Honduras: US and Latin America split over elections

The rapid failure of an Oct. 30 accord between Honduran president Manuel Zelaya and the country’s de facto government “leaves egg on the faces of US and regional diplomats who had engineered the deal,” according to an analysis piece by the Reuters news service. (Reuters, Nov. 6)

The agreement’s collapse also increases the distance between the government of US president Barack Obama—which is now in effect siding with the de facto regime—and most governments in Latin America and the Caribbean. On Nov. 6 the 12-member Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) demanded Zelaya’s “immediate restitution,” as did foreign ministers at a meeting of the Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean (CALC) in Jamaica the same day.

Even diplomats and leaders who maintain good relations with the US implicitly criticized the US position. “The measures in the accord are clear and were subscribed to by the free will of the parties,” Organization of American States (OAS) general secretary José Miguel Insulza said on Nov. 5 after de facto president Roberto Micheletti named a “unity government” not backed by Zelaya. “I expect [these measures] to be fulfilled without more subterfuges, in order to reestablish democracy, institutional legitimacy and coexistence among the Hondurans.”

“[N]aturally, the person who was elected by the Honduran people to exercise the function of the president of the republic should preside” over the unity government, Insulza said in Washington. (Prensa Latina, Nov. 6; Adital, Nov. 6; LJ, Nov. 7)

In an interview with CNN en Español on Nov. 7, former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos (2000-2006), the highest-ranking member of the accord’s Verification Commission, was equally clear that Micheletti had violated the agreement when he named his own “unity government.” Asked who should head the Government of Unity and National Reconciliation, Lagos answered: “[T]he logic of this accord is that in the event that Zelaya Rosales was installed as president…there would be a national unity cabinet… When we met with Mr. Micheletti and he said what he was doing [naming a unity cabinet], we told him that this wasn’t what was agreed to and that he couldn’t do it.”

Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, generally a supporter of the US and a leader in the negotiations that led to the accord, distanced himself from the de facto government on Nov. 7: “They are looking, by means of delaying tactics, to pass the time until the elections come, risking that the future government will not be recognized by some countries,”
he said. (Honduras Coup 2009 blog, Nov. 8; El Tiempo, San Pedro Sula, Nov. 8; El Día, Spain, Nov. 8 from EFE)

In the US, Congress members from the Republican Party are supporting the Obama administration’s new position. But criticism is coming from forces that usually side with the Democratic president. “If the Obama administration chooses to recognize the election without Zelaya first being reinstated, it will find itself at odds with the rest of Latin America,” a Los Angeles Times editorial warned on Nov. 5. “That would be a setback for democracy and for the United States.” (LAT, Nov. 5) “An election run by the coup plotters won’t be credible to Hondurans—and it shouldn’t be to anyone else,” the editors of the New York Times wrote on Nov. 7. (NYT, Nov. 7)

At the same time, other forces on the liberal side seem to pushing for the US to recognize the Nov. 29 elections. The “pragmatic middle ground” might be for the US and the OAS to recognize the elections “under protest of how they came about,” according to Shelley A. McConnell, an assistant professor of government at St. Lawrence University and a former analyst for the Carter Center, a prestigious election-monitoring organization founded by liberal former US president Jimmy Carter (1977-1981). “You don’t punish the next guy,” she told the New York Times. (NYT, Nov. 7)

The frontrunner in the Honduran presidential race is Profirio (“Pepe”) Lobo of the center-right National Party (PN); he and his party backed the June 28 coup.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 8

See our last posts on Honduras.