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Against the Odds, Progress in Honduras?

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Minor miracles can happen, after all. After beating El Salvador, Honduras qualified for the World Cup when the United States scored a goal to tie Costa Rica in the final minute. In seconds, Hondurans' emotions flipped 180 degrees--from exasperation at thinking they had come up just short to jubilation at qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 28 years. From coffee country to the Caribbean coast, Hondurans celebrated with fireworks, flags, honking cars, and screams of joy.

As one announcer remarked, one can only hope that the country's political leaders follow the national team's cue and make this a great week for Honduras. And, against the odds, a political resolution may be on its way. In recent days, the Guaymuras Dialogue has brought relative calm to the political crisis. Progress has remained frustratingly slow, but each team seems to have brought a welcome dose of maturity to the negotiating table. The focus on the negotiators--none of them show-stealers--has provided a refreshing change-of-pace from Micheletti and Zelaya's tired rants and reckless stunts.

On Wednesday afternoon, the negotiators temporarily withdrew to consult with Zelaya and Micheletti. Victor Meza, one of Zelaya's three negotiators, claimed that negotiators had reached a provisional agreement on the final point of contention--Zelaya's possible restitution--and simply had to get final approval from Zelaya and Micheletti. Meanwhile, Micheletti's negotiators said they had completed 90 percent of the agenda and would likely conclude matters by the week's end, but denied that they had reached such an agreement.

Now, rumors are swirling. Some say that all that remains is for negotiators to agree on the date of Zelaya's return. Others say that both sides have agreed to renounce the presidency and hand over power to a third party. Declarations and denials abound; the truth remains elusive.

What we do know is that both sides have agreed that there will be no constituent assembly and no amnesty. Renouncing the constituent assembly was one of the key provisions of the San José Accord, which Zelaya has accepted in its entirety. Agreeing to drop the constituent assembly led Zelaya to replace negotiator and Resistencia leader, Juan Barahona--who refused to sign an agreement killing the constituent assembly--with Rodil Rivera Rodil. With the constituent assembly off the table, many in the Resistencia will remain disgruntled even if Zelaya returns. Fortunately, the movement's leaders have said they will still stand by Zelaya if he is reinstated, even without the assembly. If this discipline on the Left holds, it will be good news for the country's political stability.

The renunciation of amnesty could have more profound short-term consequences. Given the Honduran courts' defense of Zelaya's ouster, it is very unlikely that Micheletti will face charges. More possible is prosecution of the officials responsible for expelling Zelaya, which even Micheletti has recognized was a "mistake." General Romeo Vásquez has expressed willingness for the military to face judicial scrutiny for its role in Zelaya's expulsion. But given that prosecuting military officials in Central America has rarely succeeded, the odds of anyone on Micheletti's side of this crisis facing jail time remain small.

Meanwhile, the country's judiciary and Congress have not yet given any indication of retracting the charges--some of which predate the coup--against Zelaya. Thus, even if an agreement is reached and Zelaya returns to the presidency, political turmoil could continue. If Zelaya is arrested, protesters would no doubt return in numbers to the streets of Tegucigalpa and other secondary cities. A new cycle of protest and repression could prove disastrous. Negotiators know this, and it remains incumbent upon them to establish provisions (the language of all current points of agreement remains undisclosed) to reduce the possibility of aftershocks.

Of course, finalizing an agreement this week is not a foregone conclusion. But if negotiators do sign a final accord, the key to the country's short- and medium-term stability will be the measures adopted in the absence of amnesty. If Micheletti's side cannot bring the country's other institutions on-board to give up on their determination to put Zelaya in jail, things could get ugly again. For the moment, though, cautious optimism has become the order of the day.

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