Diplomats are still struggling to help Honduras out of a political mess that only seems to grow deeper by the day. On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who was deposed by a military coup in late June. She announced that the president of Costa Rica will serve as a mediator in the Honduran political crisis.
Earlier in the week, there was a violent clash at the airport in Tegucigalpa when a plane carrying Zelaya was turned away. Competing protests have rocked the capital city.
Sandra Cuffe is an independent Canadian journalist currently in Tegucigalpa. On Monday, the day after the standoff at the airport, she joined Worldfocus to discuss the mood at the riots, the impact on daily life in Honduras and the range of possible outcomes.
Below, view a slideshow from recent protests, also by Sandra Cuffe:
Worldfocus also spoke with Greg Weeks, an associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the editor of the journal The Latin Americanist, about the implications of the recent coup.
Worldfocus: What provoked the coup and did it come as a surprise?
Greg Weeks: The precise timing of the coup was provoked by President Zelaya attempting to go through with the vote about a constitutional commission even though the Supreme Court, Congress, and the armed forces had told him it was unconstitutional. The coup occurred on the Sunday of the scheduled vote.
Conflict between Zelaya and other major political actors in Honduras was long-standing and sometimes bitter. It was well known that Congress was working on formal accusations against Zelaya, and he had publicly criticized the idea of what he called a “technical coup.” Nonetheless, few observers expected a full military coup.
Worldfocus: Has public opinion swayed in either direction in Honduras? Did Hondurans support the referendum?
Greg Weeks: We know that Zelaya was unpopular at the time of the coup (with an approval rating of approximately 30 percent) but we do not know the levels of national support for his forced removal. Both sides claim massive support, but at least for now it is not possible to know for sure.
It is safe to say, though, that a majority of Hondurans did not support the referendum and he likely would have lost it.
Worldfocus: International reaction has been swift, with many (including the U.S. and Organization of American States) urging Zelaya’s return. Has this had any effect?
Greg Weeks: Yes, it put Micheletti and other coup supporters immediately on the defensive and quickly started to pinch the country economically. Plus, the fact that governments as ideologically distant as Colombia and Venezuela were united on this issue made it more difficult for anyone to claim there was ideological bias.
Worldfocus: What are Hugo Chavez’s interests?
Greg Weeks: His primary interest is having another regional ally like Zelaya remain in power. But he and other leftist presidents also have a strong interest in ensuring that other would-be coup makers get the message that international opinion is firmly against such actions (which, of course, is ironic given Chávez’s own background as a coup leader).
Worldfocus: And what of U.S. interests, and the possibility that the U.S. may cut off aid?
Greg Weeks: The U.S. has very little concrete at stake in this crisis, but it is the first Latin American crisis for President Obama, so he is interested in ensuring that his rhetoric of support for democracy and dialogue is taken seriously.
A full cut-off of aid would be a last ditch effort and is the main “stick” the United States wields. As a result, I think it is the least likely policy option, and would be used only if every single other possibility had been exhausted.
Worldfocus: In your opinion, how will the current stalemate end?
Greg Weeks: This crisis has been fluid and unpredictable, so I can’t really say much for certain. I do tend to think that there will be some sort of negotiated solution. There will be massive pressure, both from outside Honduras and inside (as the cutoff of aid from various sources squeezes the economy) for Micheletti to negotiate. Meanwhile, Zelaya knows that negotiation is the only way he can return to the country without invasion — which no one supports, despite Chávez’s comments on the topic.