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Tuesday, November 10,2009

Honduras deal collapses; Zelaya's backers blame U.S.

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

CARACAS, Venezuela — A U.S.-brokered accord that was supposed to return ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to power has collapsed and his supporters pinned much of the blame Monday on the Obama administration.

Honduras' Congress has made no plans to vote on whether to enact the agreement following remarks by Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon that seemed to remove U.S. pressure.

Shannon said last week that the deal meant that the Obama administration would accept the outcome of the Nov. 29 presidential and congressional elections, regardless of whether Zelaya was back in power.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., lifted a hold on Shannon becoming U.S. ambassador to Brazil after Shannon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton privately reiterated this view on the elections, DeMint said.

Analysts said Monday that Shannon's statement in a television interview Wednesday undercut most of Zelaya's leverage, gave Congress a good reason to dodge a tough vote and strengthened the resolve of de facto President Roberto Micheletti to remain in power.

"The United States is no longer interested in punishing a coup-installed government," Honduran Congresswoman Elvia Valle said by telephone from Tegucigalpa Monday. Shannon's declarations "have left a bitter taste in our mouths."

Zelaya supporters, who have been organizing street protests against the Micheletti regime, are down to their final card: Calling on Hondurans to boycott the elections.

Carlos H. Reyes, the presidential candidate who was favored by the leftist Zelaya's hard-core supporters but had no chance to win, withdrew from the race Monday.

"For us to participate in the elections would mean following the strategy of the coup-installed government," Reyes said.

Zelaya, holed up in the Brazilian Embassy, is running out of options, said Orlando Perez, a political science professor at Central Michigan University who follows Honduras.

"At the end of the day, it seems like the coup will stand," Perez said from Michigan. "It is an ominous sign for democratic governments and elected leaders in the region."

Micheletti is moving forward with plans to organize the upcoming elections, which both sides had hoped would propel Honduras past a political crisis that exploded when soldiers hustled Zelaya out of the country on June 28, and the Congress immediately voted to name Micheletti as his replacement.

The Obama administration and foreign governments throughout Latin America called for Zelaya's return to power. The Obama administration also cut $30 million in aid to Honduras and revoked U.S. travel visas held by Micheletti and his powerful supporters.

Zelaya's ouster and the political machinations have thrust Honduras — a small Central American nation that looks to the U.S. for political and economic support — into the news for months.

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