The stealthy return to Honduras by deposed President Manuel Zelaya this week highlights unusual alliances that make it hard to game the outcome. In the old days, there would have been late-night conniving and arm-twisting by a U.S. proconsul who happened to also be the ambassador or a top American diplomat. This time, the United States has not been a leader in solving the problem.
In diplomatic-speak, U.S. officials continue to reject the June 28 ouster of Zelaya and demand his peaceful return to power. At the same time, the Obama administration has seemed to undercut the role of the Organization of American States in performing a meaningful role. You get the feeling that the U.S. position is: Supporting democracy is one thing, but doing anything that might be beneficial to the interests and alliances of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is another.
Zelaya, a businessman, had been taking an increasingly populist, socially conscious stance and his detractors say he was seeking to usurp the constitution in the style of Chavez’ Bolivarian revolution. Zelaya, seized by the military in his pajamas and deposited in Costa Rica, says he sneaked back to Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, over the weekend after a half day of trekking over hill and dale, without saying which border he had crossed. [El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua — where he had taken refuge — are the choices]
Meanwhile, of all places, Zelaya has taken refuge in the embassy of Brazil, a country which until recently had been loathe to play too high a profile in contentious international affairs. Increasingly, however, Brazil has filled in as a mediator and even player — consider President Lula’s ongoing attempts to encourage calm relations between the United States and Venezuela. Brazil also plays an ongoing, difficult role — not given enough credit in the United States — in keeping the peace with a military contingent in Haiti.
Especially under the absentee Latin American policies of former president George W. Bush, Lula’s role was important. And Brazil’s role is significant, especially since the United States has not been clear on what it wants for Honduras.
The Brazilian government agrees with the United States that whatever the outcome in Honduras, the process must be peaceful. But Brazil has allowed Zelaya to raise the animus of supporters from the balcony of the embassy, surrounded by police and demonstrators.
Don’t worry though, the United States is involved in its fashion. The interim (or de facto, acting or temporary, depending on the political connotation) Honduran president, Roberto Micheletti, published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on Tuesday, in which he repeated his claim that the ouster of Zelaya was a perfectly constitutional exercise and not a coup at all. The article had the look and feel of airbrushing and massaging by lawyers at a K St. public relations firm.
The international community has wrongfully condemned the events of June 28 and mistakenly labeled our country as undemocratic. I must respectfully disagree. As the true story slowly emerges, there is a growing sense that what happened in Honduras that day was not without merit. On June 28, the Honduran Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for Zelaya for his blatant violations of our constitution, which marked the end of his presidency. To this day, an overwhelming majority of Hondurans support the actions that ensured the respect of the rule of law in our country.
Underlying all the rhetoric about a military overthrow are facts. Simply put, coups do not leave civilians in control over the armed forces, as is the case in Honduras today. Neither do they allow the independent functioning of democratic institutions — the courts, the attorney general’s office, the electoral tribunal. Nor do they maintain a respect for the separation of powers. In Honduras, the judicial, legislative and executive branches are all fully functioning and led by civilian authorities.
Pay no attention to that man on the balcony of the Brazilian embassy who pretends to be the president, Micheletti tells us. Let us look toward November elections, when, he says, he and his friends will prove that Honduras has been democratic all along.
– Peter Eisner