Ousted Honduran leader pushes for sanctions

Image: Manuel Zelaya
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, at a news conference in Managua on Sunday, says the international community risks tacitly endorsing the coup if it does not take action against the interim government.Esteban Felix / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Aides to ousted President Manuel Zelaya pushed Monday for international sanctions against Honduran officials who took power in a coup and foreign nations stepped up pressure after negotiations for his return reached an impasse.

A top Zelaya adviser, Enrique Flores, told The Associated Press that other governments should take steps such as freezing the bank accounts of members of the interim government.

The European Union announced Monday that it is suspending $92 million in aid to Honduras after the government installed by a coup rejected a mediator's plan for Zelaya's return.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton added to the pressure, phoning interim President Roberto Micheletti over the weekend to warn of consequences if he fails to reach a negotiated settlement.

On Sunday, the ousted president accused his opponents of "making a mockery" of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias' attempts to mediate an agreement and called for stronger international pressure on Micheletti, who was sworn in as president after the military kicked Zelaya out of the country on June 28.

Singling out the United States repeatedly, Zelaya said the international community risks tacitly endorsing the coup if it does not confront the interim government that abducted and deposed him at gunpoint.

"The international community is facing a dilemma," Zelaya told reporters at the Honduran Embassy in the Nicaraguan capital. "They asked the guerrilla movements 20 years ago to put down their arms. ... And now the conservatives come back and take up arms to boot out the leftists who are attempting a process of reform."

Negotiations break down
Zelaya did not specify what actions he wants from the United States, which has already suspended more than $18 million in military assistance and development aid programs. The United States is Honduras' biggest trade partner and has long had close military and political ties with Honduras.

The military ousts leftist President Manuel Zelaya from office.

The U.S., the United Nations and the Organization of American States have demanded that Zelaya be reinstated, and no foreign government has recognized Micheletti.

As negotiations broke down Sunday, Arias asked for three more days to advance his proposal to let Zelaya serve out the final six months of his term, move up elections to late October, grant a general amnesty and include representatives of the main political parties in a reconciliation government.

The Micheletti government specifically rejected Zelaya's return to power, suggesting instead that Zelaya could return as a regular citizen — to be tried in court. Honduras' Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for Zelaya before the coup, ruling that his effort to hold a referendum on a constitutional assembly was illegal.

Many Hondurans viewed the referendum as an attempt by Zelaya to push for a socialist-leaning government similar to the one his ally Hugo Chavez has established in Venezuela.

Zelaya, a wealthy rancher who shifted left during his presidency, charged that the current constitution protects a system of government that excludes the poor.

Zelaya said he has hopes for negotiations, but said he would organize "resistance" inside Honduras to prepare for his return as early as this weekend.

The Honduran military thwarted Zelaya's first attempt to fly home on July 5 by blocking the runway at the airport in the capital, Tegucigalpa.

"Next weekend, we will have everything necessary to make our return," he said late Sunday in Managua. "The social pact in Honduras is broken; the military broke it."

'It's madness'
On Monday, about 500 Zelaya supporters protested outside the Congress building in Tegucigalpa.

Schoolteachers returned to classes for the first time since walking off the job three weeks ago in support of the ousted president, but pro-Zelaya union leaders have called for a general strike on Thursday and Friday.

Protester Juan Baraona said he had little hope in the negotiations.

"I don't think they should continue with these talks, they're nothing more than a way for the coup government to gain time," he said.

Jose Miguel Insulza, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, chastised the interim government for its inflexibility, warning that its refusal to reinstate Zelaya could provoke violence in Honduras.

"Nobody in the world supports (the coup). It's madness," Insulza said in an interview Monday with Chile's Cooperative radio station. "I don't think the best path is imposition and confrontation, but I don't think we'll be able to avoid that unless the de facto government shows more flexibility."

The aftermath of the coup is turning into a major test of Latin American democracy and of the Obama administration's policy toward the region.

Arias promised further efforts to seek a solution, and Vilma Morales, a negotiator for the interim government, said talks could resume Wednesday.

"Dialogue is not broken," she told the AP.