Peter Kent in Honduras: No good news for ousted President Zelaya
Peter Kent, minister of state for foreign affairs, is in the thick of it in Honduras today, with an Organization of American States (OAS) mission to end the deadlock in Honduras over the ousting of the country's president. In a conference call with journalists (including thestar.com) late this afternoon, his prognosis (although framed in optimism) wasn't good. It's a question of what the delegation can get for Manuel Zelaya at this point. He was hustled onto a plane out of the country at gunpoint during a military coup last June. Currently, he's holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa with de facto president Roberto Micheletti essentially refusing to budge on the arrest warrant for Zelaya and Zelaya supporters facing armed opposition from the military in the streets.
Kent said the delegation's goal is to reinstate Zelaya as president, admitting that it would be "a symbolic reinstatement" at this point, with presidential elections scheduled for November 29. (Zelaya can't run again and Micheletti is only filling in for the coup leaders as interim president.)
Kent couldn't give a time line for talks between Micheletti and Zelaya representatives, along with officials for candidates in the upcoming election, noting: "We are realistic." He couldn't say if it would be "one day, two days, or even a week." It may be a question of now-you-see-him-now-you-don't if Zelaya is reinstated.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar again criticized Canada's approach, calling on Ottawa to impose economic and military sanctions against the de facto government. Said Dewar:
Canada is lacking the diplomatic will to defend the rights and freedoms of the Honduran people
Kent said he is "optimistic" about meetings that began Wednesday, calling them a "significant step forward." To date, there has been little progress - apart from Zelaya's daring move back into the country under Brazilian protection and facing arrest. He said one of the points of discussion is to put the "perceived political crimes of both sides behind us . . . in a general amnesty. . . and move ahead." What that amnesty means must be worked out in the discussions. Asked whether there's balance between anything Zelaya may have done and the actions of military coup leaders who deposed a president in the middle of the night, Kent noted the Supreme Court and other Honduran institutions called efforts by Zeleya to run for re-election "offenses against the constitution." Such actions were cited in the warrant for his arrest.
Kent stressed Canada opposed the coup from the beginning and called for Zelaya's reinstatement. Zelaya's "unacceptable removal" came almost at the end of his term, he said, but OAS representatives don't consider it to be acceptable "under any conditions."
Kent said it "means a great deal" to Latin American nations who have been "traumatized by military coups" to see the president resinstated. In recent conversations he's had with Zelaya, he said, the ousted president indicated he "simply wanted to finish the term to which he'd been democratically elected."
Kent urged Zelaya and Micheletti camps to entreat their supporters to accept a negotiated settlement. There must be time, he said, for the OAS and other organizations to bring in oversight teams in order to ensure November elections that are "free and fair worthy of international recognition."
At this point, it appears all the cards are in Micheletti's hands. Kent appears to be doing the best he can with the cards he was dealt by Ottawa's position on Honduras. Still, it's seems farcical to watch talks to squeeze out a few hours in the presidential palace for Zelaya, while nobody talks about the elephant of coup leaders who will get nothing more than a slap on the wrists - if that. It may be a new definition of a coup, but it's a bad precedent.
Meanwhile, the situation for Honduran citizens remains extremely precarious.