Honduran Honcho Goes Racial on Obama, Apologizes

Called U.S. prez "a little black man"

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Recently ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya met with Hillary Clinton in Washington Tuesday.

    A top official in the interim government has sent a letter to President Obama apologizing for a racial comment he made about the U.S. president.

    Enrique Ortez says the letter expresses "his most profound apologies" for "an unfortunate comment."

    In a TV interview, Ortez said Obama "is a little black man who doesn't know where Tegucigalpa is located."

    Ortez says the remark made before he was named to the post was not meant to offend anyone. He also read a statement in Spanish from U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens that said: "I express my profound indignation for the unfortunate, disrespectful and racially insensitive comments made about President Barack Obama."

    The remark came after the Obama Administration objected to what it called a military coup, when President Manuel Zelaya was arrested and deported by soldiers and a top lawmaker named as interim president after the nation's highest court declared his effort to gain a third term unconstitutional. Zelaya met Tuesday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, hammering out a potential diplomatic solution to the power struggle.

    Zelaya and interim Honduran leader Roberto Micheletti agreed to accept Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace laureate, as an international mediator. Arias' appointment was backed by the United States and announced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton after she met privately with Zelaya at the State Department

    Arias will conduct the mediation in Costa Rica, where Zelaya intends to travel from Washington, and Clinton said she expected the process to begin soon.

    "It is our hope that through this dialogue mechanism overseen by President Arias that there can be a restoration of democratic, constitutional order, a peaceful resolution of this matter that will enable the Honduran people to see the restoration of democracy and a more peaceful future going forward," Clinton said.

    Zelaya said he was pleased with Arias' appointment. "I have accepted Dr. Arias' mediation," he told reporters after seeing Clinton. He added that the step showed "the international community is still supporting democracy in Honduras."

    Meanwhile, in Honduras, Micheletti, who had vowed not to negotiate until "things return to normal," appeared to open some space for a settlement to the crisis that began on June 28 when Zelaya was detained by the military and forced into exile.

    Arias "is a man with a lot of credibility in the world," Micheletti told HRN radio. "We are open to dialogue. We want to be heard."

    While Micheletti said he would send a delegation soon to Costa Rica — a reversal from past days, when he said he would not negotiate until "things are normal" — he also said the meeting "doesn't mean that Zelaya will be allowed to return." He later told a news conference that the dialogue with Arias should "start from the understanding that Zelaya's return is not open to negotiation."

    Still, Micheletti's tone was less belligerent than in recent days, when officials threatened to arrest Zelaya for 18 alleged criminal acts, including treason and failing to implement more than 80 laws approved by Honduran lawmakers since he took office in 2006.

    In another hint of possible compromise, a Honduran Supreme Court official said Tuesday that political amnesty for Zelaya is possible.

    Arias won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for helping broker an end to Central America's civil wars.

    Zelaya, a wealthy rancher who moved to the left after his election and allied himself with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, made an unsuccessful attempt to return home on Sunday in a move that sparked clashes between his supporters and security forces at the Tegucigalpa airport and left at least one person dead

    Clinton would not discuss specifics of the mediation process, which she said would begin soon, but a senior U.S. official said one option being considered would be to forge a compromise under which Zelaya would be allowed to return and serve out his remaining six months in office with limited powers.

    Zelaya, in return, would pledge to drop his aspirations for a constitutional change that might allow him to run for another term, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the diplomatic exchanges.