Costa Rica to mediate talks between ousted Honduran president and coup leaders

After a week and a half of political deadlock and crisis, the ousted President of Honduras and the coup leaders agreed Wednesday to meet for talks to be negotiated by the President of Costa Rica.

Deposed President Manuel Zelaya and interim leader Roberto Micheletti said that they would sit down with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias at his villa in San Jose on Thursday. Arias won the Nobel Prize in 1987 for his work in helping to end the civil war in neighboring El Salvador.

While the meeting represents a certain breakthrough in resolving the crisis, both sides cautioned against high expectations.

“We’re not going to negotiate, we’re going to talk,” Micheletti told a press conference in Tegucigalpa.

Zelaya, for his part, said that the meeting was not to negotiate, but to plan “the exit of the coup leaders.” The ousted president did concede, however, that he would accept to advance elections slated for November, if he was returned to power.

Honduras has seen mass street protests both for and against the coup, since President Manuel Zelaya was deposed on 28 June. Violent police repression has been widely condemned around the world, and things came to a head on Sunday, when Zelaya attempted to return to Honduras, but was unable to land when the military blocked the runway.

Members of the interim government insist that they took power in a constitutional succession and not a coup, accusing Zelaya of abusing his power via corruption and failing to implement laws.

They did hint at an end to the crisis Tuesday, saying that Zelaya could return if Congress granted him amnesty.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed the Costa Rican bid to mediate after meeting with Zelaya in Washington, but stopped short of demanding he be reinstated as urged by the White House.

“There needs to be a specific mediator and, to that end, we are supporting the efforts of President Arias of Costa Rica to serve in this important role,” Clinton told reporters after meeting Zelaya, who was sent away on June 28.

In a related incident, the US Ambassador to Honduras blasted an interim government official for “racially insensitive remarks” about President Barack Obama.

Enrique Ortez Colindres, foreign minister to caretaker leader Roberto Micheletti, used the term “negrito,” or “little black man,” to describe Obama on several occasions last week and again Tuesday in a radio interview.

At one point he described Obama as “this little black man who has no idea where Tegucigalpa is.”

“Statements like this are deeply outrageous for the American people and for me personally,” US Ambassador Hugo Llorens said. “I am shocked by these comments, which I condemn in the strongest terms.”

Washington’s position in the political crisis was apparently what prompted the outburst by Ortez Colindres, who later apologized.

“Please accept my profound apologies and my sincere expressions of friendship directed at this great nation that is the United States of America,” Ortez Colindres said.


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