July 5, he got as far as an approach to the airport in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, but his plane provided by the government of Venezuela couldn t land as tanks and other military vehicles blocked the runway.
According to several news agencies, he initiated a walk from the capital of Nicaragua to his home country on Thursday without arms and accompanied only by his family.
For Zelaya, the dialogue had failed, his delegation said.
The San José dialogue has failed due to the intransigence of the coup regime, said Rixi Moncada, who represented Zelaya during the presentation of the peace agreement on Wednesday.
Micheletti Pushes for More Talks
Micheletti appears frustrated by the lack of international sympathy for his government.
While his country stands divided in its response to the coup 41 percent supported it and 46 percent opposed it, according to a recent CID Gallup poll political backing is thin outside of Honduras.
Micheletti issued a special plea to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and anyone else who would listen, to come to Honduras to learn more about the situation, as the international community continued to insist on Zelaya s return.
Mauricio Villeda, son of a former Honduran president who was also ousted in a coup, reiterated that invitation on Wednesday night as a member of the de facto government s delegation in San José.
You can come to Honduras and see what exists in our country, he said, arguing that the country was not experiencing unrest and the current government has the support of the people.
Micheletti remains confident that he fulfilled the demands of the Constitution when he removed Zelaya from office. Micheletti has repeatedly said over the past three weeks that Zelaya had acted outside the law when he called for constitutional reforms.
Hoping to continue the dialogue, Micheletti s representatives said they would present the San José Agreement to the different branches of the Honduran government.
Costa Rica Steps Out of Mediation
Arias continues to maintain hope that something positive will come from the agreement he put on the table.
I have gone about the task to the best of my abilities and in the form that I know how, Arias said. I hope I have done my part … and that the Honduran delegation, will also do theirs.
But whether Honduras slips into violence or continues to push for peace is now in their hands.
I feel if this fails, truly whatever other proposal that follows, it will be much harder, Arias said. If it arrives at a signing, Honduras will be a legendary example of a society that puts reconciliation and unity before any other values.
Excerpts of the San José Agreement
Presented to the Honduran Delegations
and the Press on Wednesday, July 22
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who served as mediator in the crisis in Honduras, included the following points in his proposal for an agreement to end the Honduran conflict.
1. The formation of a national unity and reconciliation government, composed of the representatives of both major political parties.
2. Amnesty for all political crimes committed in the course of this conflict.
3. A requirement that Zelaya renounce the call for a fourth box in the coming election and any other action not authorized by the Constitution.
4. The advancement of national elections, originally scheduled for November 29, to October 28, and to move the start of the electoral campaign forward from September 1 to August 1.
5. A transfer of the command of the armed forces from the president to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal one month before the elections for the purposes of ensuring the transparency and normalcy of the vote.
6. The return of Manuel Zelaya to the presidency until the conclusion of his term on January 1, 2010.
7. The integration of a commission of Hondurans and notable members of international organizations, especially representatives of the Organization of American States (OAS), to share the responsibility of monitoring compliance with these agreements and overseeing the proper return to constitutional order.
8. The reinstatement of all foreign aid and trade with Honduras by the international community
9. A call for the enactment of all points at the moment the San José Agreement is signed.
10. Differences in the interpretation of the agreement should be brought before the truth commission. Also, the international community will recognize the agreement and not interfere.
11. An agreement that would establish a calendar for the coming months, including Zelaya s return on Friday, July 24; the creation of a unified and reconciliation government and a truth commission on July 27; and a transfer of presidential power on January 27.
12. A commitment to the points outlined in this agreement.
Excerpts from Roberto Micheletti s
Presented to the Press on Sunday, July 19
Roberto Micheletti, acting president in Honduras, offered a counter proposal to solve the conflict in Honduras, including the following seven points:
1. Manuel Zelaya would return to Honduras to dace the charges against him.
2. A guarantee of democratic order and the formation of a unified and reconciliation government.
3. A guarantee of effective enforcement of the rule of law and rejection of corruption and impunity, also ensuring respect for the professionalism of the national police.
4. The establishment of a truth commission so that the Honduran people and the international community can know what led to Zelaya s removal from office.
5. The advancement of the November presidential election to a date sooner, pending feedback from the elections tribunal and presidential candidates.
6. The placement of the armed forces and the national police under the mandate of the elections tribunal four months before the elections so that they can guarantee transparency, liberty and normalcy in the electoral process.
7. The integration of a truth commission to periodically inform the Hondurans and the international community of the status of this agreement.