Scott Johnson at Powerline:
Today’s news brings word that Manuel Zelaya will return as the president of Honduras thanks to American diplomatic pressure. It is perfectly fitting that the signal diplomatic triumph of President Obama’s first year in office is the restoration to power of the lawfully deposed Honduran thug and friend of Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega and Hugh Chavez. It is inimical to the national interest of the United States. It is a setback for the supporters of democracy in the beleaguered country of Honduras. And it is a defeat for those who believe in the rule of law. It is, in other words, a triumph of “smart diplomacy.”
Francisco Toro at TNR:
The Honduran tragicomedy that has consumed the hemisphere’s diplomats for months is at an end (read the details here). Barring the unforeseeable, which is always an iffy thing to do in Honduras, the coupster is out, the mercurial elected president is back in (pending a face-saving vote by Congress and the Supreme Court), and an election to replace him will be held on November 29, as planned.
In light of all this, who was the winner in the Honduran crisis?
Certainly not the elected leader, Mel Zelaya. He’s back in power, but is significantly weakened. He will not be allowed to push for the constitutional reform that precipitated the crisis in the first place. He’ll be forced to head a “unity government” (diplomatese for a “grownup supervised government”), and he’ll have to find himself another job in January.
No. The real winner in this drama is the top diplomat for the key power who quietly, patiently pushed for this settlement all along. It was Hillary Clinton’s State Department that first pressed for an agreement along these lines. It was State that asked Costa Rican president Oscar Arias to mediate a deal like this, and it was State that stepped into the breach when the Arias compromise fell apart: They dispatched Assistant Secretary of State for the West Hemisphere, Thomas Shannon, to Tegucigalpa on multiple occasions to help settle the dispute.
It’s therefore fitting that, from far off Islamabad, it fell to Hillary Clinton to announce the deal. Hailing the “historic agreement” between the two sides, she went on to stress that “I cannot think of another example of a country in Latin America that, having suffered a rupture of its democratic and constitutional order, overcame such a crisis through negotiation and dialogue.”
Perhaps most importantly, by helping to reinstate a duly elected anti-American president, the deal will be a significant first step in the long, arduous task of re-establishing the U.S.’s democratic bona fides in the region. The entrenched view for many Latin Americans–and not just those on the chavista left–is that the U.S. favors democracy, but only when the people who get elected hew closely to U.S. interests. Undoing that view is an urgent task for the Obama administration, and Secretary Clinton understands that it can only be achieved if the U.S. shows itself willing to stand on principle, even when–especially when–those principles favor regional adversaries.
The Honduran Constitution no longer rules that country. It has been replaced by US bullying, and our backing of someone who has openly sought to emulate the regime of Hugo Chavez in Venezuala.
Since Zelaya is forbidden by the now shredded Honduran constitution from running again, what are the odds that he will go quietly off into retirement? If there is a way for him to maintain power – even with the help of foreign troops – I have no doubt he will take it.
Exit question: The US has a history of intervening in the internal affairs of Latin American countries. We have been rightly excoriated for doing so. Would someone please tell me why this intervention is any different?
The Honduran Congress and Supreme Court both sided against Zelaya in June. It’s hard to see how the Honduran Congress is going to change their minds now and reinstate the Chavez wannabe as president.
I predict that congress will not reinstate Zelaya. The real purpose of the vote is to allow the U.S. to gracefully back off from its earlier observation that the Micheletti regime is illegitimate. Realistically, it looks like Washington cajoled the self-satisfied Micheletti and the desperate Zelaya into signing a deal to provide a fig leaf for the coup.
Why does it seem unlikely that congress will reinstate Zelaya? Recall that Micheletti’s last real job before proclaiming himself president was as the leader of the Honduran congress. As he himself noted in an Wall Street Journal op/ed, congress voted overwhelmingly to back Micheletti’s putsch and remove Zelaya in the first place.
It’s possible that congress will want to ratify the power-sharing deal in order to legitimize the upcoming elections in the eyes of the world, but they didn’t care about world opinion when they backed the coup in the first place. Furthermore, the U.S. has already show itself unwilling to impose real consequences on the junta.
Media reports stress that Zelaya preferred to let congress decide. The other option was to give the Supreme Court the final say. Zelaya seems to think he has a better chance than Congress than he would if the matter were left up to the Supreme Court, which also colluded in his ouster. The Supreme Court has already ruled that Zelaya forfeited his presidency by backing a non-binding referendum on reforming the constitution. (Cf. Prof. Gary Weeks, the Juan Cole of Latin America, for more details about why that argument is transparently bogus.)
Note that under the deal, the Supreme Court would still have some input into whether Zelaya wold actually be reinstated–a body that has already ruled that Zelaya forfeited his presidency.
Why would Zelaya agree to such a deal? Keep in mind that he’s not exactly negotiating from position of strength. Actually, he’s trapped in an embassy surrounded by armed guards. His only hope of regaining power was to provoke a standoff that would focus international pressure on the Micheletti regime. Now, the U.S. is losing patience with the embassy circus in Tegucigalpa and it doesn’t seem prepared to back up its pro-democracy rhetoric with any real consequences that might induce Micheletti to relinquish power. The U.S. has immense sway with Honduras through millions of dollars worth of trade and aid. Honduras is one of the poorer countries in the Western Hemisphere and the U.S. is its best customer.
What has contributed most to the political crisis in Honduras? The wrongheaded stance of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. They have suspended visas and aid to Honduras, weakening one of the few strong alliances we have in Central America, just to interfere with what is truly an internal matter in Tegulcigapa. The US has rejected the one real solution to the problem, a national election that had already been scheduled before Zelaya’s removal and one in which Zelaya’s own party wants to participate.
If Kerry and Berman want a resolution to the Honduran crisis, then they should be demanding changes from Obama and his team, not silence from the Law Library of Congress.