Last weekend, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias presented a seven-point mediation plan to representatives of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and the regime installed by a military coup last June 28. The plan included the return of Zelaya to carry out his term in office, formation of a coalition government, elections held a month earlier than scheduled, and amnesty for political crimes, among other points.
Showing great flexibility, the legal government, whose claim to power is supported by international law, democratic practice, the OAS and the UN, agreed "in principle" to the proposal.
The coup, led by Roberto Micheletti, replied with a flat-out "no". The press reported that Carlos Lopez of the coup delegation announced, "I'm very sorry, but the proposal you presented [is] unacceptable to the government of Honduras that I represent."
The intransigence of the coup placed the nail in the coffin of efforts to mediate the conflict. On Sunday Zelaya called the talks "exhausted" and deemed the attitude of the Micheletti delegation "arrogant" and "disrespectful". "Today the coup leaders have once more insulted the international community, Oscar Arias and the Secretary of the United States, Hillary Clinton, promoter and sponsor (of the talks)," he said.
Sec. General of the Organization of American States José Insulza responded, "We regret deeply the attitude of Micheletti." Insulza has led diplomatic efforts to return constitutional order in the country and reinstate Zelaya without bloodshed.
Although Arias has said he wants to continue with mediation, Zelaya has announced his return to Honduras this Friday, respecting the 72-hour period Arias requested for a last-ditch attempt at some kind of resolution. The National Front against the Coup called for a nationwide mobilization to receive the president, stating in a communique, "With the aim of giving a grand reception to our constitutional president, we call on all the Honduran people to be prepared and organized on this date for a huge march to the meeting at the place and hour to be announced soon."
Leaders of the grassroots organizations of workers, farmers, teachers and citizens who support his return never had high hopes for the mediation efforts. They questioned the validity of making the coup a recognized counterpart in talks and have given up on the prospect of a mediated solution. Juan Barahona, leader of the Front, said Saturday, "We don't see any possibilities to arrive at an agreement in the talks in Costa Rica. These talks could just be a way to buy time for the coup to consolidate its power and also to buy time to exhaust the resistance."
As predicted, the talks fell through and the battle has moved to the streets. Zelaya's daughter, Pichu, addressed the crowd and made clear the stakes. She defended the Honduran people's right to democracy and urged the construction of "citizen power" to carry out the constitutional referendum and extend social programs started by her father.
A Two-Prong Strategy in the U.S.
Zelaya called on the international community to strengthen measures against the coup. When the Spanish daily El Mundo asked him if the stand-off would end if the U.S. applied stronger diplomatic measures, he replied, "Immediately. This will last as long as the United States takes clear measures against the coup."
Clinton has been criticized lately for avoiding calls for the return of Zelaya and placing all the eggs in the basket of mediation. By all rights, she should be furious with the coup for scuttling that effort.
Instead, the State Department issued a milquetoast statement on the talks:
We commend President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica for his continuing efforts to facilitate a peaceful, negotiated restoration of Honduras's democratic and constitutional order. This weekend's talks produced significant progress, and created a foundation for a possible resolution that adheres to the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the decisions taken within the Organization of American States (OAS).
We call on the parties to the talks to reflect upon the progress made so far, and to commit themselves to their successful conclusion. At this important juncture, we also call upon the OAS, its member states, and other interested parties to reaffirm their support for the talks facilitated by President Arias, underscore their commitment to the peaceful resolution of political disputes through dialogue, remain mindful of the principles of non-intervention and self-determination, and express their solidarity for the democratic well-being of the Honduran people.
The declaration is not only weak and vague but also ominous and out of touch. When the international press announces that the coup has shut down talks, the State Department unaccountably refers to "significant progress". The reference to non-intervention -- at the same time as it supports international mediation over national actions -- comes close to echoing trumped-up coup accusations of Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan involvement. There is no pressure on the coup to relinquish its illegitimate power to the elected president.
Later in a press briefing, spokesperson Phillip Crowley said that behind the scenes there has been some pressure. Asst. Sec. Tom Shannon and Ambassador Llorens had spoken with both sides and with other countries. He also said that Sec. Clinton called Micheletti from New Delhi for the first time and "encouraged him to continue focus on these negotiations and also helped him understand the potential consequences of the failure to take advantage of this mediation."
Just how much Clinton put the screws to the Micheletti regime was unclear. Crowley said, "I think it was a very tough phone call. However, I think it was -- she made clear if the de facto regime needed to be reminded that we seek a restoration of democratic and constitutional order, a peaceful resolution. We do not think that anybody should take any kind of steps that would add to the risk of violence in Honduras, and that we completely support the ongoing Arias mediation ... that we need to have a restoration of democratic and constitutional order. We would like to see President Zelaya returned to Honduras, and that we'd like to see a clear path that leads to follow-on election."
When asked about sanctions, Crowley said "... in the Secretary's phone call with Micheletti she reminded him about the consequences for Honduras if they fail to accept the principles that President Arias has laid out, which would -- it has a significant impact in terms of aid and consequences, potentially longer-term consequences, for a relationship between Honduras and the United States."
He also said that the State Department told Zelaya not to return to Honduras in the meantime and mentioned that the OAS was considering a statement in favor of mediation.
The response contrasts with the response of other countries. After talks broke down over the weekend, the European Union announced Monday the suspension of millions of euros in financial aid to Honduras, in addition to the withdrawal of their ambassadors in the early days of the coup.
The U.S. government has done neither. For the grassroots organizations fighting against the coup, it is essential that the U.S. back up its words with actions. Barahona stated this weekend, "What we expect is for the United States to comply with the agreement of the OAS, which is for the complete economic and political isolation of the coup and they still aren't doing it."
The Honduran organization Feminists in Resistance has called for simultaneous demonstrations in front of U.S. embassies on July 22 at 10 a.m. The demands include:
- Condemn the political-military coup against the Honduran State, which was financed by Honduran businessmen and the Latin American an North American ultraright, promoted by national media corporations, protected by the Ombudsman of Honduras and blessed by the leadership of the Catholic and evangelical churches in the country.
- Unconditional support for the return to institutional order in Honduras, which means the return of President Manuel Zelaya Rosales a Honduras.
- End to repression of organizations that demonstrate against the coup by police and military units aided by retired military personnel responsible for the disappeared of the decade of the eighties in Honduras.
- End to threats of war, promoted by the de facto regime, that is creating a climate of terror in the Honduran population.
- Suspension of all technical or financial, bilateral or multilateral aid to the de facto regime.
- Condemnation of María Martha Díaz Velásquez, named as head of the National Women´s Institute by the de facto regime and María Antonieta Bustamante, representative of the Interamerican Commission on Women for Honduras, who met us with anti-riot police when we went to demand that they give back our institute. (See a video in Spanish on the violence against women protesters in front of the Institute July 15).
Grassroots organizations in the United States have launched a two-pronged strategy to defend democracy and unseat the coup in Honduras. The strategy calls for pressure on the government to demand additional sanctions, withdrawal of the ambassador and a cut- off of military ties. The School of the Americas Watch notes that although joint military operations have been suspended the school is still training Honduran soldiers. Many organizations are calling for U.S. citizens to support the Delahunt-McGovern resolution before Congress to declare the coup a coup, cut off non-humanitarian funding to Honduras and urge the reinstatement of President Zelaya.
The second part of the strategy involves grassroots actions to keep the issue at the forefront of a crowded national agenda through direct action and support the Honduran people. Tactics include demonstrations, protest actions including a planned convergence on SouthCom headquarters in Florida July 25, media and information sharing, and delegations to Honduras U.S. unions have nearly unanimously condemned the coup and urged actions.