Honduras offers return, but not office

While the US prepares to cut aid to Honduras for enforcing its own laws, the man they want returned to power in Tegulcigapa has an offer to come home — but not to return to office.  Roberto Micheletti, the interim president selected by the Honduran parliament, has offered to resign as part of a deal allowing Manuel Zelaya to return to his country.  Zelaya has to renounce any claim to office in order to accept:

The interim president of Honduras has offered the man he replaced after a June coup the chance to return to the country on the condition that both renounce claims to the presidency, a negotiator said Thursday.

Arturo Corrales, a member of a three-man Honduran panel seeking an end to the standoff, told The Washington Times that Roberto Micheletti was willing to make the concessions to restore peace and prosperity to Honduras following the coup against Manuel Zelaya.

The offer represents a turnaround by Mr. Micheletti, who has insisted until now that Mr. Zelaya should have been arrested rather than deported to Costa Rica on June 28. Mr. Zelaya was deposed by the military after he sought to change the constitution to allow him to run for a second term.

A former Clinton administration official pointedly remarked that the ball is now in Zelaya’s court, and that this offer is a test of his sincerity:

Lanny Davis, a prominent Washington attorney who represents the Honduran Latin American Business Council, said the new proposal “shows Mr. Micheletti is not concerned about power — he is offering to resign entirely from public life. … The question is, does Mr. Zelaya acknowledge that no one, even the president, is above the law?”

Both Zelaya and Micheletti would officially resign from office and pledge to retire from public life.  The next in line of succession would take Micheletti’s place (or Zelaya’s, depending on whether you believe in the rule of law or work for the Obama administration), and Honduras would hold open elections as soon as possible.  Zelaya would get a formal and full pardon for crimes allegedly committed earlier this summer, which prompted his removal by the parliament, Supreme Court, and military.

Zelaya claimed earlier that he only wanted to finish his single term in office and not run for election again.  This agreement would effectively end that term immediately, and allow him to claim at least a partial victory in Micheletti’s removal.  He could live his life in peace as a private citizen of Honduras without fear of prosecution, and his country could get back to business with its Western Hemisphere neighbors.

Davis is correct to emphasize that this tests Zelaya’s disclaimers about his desire to wield power.  If Zelaya doesn’t accept these terms, it’s difficult to see how Zelaya can keep claiming that he never intended on building a presidency-for-life.  A refusal would make it much more difficult for the Obama administration to keep defending and championing Zelaya, although so far, no one seems embarrassed enough at the prospect to think it will change.