August 1, 2009 / 3:34 AM / 10 years ago

Honduras leader firm against world pressure

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduras’ de facto leader vowed on Friday that no country will push the small Central American nation around and pledged to resist international pressure to reinstate toppled President Manuel Zelaya.

Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, wife of Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya, waves a Honduran flag during a march in Tegucigalpa, July 31, 2009.The defacto Honduran government insists it will not allow ousted President Manuel Zelaya to return to office, cooling hopes of a deal to end a political crisis following a coup last month. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Roberto Micheletti, who was named president by Congress just hours after soldiers overthrew Zelaya on June 28, said Honduras had enough basic foodstuffs to endure economic sanctions if it were further isolated over the coup.

“We don’t accept anyone imposing anything on us. There is no country — no matter how powerful — that is going to tell us what to do,” he told Reuters in an interview.

The United States, Honduras’ No. 1 trading partner, withdrew military aid and canceled diplomatic visas to important figures in the interim government to pressure Micheletti to reinstate leftist Zelaya.

Latin American countries and the European Union have also lined up against Micheletti, a former head of Congress.

Washington is backing a plan by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to end the Honduran standoff, the worst political crisis in Central America in nearly 20 years.

The proposal includes bringing Zelaya back to office, but Micheletti again flatly rejected that idea.

“We respect many of the points of the agreement but we do not accept some of them, like the return of Mr. Zelaya. We don’t accept it in this country under any circumstance. If he wants to come back he can, but only if he faces trial.”

Zelaya upset the Supreme Court and many in Congress by trying to hold a referendum to change the constitution.

Critics accused him of pushing for presidential re-election to extend his mandate, following the lead of Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez. He had angered business and religious leaders by his close ties with Chavez.

Micheletti had tried in the past to run for president but lost his party’s internal elections. Wearing a Catholic rosary ring, he regularly invokes God and recently called for a national day of prayer.

HOLDING OUT ON BASIC GRAINS

Micheletti said his administration was open to dialogue but ready to endure international isolation if countries impose more economic sanctions on Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Americas and a producer of coffee, textiles and bananas.

“We have a guaranteed food supply. Basic grains in the country will last until February of next year, possibly March, so we are not afraid of being hit by shortages,” he said in a salon in the presidential palace heavily guarded by soldiers.

“Private companies, supporting the country, have said they are going to freeze prices on the basic basket of goods ... for as long as is necessary,” Micheletti said.

Economists say the political crisis could cut economic growth by 2 percentage points this year in an already contracting Honduran economy, as nearly daily pro-Zelaya protests that block roads and military checkpoints disrupt the flow of cargo and scare away tourists.

But Micheletti insists the country is mostly operating normally and will be stabilized ahead of the presidential elections scheduled for November.

“We can perfectly survive” the current situation, he said.

Poor Hondurans will be hit hardest by any increased economic pressure, he said, and the United States will have to fear being flooded by illegal immigrants.

“If the economic situation worsens for Hondurans, it will worsen for (the United States) because the people are going to start immigrating,” Micheletti said.

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Micheletti has asked for Enrique Iglesias, former head of the Inter-America Development Bank, to lead a diplomatic mission to Honduras. But instead of rekindling negotiations to allow for Zelaya’s return, he said the government only wants a credible outsider to hear its side of the dispute.

The country’s interim leaders, the military and businesses that supported the coup believe Venezuela’s Chavez was a menace trying to spread his firebrand version of socialism across Latin America. They accuse him of pulling the strings behind Zelaya’s government, using his regional influence and oil money.

“I feel like we have a huge responsibility. We want to continue with the dialogue, we want to continue to seek peace and tranquility in our country, but we do not accept intervention by anybody, especially not from the Communists of the 21st century,” Micheletti said.

Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia, editing by Philip Barbara

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