Opposing political factions in Honduras on Thursday prepared for further talks after appearing to inch closer to an agreement this week than at any point since the coup that sparked the political crisis on June 28.
Whether by coincidence or design, the apparent progress came as the tiny and impoverished Central American nation celebrated victory against neighbouring El Salvador on Wednesday, ensuring its first ticket to the football World Cup final in 28 years.
Just hours before, representatives of Manuel Zelaya, the country’s ousted president, said that negotiators in the talks had reached agreement on restoring “powers of the state to where they were before” – an indication that the deposed leader may be allowed to return to power.
The statement follows further progress this week in which both Mr Zelaya and the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti, which took power after the military-led coup, agreed to several points that could unblock the impasse that has paralysed Honduras for the past three and a half months.
These included the formation of a unity government, a promise from Mr Zelaya that he would not try to change the country’s constitution, and a pledge from both sides that the presidential elections scheduled for November 29 would go ahead as planned.
In spite of the progress, however, both sides in the dispute warned that there was a long way to go. Mr Micheletti cautioned that there was still no agreement on Mr Zelaya’s return to power – a point that his administration has rejected outright until now.
Mr Micheletti, together with large swathes of the country’s political, judicial and military elite, has accused Mr Zelaya of scheming to rewrite the constitution as part of a strategy to seek his own re-election. Mr Zelaya has denied any such plans.
“As of this moment there is no final agreement,” the de facto government said on Wednesday in a press statement.
Even so, the international community expressed cautious optimism this week following months of frustration in which diplomatic efforts had failed to restore the 57-year-old Mr Zelaya to office.
On Wednesday, José Miguel Insulza, head of the Organisation of American States, which is backing the talks, said: “I don’t want to be overly optimistic …but I think there have been significant advances that allow us to hope for a Honduran solution to a Honduran crisis.”