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Honduras pact remains in the balance

By Cecilia Barria
BBC News, Tegucigalpa

Honduran deposed President Manuel Zelaya plays his guitar at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa (1 Nov 2009)
Despite tensions, Mr Zelaya remains in good spirits in the Brazilian embassy

After four months of conflict, the political agreement reached in Honduras can be likened to a circus elephant balancing on a tightrope.

When the pact between ousted President Manuel Zelaya and interim leader, Roberto Micheletti, was signed in the early hours of Friday (under the auspices of the US) it seemed the only real thing missing was the champagne.

But now there seem to be more doubts than certainties.

It is not definite that the "government of unity" will come about this Thursday, nor is it clear when Congress will define the reinstatement of Mr Zelaya.

Neither is it clear what will happen with the presidential elections planned for 29 November.

The politicians don't know, even less the Honduran people, who say they are fed up with the whole situation.

"There's very little work here," says Efrain Alvarez. After finishing his day's work on a building site, Efrain walks through the centre of Tegucigalpa to the bus that will take him home.

"We need more jobs," he adds. "We pretty much live in poverty here in Honduras, there are hardly any jobs to be had."

He considers himself lucky, for in spite of the difficulties he has found ways of carving out a living.

We will work together to bring about a fruitful conclusion to this agreement
Ricardo Lagos,
former President of Chile

Efrain does odd-jobs lasting only two or three days a week, but which allow him to provide something towards the upkeep of a house and his five children.

"At the moment I'm earning $290 (£177) a month, but in the last few months I sometimes only make around $150," he says.

Efrain would like things to be sorted out and calm to be restored to his country, but he realises it is not easy.

That same feeling of uncertainty and despair is common among the inhabitants of the third poorest country in Latin America, after Haiti and Nicaragua.

'Building bridges'

A commission of foreign diplomats is about to oversee the implementation of the pact, which includes the former President of Chile, Ricardo Lagos, and the US labour minister, Hilda Solis.

Honduras de-facto government representative, Arturo Corrales, and representative of ousted President Zelaya, Jorge Reina, are also part of the monitoring panel.

Supporters of Honduras ousted President Manuel Zelaya hold a banner that reads "Resistence" as they shout slogans during a protest in Tegucigalpa (2 Nov 2009)
Many in Honduras say they are fed-up with the ongoing political impasse

Hours before arriving in Tegucigalpa, Mr Lagos said the commission would not be a political player, rather the Honduran people themselves must reach an agreement in order to strengthen democracy in the country.

"We are going to build bridges between those sectors which have become polarised," he said.

"We will work together to bring about a fruitful conclusion to this agreement."

But the "fruitful conclusion" seems to be getting further away as the opposing factions in this conflict seem to be interpreting the pact as they want to see it.

Manuel Zelaya told BBC Mundo that the pact would come to nothing if Congress did not vote to reinstate him before Thursday, when the unity government is due to be formed.

However, the de-facto authorities explained that according to the terms of the agreement, Mr Zelaya is obliged to accept whatever decision parliament makes - even if it votes against his reinstatement.

'Secret pact'

These are two totally different viewpoints of a "controversial" part of the agreement, which will surely be one of the first issues the verification commission will cover.

A number of sources have talked of the existence of an unwritten pact among the negotiators, so that Congress will vote in favour of Mr Zelaya's reinstatement.

It is rumoured that this will be in exchange for international recognition of the forthcoming elections. However, high-ranking politicians have denied it.

The US representative, Thomas Shannon, and National Party candidate, Profirio "Pepe" Lobo, both deny anything has been going on behind the scenes.

They insist that only Congress can define the future of the country.

What is clear at the moment is that Manuel Zelaya needs 65 votes in Congress in order to get back into power, and the National Party has 55 MPs who hold the balance of power - which could go either way.

In these last few precarious hours, many politicians are reluctant to declare themselves. And some, like Gen Romeo Vasquez have taken refuge in absolute silence.



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