TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – While negotiators for ousted President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya continue to make their case for restitution, resistance leaders admit the struggle for the constitutional reforms that led to the coup has been all but defeated.
Juan Barahona, leader of the Resistance Front Against the Coup and a former negotiator for Zelaya in the current dialogue with representatives of interim President Roberto Micheletti, walked out of negotiations last week when it became clear there was no chance for a constitutional assembly.
“They asked us to renounce the referendum, and I couldn’t do that,” Barahona said. “It’s my personal position.”
Barahona said the Resistance Front still wants Zelaya in power to “restore constitutional order,” but says it’s back to square one for those working on the constitutional reform after losing the support of their most influential political player.
Although the effort to return Zelaya to power may only appear symbolic now that the constitutional assembly has been abandoned, Barahona maintains that Zelaya’s return to the presidency is just as important to the resistance movement as the proposed constitutional reform.
“This country needs constitutional reform,” Barahona said. “We can’t wait for it.”
Zelaya was removed from office at gunpoint June 28 after he defied court orders to cancel a non-binding referendum asking Hondurans if they wanted to rewrite their constitution. Critics accused Zelaya of promoting a constitutional assembly to abolish presidential term limits to try to retain power. Zelaya denies the accusations.
Those who have turned out for protests against the interim government talk as much about constitutional reform as they do about the restitution of Zelaya to the presidency. They argue the constitution ignores topics crucial to the lives of ordinary Hondurans, such as public education and health care.
Barahona said he doesn’t know how much time it will now take to gain political support for the proposed constitutional reforms, but insists the resistance movement will continue to demonstrate peacefully until that time comes.
“We can get it done, we just need more support,” he said. Honduran Congresswoman Elvia Valle, a Zelaya sympathizer and supporter of constitutional reform proposal, said it’s an issue most presidential candidates in the Nov. 29 elections are ignoring to their own detriment.
“The candidates need to demonstrate interest because the people in the streets aren’t supporting candidates, they’re supporting the constitutional assembly,” Valle said. Valle said congress has the power to call for a constitutional assembly, but supporters of reform are far from having enough votes to accomplish that task.
Oscar Flores, a member of the Resistance Front who frequents every protest toting a poster tallying the days since Zelaya’s ouster, said the resistance movement is determined to have a constitutional assembly with or without Zelaya.
“The voice of the people won’t be quieted,” Flores said.
Deciding Zelaya’s fate
Negotiators for both sides have told the media they’re in agreement on all but one issue: Zelaya’s return to power.
Micheletti’s side wanted the same Supreme Court that ordered Zelaya’s arrest to decide whether he should return to power, while Zelaya’s negotiators insist the Congress should decide.
On Oct. 19, following a day of negotiations with Zelaya’s team, Micheletti’s delegation came out with a third proposal: to obtain the opinions of the Supreme Court and Congress then let Micheletti’s negotiators have the final word on whether Zelaya returns.
The Zelaya camp was quick to reject the offer.
“That proposal is insulting,” said Victor Meza, chief negotiator for Zelaya. Meza said the Zelaya delegation won’t break the talks, but for now they are at a stand-still.
“The door is still open to ideas,” Meza said.
Micheletti negotiator Vilma Morales, meanwhile, stressed that more time is needed to reach a solution, and that “Deadlines don’t work with dialogue.”
And while the Zelaya team has accused Micheletti of stalling, one former government official says he thinks the situation might not be resolved until after the elections.
Ricardo Martínez, Zelaya’s deposed minister of tourism and close personal friend, said he thinks that even if no agreement is reached in the coming weeks between Zelaya and the de facto government of Micheletti, the international community could still be “flexible” in recognizing the scheduled Nov. 29 elections, “if people go to the polls massively to vote and say I want democracy.”
Martínez said in his opinion, conservative presidential candidate Porfirio Lobo of the opposition National Party will most likely win the presidential elections and then “immediately call back Zelaya to finish his government in order (for Lobo) to start his government with international recognition.”
Martínez noted that Zelaya and Lobo grew up together in the town of Juticalpa, Olancho, went to school together, had businesses together. They also continue to have “a lot of communication” between them, Martínez said.
The deposed minister said he thinks Lobo, as president-elect, would call for Zelaya’s restitution. And if other government leaders don’t agree, he’ll “wait until his government starts and bring Zelaya back the moment he becomes president.”
“(Lobo) will pay his respects to Zelaya’s proposal and ask the international community to allow him to bring Zelaya back to start working with him on the constitutional changes,” Martínez told The Nica Times in an interview last week in El Salvador.
Tim Rogers contributed reporting from El Salvador.