News of a negotiated "resolution" to the crisis in
Honduras is no doubt being met with rounds of diplomatic back-slapping
across the hemisphere, but such celebrations would be a bit premature.
In other words, we'll be lucky if this is the last we hear of Manuel
Zelaya. [Full disclosure: I helped a Honduran business delegation travel to
Washington in July 2009 to brief U.S. policymakers on the crisis there.]
Negotiations to end the crisis that began June 28 when the
oligarch-turned-leftist populist was legally deposed have culminated
with agreement on, primarily, the creation of a national reconciliation
government; no amnesty for political crimes; international recognition
of the November 29th presidential elections; renunciation of any effort
to organize a constitutional assembly to rewrite the Constitution
(Zelaya's mimic of Hugo Chavez in contravention of Honduran law that
led to his removal); and a call to the international community to lift
economic sanctions against Honduras.
But on the most controversial point of the whole affair whether to
unconditionally reinstate Zelaya to office to serve out the rest of his
term, as he has been demanding and the interim government has
steadfastly refused the negotiators punted. Actually, they tossed
that hot potato back to the National Congress, which must now vote on
his return, in consultations with the Supreme Court.
These are the same institutions that Zelaya has been confronting and
antagonizing for the past year. The same National Congress that back
in June voted nearly unanimously (including members of Zelaya's own
party) in favor of a decree censuring Zelaya for "repeated violations
against the Constitution and laws of the Republic." And the same
Supreme Court that ordered his arrest by the military for his illegal
actions and disregard for their rulings.
So, even while we'll have to wait and see what happens, it would
certainly seem unlikely that there would be such a profound change of
heart in these two institutions to see fit to restore him to office, if
only for a few months.
And then what? If they maintain their opposition to Zelaya's return to office, will Zelaya respect their verdict?
The answer is a likely a resounding "no". Recklessness and provocation
have defined Zelaya's tenure in office. Egged on by Hugo Chavez, with
the assistance of the Cuban security apparatus, Zelaya is not about to
go gently into that good night should Congress and the Supreme Court
uphold their opposition to his returning. He has already demonstrated
he has the capacity and the will to put his personal interests over the
national well-being. One shudders at the thought of the chaos he can
This puts a special onus on the Obama administration. Obviously, what
opened the door to the compromise was their dropping of their
ill-advised ultimatum that Zelaya's return was unconditional and that
the administration would not recognize the results of the November
elections unless Zelaya was reinstated -- a position that put them on
the same side of the issue as Chavez and Fidel Castro.
But now they are on much more solid ground putting the final verdict on
Zelaya back in the hands of the Honduran people and their
representatives in Congress. This means that once that verdict is
rendered, they need to immediately provide full support for the
elections, and, more importantly, prevent Zelaya from any attempts to
bring the whole temple down around him.
Even if in the unlikely event the courts and Congress move to reinstate
Zelaya, he will still need to be closely watched so that he causes no
more damage to the country, and the Obama administration, as brokers of
this deal (three senior officials were in Honduras this week), bear a
special responsibility on this.
The Honduran crisis is not over, but the administration has at least
moved away from its untenable early stance and is in a much better
position to affect a positive outcome.
What happens after the Nov. 29 election is another story. The
administration's initial aping of the Chavez line on Honduras will not
be soon forgotten across the hemisphere. A situation where a small,
pro-American country attempted to stop a Chavez wannabe from running
roughshod over its democratic institutions and installing himself in
perpetual power was not met with support from the United States, but
outright opposition and retribution. In this way, the stark
differences with Chavez in our vision for this hemisphere statism and
class conflict versus freedom and opportunity for all were
blurred. The citizens of the Americas need a clear alternative to the
snake oil that Chavez is selling and by muddying that distinction,
let's hope we haven't done too much harm to our interests in our own