REUTERS - Honduras is on the verge of ending a four-month political crisis after rival camps cut a deal that could return ousted President Manuel Zelaya to power and earn international support for a Nov. 29 election.
Buckling under pressure from U.S. diplomats, negotiators for Zelaya and the de facto leader Roberto Micheletti who replaced him, agreed to put an end to Central America’s worst political turmoil in two decades.
Here are some questions and answers about the agreement:
The deal leaves it up to the Honduran Congress to decide whether Zelaya, toppled in a June 28 coup, can be restored to serve the last few months of his term but legislators will wait for an opinion from the Supreme Court.
The main points are based on an earlier proposal by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. It creates a national unity government to be formed by Nov. 5, invites foreign observers to guarantee free and fair elections and forms a truth commission to investigate the events of recent months.
It asks foreign governments to reverse punitive measures, like the suspension of aid and travel visas, after Honduras was isolated to put pressure on the coup leaders.
No date has been set for Congress to convene to decide the thorny issue of Zelaya’s return or for the Supreme Court to give its official position on the legality of returning Zelaya to power. Some lawmakers told Reuters they would abide by the court’s position on the issue.
It was the Supreme Court that ordered the army to topple Zelaya in June and Congress that appointed Micheletti as caretaker leader. A Supreme Court official who asked not to be identified told Reuters the judges were unlikely to change their stance on the leftist logging magnate and would likely say that bringing him back is illegal.
Zelaya was ousted after he organized a vote to gauge support for a constitutional change that critics said would allow presidential re-election, a charge he denies.
At the same time, Honduras is under pressure to appease those who want Zelaya returned, especially after Washington hailed this week’s accord, and Micheletti may want to limit internal strife that could hurt his party in this month’s election.
Zelaya split his Liberal Party by cozying up to socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Micheletti represents the more conservative wing of the Liberals.
The opposition National Party is leading in polls and may decide it is politically expedient to reinstate still-popular Zelaya and win favor in the international community.
If Congress votes to restore Zelaya, it will be seen as a major diplomatic victory for U.S. President Barack Obama, who is trying to improve relations with Latin America.
In Washington, a resolution of the Honduras crisis could clear the way for U.S. Senate confirmation of important Latin American posts in the Obama administration, blocked by Republicans who opposed support for Zelaya.
Suspended aid would start flowing again, a relief for the impoverished coffee-exporting nation, and the door would open for foreign observers to monitor the election and give the new government a much-needed stamp of approval.
Zelaya would return to office with limited powers since the deal turns control of the army over to the elections tribunal ahead of the vote and would force him to participate in a power-sharing deal with his rivals.
A failure by Congress to ratify the main sticking point in the hard-sought pact could be considered a failure not only for the United States but for regional governments like Brazil, which went out on a limb by sheltering Zelaya in its embassy in Honduras since he snuck back into the country in September.
International recognition of the election might be called into question and pro-Zelaya street protests could worsen. Security forces, which have used tear gas and rubber bullets on marches in the past, could step up controls in response.
Human rights groups have documented major abuses by the de facto government, including deaths, heavily criticizing Micheletti’s decision to curb civil liberties and temporarily shut two opposition news outlets.
Reporting by Sean Mattson and Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa; Writing by Mica Rosenberg in Mexico City; Editing by John O'Callaghan