An ultimatum from ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya left little room for compromise in U.S.-backed talks Saturday aimed at resolving a crisis that has become the latest test for democracy in Latin America.
Zelaya, who was forced into exile in a June 28 military coup, gave negotiators meeting in Costa Rica until midnight to restore him to office, threatening to return to Honduras in secret and attempt to retake power on his own if no agreement is reached. He indicated he would reject any power-sharing agreement, a proposal to be discussed at the talks.
"If at that time, there is no resolution to that end, I will consider the negotiations in Costa Rica a failure," Zelaya said at a news conference Friday night at the Honduran embassy in Nicaragua. "I am going back to Honduras, but I am not going to give you the date, hour or place, or say if I'm going to enter through land, air or sea."
Zelaya's foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, claimed that upon entering the country he would organize a "parallel government" and the situation might lead to a "civil war". In fact, the vision that Zelaya and his allies have described if the talks fail is a total nightmare for the country he presumes to want to lead. Yesterday, I pointed out the dangers of putting a line in the sand with regard to Iran.
Zelaya's ultimatum does exactly that. The Costa Rican President, Oscar Arias, was "hopeful" about the talks though Zelaya has rejected any sort of power sharing agreement. This move could be meant to do all sorts of things. It could be meant into bullying the current Honduran leadership into backing down. He might be serious. It might all be bluster.
Either way, if I am advising Roberto Micheletti, the current Honduran President, I would advise him to stand firm and not back down. Zelaya has some support among the citizenry and they've proven it with near daily demonstrations since his removal. Still, he has absolutely no support from the government, military, police, or bureaucratic structure. It's hard to imagine he could pull off what he's attempting. More than that, if he's ever back in power everyone associated with this overthrow would likely be summarily arrested and executed. He would have to turn Honduras into a totalitarian state because that's the only way he'd be able to maintain power moving forward.
The current Honduran leadership has no choice but to dig in and insist that he never return to power in Honduras again.