, TEGUCIGALPA, Jul 21 – The United States and Europe have ratcheted up the pressure on Honduras’s interim government, after talks to end weeks of tension appeared to break down, prompting fears of renewed violence.
The European Union and US government warned Monday stalled talks would have real consequences for the impoverished Central American nation, with aid freezes accompanying diplomatic isolation.
Despite what Washington described as a "very tough phone call" from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Honduran interim leader Roberto Micheletti remained defiant, vowing that President Manuel Zelaya — whom he said "broke the Constitution not once but several times" — could not return to power.
Representatives of the interim ruler on Sunday rejected a proposal by crisis mediator Costa Rican President Oscar Arias that Zelaya return as president in charge of a "reconciliation" government.
Zelaya was ousted in a military-backed coup on June 28. His supporters have vowed to continue their protests, while the deposed leader insisted he would return to Honduras, with or without an agreement to pave the way.
The declaration came after Nobel Peace laureate Arias warned that Honduras was on the brink of civil war and pleaded for talks to resume after a 72-hour break.
Zelaya agreed Monday there should be more talks but still planned to return to Honduras on Friday, according to Carlos Eduardo Reyna, head of the Liberal Party to which both Zelaya and Micheletti belong.
The crisis mediation had not collapsed, insisted Jose Castillo, the Costa Rican ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), during an extraordinary meeting of the body in Washington on the crisis.
"The mediation is following its course, without a guarantee of success, but we are very near the end," Castillo said.
Micheletti repeated, however, that elections slated for November would not be brought forward and that he would stay in power until January 2010.
Micheletti’s defiance came despite a phone call with Clinton from New Delhi on Sunday, according to Phililp Crowley, a State Department spokesman.
"We would like to see President Zelaya return to Honduras, and then we’d like to see a clear path that leads to follow-on elections," Crowley said.
Clinton "reminded him about the consequences for Honduras if they fail to accept the principles that President Arias has laid out, which… has a significant impact in terms of aid and consequences, potentially longer-term consequences, you know, for the relationship between Honduras and the United States," Crowley said.
Various regional governments announced their disappointment at the breakdown in talks, with Chile’s President Michele Bachelet saying "the de facto government has not shown the same readiness and willingness to cooperate."
In a robust increase of pressure, the European Union suspended 65.5 million euros (93 million dollars) in aid to Honduras on Monday.
"I very much regret that it has not been possible to this date to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution to the Honduran crisis, in line with the proposals made by President Arias," said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
Washington has frozen military aid to the de facto government, but it has also warned Zelaya against rash moves that might jeopardize dialogue.
A spectacular and unsuccessful return attempt by Zelaya on July 5 on a plane borrowed from his ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, sparked clashes between soldiers and his supporters that left at least one dead and dozens injured.
Many feared further violence if Zelaya attempted another return as promised, as his supporters planned to intensify protests pressing for his reinstatement. They called a strike for Thursday and Friday.
The interim leaders — who have not been recognized by any country — threatened to crack down on any protesters who provoke trouble in the increasingly polarized nation.
Many Honduran lawmakers, judges and military leaders believe Zelaya triggered the country’s crisis by pushing ahead with a June 28 referendum, without congressional approval, on changing the constitution.
That tough line continued late on Monday when the country’s Supreme Court issued a declaration rejecting all "interference or intimidation."
Micheletti’s government has promised to arrest Zelaya if he returns to Honduras.