TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - The collapse of an accord to end a four-month political crisis in Honduras leaves egg on the faces of U.S. and regional diplomats who had engineered the deal and puts the November 29 presidential election in jeopardy.
Ousted President Manuel Zelaya and de facto leader Roberto Micheletti signed last week a U.S.-brokered agreement that was impossible to put into effect because they each saw it as a vehicle to becoming the legitimate leader of the country.
Zelaya proclaimed the pact dead early on Friday after Micheletti said he would stay in power at the head of what was supposed to be a unity and reconciliation cabinet but was formed without any Zelaya participation.
The international community condemned the coup that toppled Zelaya in June but had also become impatient with the leftist leader, who has been holed up for weeks in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, and is unlikely to make a major effort to rescue him again.
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Organization of American States had celebrated last week’s pact as a triumph for democracy and Zelaya said it paved his way back into power until the end of his term, in January.
But in the rush to push through a deal after months of delays, the negotiators allowed internal contradictions that would be impossible to meet.
The accord called for a unity cabinet of ministers to be set up by all sides, but was too vague regarding who would lead the interim government.
Unless both sides can pull off some sort of miracle in the next few days, and get back to the negotiating table, the November 29 presidential election faces a number of problems.
Zelaya has already asked Hondurans to boycott the vote.
Absenteeism could soar, and in a worst-case scenario social unrest and violence could break out as Zelaya supporters take to the streets and the de facto government represses them with riot police and tear gas.
The country’s polarized media could become targets for attacks or censorship. This week a grenade was exploded at a radio station seen as sympathetic to Micheletti, who temporarily suppressed pro-Zelaya media after the coup.
Opposition presidential candidate Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo is leading in opinion polls, but whoever wins the election might end up at the helm of a diplomatically isolated country.
The European Union, the United States and multilateral agencies cut off vital foreign aid to Honduras to protest the coup, and were supposed to restore it if the pact was fulfilled. Now that is thrown into question.
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the region and depends heavily on aid for social programs.
Leftist leaders from Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and other countries, who have supported Zelaya all along, are not likely to recognize a new president elected while a de facto government is still running the country.
The military forced Zelaya out of the country after the Supreme Court ordered his arrest for violating the constitution by seeking to change it. Zelaya’s opponents accused him of wanting to modify the constitution to extend presidential term limits, a charge he denies.
The Honduran Congress named its president, Micheletti, to run the country, but he did not win recognition abroad and the United States condemned the coup and his installation.
As the political crisis dragged on, the U.S. gave up on getting Zelaya back into power before the elections and decided to recognize the result of the vote to demonstrate satisfaction with the signing of last week’s accord.
Now the U.S. faces the distasteful possibility that its diplomatic efforts to repudiate the coup have failed and Micheletti will be around to hang the presidential sash on the country’s next leader.
Writing by Fiona Ortiz, editing by Anthony Boadle