MANAGUA – Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega opened the door to restoring relations with Honduras after meeting with that country’s head of state, Porfirio Lobo, who has been gradually securing international recognition after winning elections held under a de facto regime.
“We focused our talks on the importance of resuming the process of Central American integration, which has been paralyzed for reasons we all know,” Ortega told reporters, referring to last June’s coup in Honduras that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya.
The leftist Ortega, the only Central American leader who has still not restored full relations with Honduras, made his remarks after the surprise meeting, which had been announced just hours before it was held.
Despite prior statements to the effect that Lobo’s administration emerged from a break in the constitutional order, a smiling Ortega warmly received his Central American counterpart Friday at the airport in Managua.
Ortega then drove Lobo to his government’s headquarters, where they met for five hours.
The two presidents spoke to the press after their meeting, with Ortega not referring directly to the matter of recognizing Lobo’s government but saying that he spoke to the Honduran leader about the situation in the region and that they agreed on the importance of strengthening unity among Central American nations.
The Nicaraguan president also announced that after he meets Sunday in Guatemala with that country’s president, Alvaro Colom, and Salvadoran head of state Mauricio Funes to discuss regional integration, other meetings will follow in Honduras to revive the so-called System for Central American Integration, or SICA, an initiative launched in 1991 to promote regional unity.
“We’re going to work with a willingness and disposition to reestablish normalcy in the Central American region and lend greater impetus, strength and enthusiasm to the process of Central American integration and unity,” Ortega said.
For his part, Lobo said of the meeting that “we had a very open and frank dialogue and both of us are very hopeful that Central Americans will become ever more united on all the different matters” of common interest.
In statements to the Honduran media, Honduran Foreign Minister Mario Canahuati said Friday’s meeting was a “giant step” toward restoring ties and expressed hope that “relations can be normalized as soon as possible.”
Both presidents also used the occasion to declare the Gulf of Fonseca, which is part of the Pacific Ocean and shared by the two countries and El Salvador, a zone of peace.
The presidents instructed their foreign ministers to maintain permanent dialogue and attend to any problems that flare up in that zone.
The document was signed at the government’s headquarters by Lobo and Ortega, who announced that he has ordered the release of some Honduran fishermen who had been detained in Nicaraguan waters.
Ortega and other leftist and left-leaning leaders in Latin America were staunch critics of the coup that ousted Zelaya.
Zelaya, a close ally of Ortega’s and Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez, was dragged from the presidential palace and sent into exile last June 28, just hours before he planned to hold a non-binding plebiscite on revising the Honduran Constitution, a charter imposed on the country in the 1980s by a military junta.
The de facto regime headed by Roberto Micheletti and its apologists accused Zelaya of seeking to extend his stay in office, but any constitutional change to allow presidential re-election would not have taken effect until months – if not years – after the incumbent was due to step down in January 2010.
The deposed head of state slipped back into Honduras in September, taking refuge in the Brazilian mission in Tegucigalpa, where he remained holed up until receiving a safe-conduct from Lobo on inauguration day.
The United States had demanded that Zelaya be restored to office but later recognized the Nov. 29 election that brought Lobo to power as legitimate.
But many governments around the world still refuse to recognize the balloting, saying a free and fair vote was impossible given the repression imposed by Micheletti’s regime, which killed some two dozen people, imprisoned hundreds and repeatedly shut down independent media.
Outside of Central America, conservative-led Colombia and Peru have been the only Latin American countries to recognize the election, while Honduras remains suspended from the Organization of American States.
However, a spokesman for Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who repeatedly denounced the putsch and indicated that it sets a dangerous precedent in a region historically vulnerable to coups, said in February that Brazil wants to see Honduras return to the OAS.