Recent Developments in Honduras

Special Briefing
Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Dan Restrepo, White House Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
October 30, 2009

OPERATOR: Welcome and thank you for standing by. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. During the question-and-answer session, please press *1 on your touchtone phone. Today’s conference is being recorded. If anyone has any objections, you may disconnect at this time. I would like to go ahead and turn today’s call over to Ian Kelly. Sir, you may begin.

MR. KELLY: Welcome to our conference call. We have two speakers in Tegucigalpa. They are Tom Shannon, Assistant Secretary, and Dan Restrepo, who is a senior director at the NSC. We don’t have a whole lot of time, only around 15 minutes, so I’m going to turn it right over to Mr. Shannon.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Thank you very much, Ian, really happy to talk to you all. I look forward to your questions. We’ve got kind of a brief opening statement. I mean, as you know, an agreement was reached last night at the negotiating table between representatives of President Zelaya and de facto regime leader Roberto Micheletti that effectively opens a pathway to resolve Honduras’s current political crisis and that will allow the international community to support Honduras’s elections on November 29th.

This is an important moment for Honduras. This is an agreement done by Hondurans in response to a Honduran crisis in which we and the international community, especially the Organization of American States, provided support and facilitation. But what’s striking about this agreement is, as Secretary Clinton noted yesterday, I’m not aware of another country in Latin America having suffered the kind of rupture of democratic and constitutional order that Honduras did on June 28, having been able to find a way out of that rupture and repair that rupture through internal dialogue, obviously with help from the international community, but peacefully without violence and without an imposition of a solution from outside.

This is a huge accomplishment for the Hondurans. It’s a big accomplishment for the Organization of American States. I think it shows the value and worth of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. But it also highlights a central aspect of our diplomacy in the hemisphere as articulated by President Obama and Secretary Clinton, which is to work off broad principles that are shared through the region, but to develop a pragmatic approach in our diplomacy based on those principles, but that uses dialogue and engagement and cooperative action with key allies and partners in the region to achieve results that are in the broad United States interest, but also in the interest of the region. And as we move forward, we’ve got a lot of work in front of us. The implementation of this agreement is going to be complicated and it’s going to require a lot of international cooperation and support. But we’re on a good path right now. We’re looking towards a good, peaceful election on November 29 and a peaceful transfer of power in Honduras on January 27.

Let me stop there and take your questions.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer session. If you’d like to ask a question on the phone, please press *1, please unmute your phone and record your name clearly when prompted. Your name is required to introduce your question. To withdraw your question, press *2. One moment, please, for the first question.

The first question comes from Nicholas Kralev. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, Tom. It’s only been a few hours obviously since the agreement, but in your mind, what is the most fragile part of it that you and your partners will have to really work hard to make sure that it doesn’t unravel in the next few weeks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, there’s a variety of moving parts to this agreement. One of the most important and immediate parts is setting up a government of national unity. The second is setting up a commission of verification in which notable Hondurans and notable members of the international community will join together to oversee the implementation of this agreement and ensure that it’s being done in a transparent and fair way. But obviously, the nut of the problem here, what really was the difficult issue to deal with was the issue of restitution of President Zelaya.

And as I’m sure you know, the agreement effectively sends the issue of restitution to the congress with both President Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti agreeing that at the end of the day, the congress, in consultation with the Supreme Court and other organisms of the Honduran state, will determine when, if, and how President Zelaya returns to office. And that is the issue that is going to be the most provocative internally in Honduras and probably the one where we and the rest of the international community are going to have to pay the closest attention.

OPERATOR: The next question comes from Mary Beth Sheridan. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Tom. Thanks for taking these questions. Congress obviously stripped President Zelaya of his power, so why is there any thought that it might restore him the presidency?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Because of the political dynamic inside of the country.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: First, because – although the congress did do what you suggested, there was a dissident component of the congress that did not participate in it. That dissident component is still there. There is a liberal party that is fractured inside that congress which is competing for elections and is looking for a way to repair that fracture and to present a more united front in the elections. And there is a national party which does not want to be tagged one way or another in regard to Mr. Zelaya’s future, and therefore is insisting that it’s up to the liberal party to make a decision before it defines itself.

So there is an evolving and an emerging political dynamic inside the congress that really makes this whole issue up for grabs and requires some real political leadership. But that said, there’s another point that I think needs to be made here, and that is that as the negotiators work through the issue of restitution, the reason they agreed to send this back to the congress is at the end of the day, they realize that this was a political decision and that this decision had to be made in the political body. Not the Supreme Court, which was the legal body, but the congress, which is a political body.

And more importantly, they were looking for a way to root the agreement in a democratic institution. They wanted it to be more than just an agreement between two political leaders, between President Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti. They wanted this to be something where political parties and the different sectors of Honduran society had to commit themselves.

MR. RESTREPO: And Mary Beth – this is Dan Restrepo – I think it’s also important to recall congress acted in a very different environment and a very charged and heated environment when it acted in the wake of the events of the early morning of June 28. This provides a very different context in which the congress can carry out its responsibilities, its political responsibilities, within the context of Honduran institutionality and constitutional order. So it’s a very different moment in time in which the institution and the body – the Honduran body politic – will have to reflect upon this question of the way – of the proper way forward to create an enduring, sustainable democratic order here in Honduras.

OPERATOR: Next question comes from Tim Padgett. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, both Tom and Dan. I was curious, given how observist Micheletti has been in the past months about the issue of restoration of President Zelaya, what to your mind was the factor that finally pushed him over the line on that issue? What finally convinced him that he had to accept that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: I think recognition that Honduras has to go to elections with the support of the international community, and that lacking that support, the elections were actually going to deepen the political crisis and make Honduras’s relationship with the international community even more problematic.

And that it was worth the political risk in order to ensure that on November 29th, there were international observers on the ground and broad recognition in the OAS and elsewhere that the results of that election were going to be free, fair, and legitimate, and that the president who takes power on January 27th was going to be in a position to petition for Honduras’s reintegration into the Inter-American community and to begin to get access again to international financial institutions. Another –

QUESTION: Did the --


QUESTION: Did the U.S. make it more of a condition? Was the U.S. a little harder on that point now during these talks this week that it would not accept the results of the election?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I mean, we’ve been clear for quite some time, and the Hondurans have understood us and – but I think what was important here is not so much what we were telling Micheletti as what other Hondurans were telling Micheletti.

We’ve had a very, very active outreach program over the past several weeks. And over the past two days, while some of the team here has been working with the negotiators around the dialogue table, others of us have been out talking to just about every Honduran we could get our hands on. And these Hondurans, I think, had been communicating directly to Mr. Micheletti and to President Zelaya about how we saw things and what our intentions were.

And I think at the end of the day, it was Hondurans talking to each other that allowed Micheletti and Zelaya to make the decisions they did.

MR. RESTREPO: Yeah, and to underscore Tom’s last point, one of the striking things in our broad set of discussions here over the course of the last few days was the recognition throughout Honduran society, regardless of where people find themselves on the political spectrum of this notion, that for Honduras to move forward in a sustainable way, it needed to do so accompanied by the international community.

And I think that message resonated throughout Honduran political and civil society, and was clearly being reflected back to the leadership on both sides. And I think that was a crucial factor – it wasn’t just that Roberto Micheletti changed his mind. It was that Honduran society had come to the recognition that the path forward, accompanied by the international community, was the right path forward. And then that got reflected back to the political leadership and created the conditions for them to make the decisions that they made last night.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: I would like to highlight that these decisions weren’t easy for either one of them to make. And after the agreement was done, our team visited both of these leaders – Mr. Micheletti and President Zelaya – to congratulate them on the work of their negotiators and to praise them for their political leadership and vision.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Next question comes from Juan Lovez, CNN.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. Thank you. We’ve seen a lot of congratulatory emails and messages from members of the Congress, especially from Democrats. Have any of the members of Congress been in touch with you on these negotiations? And how likely is it for Manuel Zelaya to return to power? And how likely is it that he will keep his word if he doesn’t return to power?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: I mean, in regards to Congress, we’ve been in regular touch with a variety of members of both parties and their staffs, over time, through regular briefings then, and also through the STAFFDELs and CODELs that have taken place, but – so we have a regular and fluid dialogue with our Congress on this and it’s been mostly positive.

In terms of Mr. Zelaya, both President Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti have committed to the decision on restoration to the congress, recognizing that it is the congress that will decide if President Zelaya returns, when he should return and how he should return, and they recognize that this is a political decision that is not going to be made in a vacuum. And I can assure you that both sides are reaching out to members of congress right now and trying to build levels of political support that will favor the outcome that each of them would prefer.

But I think what’s important here is that there’s a broad expectation that they will abide by whatever that decision is. And I think the creation of a national unity government and the presence of a verification commission is going to ensure that that happens.

QUESTION: Will Mr. Zelaya leave the Brazilian embassy anytime soon? Is the agreement done? Is it signed? And is there a timeframe for congress to take action or could we have elections for the 29th and Mr. Micheletti still be in power?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: There is not a timeline for the congress to take a decision and the negotiators were very clear on this. In fact, last night, Mr. Zelaya’s chief negotiator came out and said that the commission could not impose a timeline on the congress because it was an independent institution. But there is a political dynamic here and a political imperative for the congress to move quickly on this decision. It’s just not something that can be ignored in the short term.

I’m sorry. I don’t remember the first part of your question.

QUESTION: Is Mr. Zelaya leaving the embassy or is Honduras normalizing again?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Yeah. At this point he is not. The agreement itself does not refer to Mr. Zelaya’s – President Zelaya’s status inside of Honduras at this point. But this is, obviously, a point of dialogue for us with the de facto regime. It’s our view that President Zelaya’s status should be normalized in some fashion and that the de facto regime should end its harassment of the Brazilian Embassy.

OPERATOR: The next question comes from Martha Mendoza. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for taking our questions today. This standoff went on for months. You came in and got all the parties on the same page in about a day. What did you offer? What did you do? Did you offer to restore the Millennium funding before the election? Did you follow the Arias agreement?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: You know, I think what drove this, as I mentioned, was this desire and belief to have the international community accompany this election process. And yesterday was an important day because it was 30 days before the elections. It was the day in which the command of the armed forces transferred to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and it was a clear recognition by all Hondurans that the elections were coming and that the Hondurans had pretty much run out of time, and that there was no longer an opportunity or a space for them to dither. And so I think that drove the decision more than any particular offer.

But we did make it clear to them that with this agreement, we could be move – we could begin to move immediately on electoral observation support and that we would mobilize electoral observation support within the OAS and elsewhere, but that also this would open a space for us to begin to discuss normalization of our relationships to elsewhere and whether it’s in the activities of our consulate or in our assistance relationship. So the Hondurans were well aware that this agreement was the first step towards a normalization of our relationship.

QUESTION: Was there any piece of the Arias agreement on the table?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, almost the whole thing was accepted as is. The only significant change, or substantive change, in the language referred to the restitution of President Zelaya, and that change, as we noted, was to send that issue to the congress. But for the most part, the rest of President Arias’s proposal – the San Jose Accord – was the basis for the Guaymuras Accord.

QUESTION: Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: We can do one more question, and then we’re going to have to go.

OPEATOR: Next question comes from Sergio Davila. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, my question is for Secretary Shannon. Thanks for taking the question. My question is: What if the congress decides that Zelaya will no – will not go back to power, is he willing to accept that? Did he say that to you guys? And Secretary Shannon, are you already packing your luggage to Brazil?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: In terms of President Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti, both sides, in regard to the issue of restitution, have committed this decision to the congress. Both have indicated that they will abide by it, and I believe them. I mean, President Zelaya, I think, believes he has a strong hand to play in the congress, and that’s why he agreed to this, and Mr. Micheletti believes the same thing. So this is a political issue that’s going to be resolved politically. And I’ll pack my bags once the Senate confirms (inaudible).

Thank you all very much.

MR. KELLY: Thank you. That was on the record, just to remind everybody.

PRN: 2009/1089