AS/COA Online | Honduran Impasse Stirs up Differences in Washington

More than two weeks after a surprise return to Honduras, deposed leader Manuela Zelaya remains confined in the Brazilian Embassy. A much-maligned emergency decree declared by interim leader Roberto Micheletti came and went, and the stand-off continues. While tensions simmer between Hondurans for and against Zelaya, Democrat and Republican lawmakers are locked in their own tit-for-tat over the U.S. role in Tegucigalpa standoff. An Organization of American States (OAS) delegation arrives in Honduras on October 7 to mediate in the three-month-old dispute over who should govern the country, raising questions about whether this group of mediators can succeed where other have failed.

In a dispatch, Reuters photojournalist Edgard Garrido describes the current scene inside the embassy compound, where he is confined with Zelaya supporters, a handful of journalists, and the ousted leader. The unlikely residents face food shortages, tear-gas fears, and concerns about what comes next. “With both sides so far apart, it's not at all clear when there will be an end to the crisis, or my unusual and uncomfortable assignment,” writes Garrido, who snapped a widely circulated photograph of Zelaya napping on an embassy sofa.

Meanwhile, the stalemate in Honduras parallels another one in Washington. The White House opposed the overthrow of Zelaya, who was forced out of his country—and power—at the end of June. However, since July Senator James DeMint (R-SC), who sits on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has blocked confirmations of Arturo Venezuela and Tom Shannon, nominated for the U.S. diplomatic posts of Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere and Ambassador to Brazil, respectively. DeMint and a group of Republican lawmakers contend that Zelaya, unpopular while president, intended to hold an unconstitutional referendum with the goal of extending his grip on power and was rightfully deposed.

But the feud does not stop there. Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry (D-MA) tried to prevent DeMint and three other senators from leading a fact-finding mission to Honduras late last week. Kerry blocked funding for the trip, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) booked a U.S. military plane for the the lawmakers. As Politico reports, six House members penned a letter to the Honduran Congress saying the mission represents members of the “minority party…who have expressed views that differ markedly from those of President Obama’s administration and the Democratic Majority in the U.S. Congress.” Still, a handful of Florida lawmakers followed up the DeMint trip with another delegation this week, which supports the November 29 presidential elections in Honduras. On October 6, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) appeared in a press conference with Micheletti and asserted that he is the country's president.

The White House says it will not recognize elections carried out by the Micheletti government. Several leaders in the Americas have taken the same position and continue to urge a mediated solution, such as the San Jose Accord hammered out by Costa Rican President Óscar Arias. The pact calls for a coalition government that would return Zelaya to office but with limited powers. On Tuesday, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva urged the coup leaders to leave office. “The only difficulty is that there’s a president that shouldn’t be there,” said Lula, referring to Micheletti.

An OAS mission heads to Honduras Wednesday with the hopes of mending the divide, though it remains unclear whether Micheletti and Zelaya will meet. Tom Shannon, who continues to serve as U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs while he awaits confirmation, will also join the delegation.