Honduran Lawmakers Consider Pact to Bring Ousted Leader Back
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Lawmakers will wait until Tuesday to consider a U.S.-brokered agreement that could return deposed President Manuel Zelaya to power, despite diplomats' pleas to not delay an end to the country's 4-month-old political crisis.
Monday is a holiday in Honduras, and many legislators are busy campaigning for Nov. 29 elections that will also elect a successor to Zelaya.
Nonetheless, Zelaya said Saturday that he hopes he will be back in office by Thursday, the deadline for the two sides to establish a power-sharing government.
"By Thursday, the government of national unity should be installed," he said in a meeting broadcast by Radio Globo. "By that day, point No. 5 has to be resolved," he added, referring to the clause of the agreement that covers his return to office.
While he did not say what he would do if the Thursday deadline was not met, Zelaya said "that day will either be a celebration, or a day of mourning."
Diplomats have urged lawmakers not to delay; if Congress approves the pact, a unity government including members of the major parties will be installed and the country will win international recognition for the elections. Many countries have warned they would not accept the elections' results if the June coup is not reversed.
Ramon Velasquez, the congressional secretary who is in charge of handling submitted measures said Saturday that consideration of the deal "will not be until Tuesday, because I'm in full swing campaigning for my re-election to Congress."
Legislators also suggested it would take time to debate. "It is important to give Congress space, without pressure, to be able to reach the best decision," said Congressman Juan Orlando Hernandez of the opposition National Party, which has 55 seats in the 128-seat body.
Zelaya's Liberal Party controls 65 seats. However, the party is split between those who support him and those who don't.
The legislature backed his removal, but congressional leaders have since said they won't stand in the way of an agreement that would end Honduras' diplomatic isolation and legitimize the presidential elections.
Diplomats urged the body not to delay.
"I am sure the members of Congress will fully realize the importance and political urgency of these matters, and I hope they will act as quickly as possible," said Organization of American States Political Affairs Secretary Victor Rico.
The top U.S. envoy for the Americas has told both sides time is running out.
Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Thomas Shannon said this week that "there was no more space for them to dither."
Tensions are still high. On Saturday, authorities evacuated the home of interim government Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez after a suspicious-looking suitcase was found on the sidewalk outside.
Government spokesman Rene Zepeda said police removed the bag but did not reveal what it contained.
Zelaya was rousted from his bed by soldiers on June 28 and flown out of the country. He has been inside the Brazilian Embassy since Sept. 21, when he made a surprise return to the Honduran capital.