There is a new possible solution to the Honduran crisis that is gaining traction in Washington and key Latin American capitals: Bypass the country's two presidents, and get leading presidential candidates to work out a deal that would give credibility to the Nov. 29 elections.
Costa Rican President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias, the leading mediator in the Honduran crisis, said during his visit to Miami to address the Americas Conference this week that the Central American country's political standoff will not be solved by going ahead with de facto President Roberto Micheletti's plans to hold elections.
The international community won't recognize elections held by a government that staged a coup against ousted President Manuel Zelaya, much less now that Micheletti has suspended fundamental freedoms for 45 days, he said. Many countries, including the United States, say recognizing the November elections would create a precedent for other countries to break the rule of law.
So what's the solution? I asked Arias in an interview. He had already admitted that his proposal to solve the crisis by restoring Zelaya to power as part of a national unity government that convenes the elections — known as the San Jose agreement — has not been accepted, and that neither Micheletti nor Zelaya seem to have the political will to make concessions.
"The San Jose agreement is not the Ten Commandments: It's not written in stone. It can be modified," Arias said. "I have no objections to it being modified, especially if it is modified by the presidential candidates, who are the most interested in making sure that these elections are recognized by everybody."
Are you saying that the presidential candidates may hold the key to untangling the Honduran crisis, I asked.
"Yes," Arias said. "I talked to all of them, and I told them: 'Make the necessary changes' " in the San Jose agreement.
He explained that the candidates would have a vested interest in doing so because nobody would want to be president of a country that would not have diplomatic recognition from any country, and that would continue to be subject to international economic sanctions that are hurting it badly.
Cuts in European and U.S. aid since the June 28 coup are depriving Honduras — one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere — of 20 percent of the money it needs to pay its annual budget expenses, he added.
A senior Obama administration official who follows the Honduras crisis closely agreed that the Honduran candidates could play a bigger role in reaching a negotiated solution.
"They are a pressure point, not the solution," the U.S. official said. "If the candidates don't think that the election will be recognized internationally, they could tell Micheletti: If you continue this charade, we will not play along."
How about asking Honduran candidates to withdraw from the campaign unless a deal is reached, I asked Organization of American States Secretary General José Miguel Insulza in a telephone interview late Wednesday.
"What I'm trying to do is getting representatives of Zelaya and Micheletti to sit on the same table, alongside the presidential candidates and other forces, to try to narrow down their differences along the lines of the San Jose agreements," Insulza said. "We are trying to make that happen next Wednesday, during a scheduled visit by foreign ministers."
My opinion: Arias is right about the elections. If Micheletti thinks that Honduras will overcome its crisis by holding elections under the current circumstances, he's dreaming. The winner of the elections will remain an international pariah, and Honduras will become increasingly poorer.
If Zelaya thinks that he can be restored to power and continue his unconstitutional effort to be reelected, following the Venezuelan script, he's dreaming, too.
Until now, I paid zero attention to the Honduran candidates, in the belief that they played secondary roles in this tragicomedy.
But after listening to Arias, I'm wondering: perhaps they should become the leading actors.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Andres Oppenheimer is a Miami Herald syndicated columnist and a member of The Miami Herald team that won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize. He also won the 1999 Maria Moors Cabot Award, the 2001 King of Spain prize, and the 2005 Emmy Suncoast award. He is the author of Castro's Final Hour; Bordering on Chaos, on Mexico's crisis; Cronicas de heroes y bandidos, Ojos vendados, Cuentos Chinos and most recently of Saving the Americas. E-mail Andres at aoppenheimer @ herald.com Live chat with Oppenheimer every Thursday at 1 p.m. at The Miami Herald.