Saturday, September 26, 2009

Washington Post Editorial Sees Honduran Elections as Way Out of Stalemate

First, let me apologize for misspelling Micheletti’s last name yesterday on this blog, in case anyone noticed.

A recent reader of my blog asked for a summary, as she did want to go back through all the previous postings, so I will repeat here some of what I told her in case other readers have the same problem. Of course, I am speaking from my own experience; other observers may and will have other opinions. Like many situations, the Honduras situation is not as clear-cut as it seemed at first. I have Honduran friends on both sides and also in the middle. When Zelaya was removed from the country by soldiers at gunpoint, it sure looked like a coup, which the whole world assumed it was, including Hillary (and including me). Then, it turned out that the soldiers were acting on civilian orders. Zelaya had been told by the supreme court that he could not carry out a referendum, as that is forbidden by the constitution, never mind the business about a second term, no referendums (referenda?), period. Although it's quite true, as some have pointed out, that if the referendum had been carried out and had gone in his favor, he might not have been able to run again himself right away, still the referendum was asking whether people wanted to amend the constitution to allow consecutive presidential terms.

In recent years, Latin American presidents have been able to serve only one consecutive term to prevent dictatorships from arising. This pattern was broken by Chavez, who was first elected in 1998 and promised to step down, but is still there and consolidating his power day-by-day, so that my friends working in human rights in Venezuela say they now have no room to breathe. Through providing cheap oil and advice to Ecuador and Bolivia, Chavez has won them over and their presidents also are now running for consecutive terms. Cheap oil to Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador has helped leftist leaders get elected there--Honduras was surrounded. So, when Honduras also started getting cheap oil (since withdrawn, of course) and Zelaya began an alliance with Chavez, the rest of the Honduran political establishment started getting nervous. And when Zelaya proposed the referendum using ballots printed in Venezuela and bringing in Venezuelan advisers (still there), they got very nervous, including members of his own party. Unfortunately, the Honduran constitution does not have an impeachment clause, which would have allowed Zelaya to be judged inside Honduras, so, when he disobeyed the supreme court and was going ahead anyway with the referendum, the constitutional successor, Micheletti, a member of his own party, assumed the presidency, as was legal, according to the legal dept. of the US Congressional Research service, as I’ve said before in this blog.

But what to do then about Zelaya, who ignored the court? The constitution also says that a Honduran citizen cannot be removed from the country by force. So, it was not a classical coup, but it was not a peaceful transition either. They didn't know how else to stop him, so they removed him from the country. Micheletti now admits that was a mistake--they should have undertaken some legal proceeding against him inside Honduras, though impeachment was out. They didn’t have much time to think matters through and removed Zelaya hours before the proposed referendum.

One of the commentators on my blog had said it's a double standard to fault Zelaya for perhaps wanting a second term, while Uribe in Colombia is now seeking a third term. Well Uribe has been criticized in the US and Colombia for that, though he’s popular with most Colombians (so it seems). The US has not taken a position against his third term, but neither has the US taken a position against Zelaya, to the contrary, aid has been withdrawn and his reinstatement is supported by the US. So the US has expressed no double standard there. Where there is a double standard, in my opinion, is that when earlier this year, Chavez threw out the mayor duly elected in Caracas, whose population of five million is not far behind the whole of Honduras' seven million, and then summarily put in his own unelected man in instead, no one in Latin America or the US said "boo" and, yet, there is this big hue and cry about Zelaya. That seems more of a double standard. But, of course, Chavez has oil and many countries are beholden to him and he also supplies considerable oil to the US. Honduras has nothing that anyone else wants.

Now that aid and loans have been withdrawn from Honduras and the world consensus is that Zelaya should serve out his term until it ends in January, and with threat that the US and the world community will not recognize the Nov. elections, the interim government is in a bind. They don't want to lose face or give in, but they need to find some acceptable way out, never mind what the constitution says. They just want to make sure Zelaya doesn't try something funny, or try to double-cross them or carry out reprisals. There will have to be an amnesty across the board, even for criminal elements and looters who have taken advantage of the situation.

Obama, for his part, wants a compromise, a consensus solution, an agreement both sides can live with and abide by--that's his preferred stance on most issues. He also doesn't want Big Brother USA to solve the Honduras standoff,; rather, he wants Arias to get in there and do it as a regional leader. (Go back and read all my blog postings.)

If that's not a clear explanation, it's because, in my opinion, it's not a clear matter of black and white. If it had been a real military coup, then, of course, everyone should be against it.

But now, after Zelaya snuck back into the country and took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy, things have gotten really messy. There has been violence, looting, and wanton destruction. There is even greater polarization. The economic situation, already dire before, is getting even worse. Something has to give, and very soon; it's become an emergency now. One hopeful sign, the Peace Corps is still nanging in there.

The following Post editorial sees the November elections as the way out, but that will happen only if the world recognizes them and restores aid and loans. The election campaign is proceeding in Honduras, with Zelaya’s former vice president as the candidate for his own Liberal Party.

Washington Post Editorial
Honduras Gets Messier
But there is a clear exit strategy: elections
Friday, September 25, 2009

THE LAST time we addressed the political crisis in Honduras, a tiny Central American country that has become the focal point of a big regional power struggle, we pointed out that the leaders of a de facto government were playing into the hands of their enemies. Roberto Micheletti, the head of that regime, says that he is determined to prevent ousted president Manuel Zelaya from aping the assault on democratic order pioneered by Mr. Zelaya's mentor, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Yet, by refusing to accept an international mediator's plan that would have paved the way for elections and ensured Mr. Zelaya's political retirement, Mr. Micheletti -- egged on by a handful of allies in Washington -- gave the Chavez camp an opening.

The result was this week's Venezuelan-engineered secret return by Mr. Zelaya to the country and his appearance in the Brazilian Embassy, from where he has sought to foment the populist revolution that he has wanted all along. Fortunately, he is failing miserably so far. After a couple of days of street demonstrations, Tegucigalpa was getting back to normal Thursday, and Mr. Zelaya was reduced to making hysterical accusations about being bombarded with radiation and toxic gases by "Israeli mercenaries."

Such behavior ought to deter any responsible member of the Organization of American States -- starting with Brazil -- from supporting anything more than a token return by Mr. Zelaya to office. The Obama administration has backed such a restoration (as have we) so as to void Mr. Zelaya's illegal removal from the country by the army in June and thus uphold the larger principle of respect for democratic order in the region. Now the United States ought to make clear that any further attempt by Mr. Zelaya or his supporters to cause public disorder or violence will mean the reversal of the U.S. position -- leaving him as a permanent ward of those in the Brazilian government who cooperated with his caper.

The only good way out of the Honduran crisis is to go forward with the presidential election scheduled for Nov. 29 and to do so in a way that will allow Hondurans to freely express themselves and governments around the region to accept the results. At the moment, no government is willing to sanction a vote overseen by Mr. Micheletti's administration, and the United Nations has withdrawn its support for the process. If his aim is really to save democracy in his country Mr. Micheletti must act quickly to legitimize the election. The simplest way to do that is to accept the plan put forward months ago by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias -- though any formula that leads to an internationally recognized vote will do. Without a path to elections, the domestic conflict will only intensify -- and that, again, will only help Mr. Zelaya and Mr. Chavez.

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