Honduras: US officials finally act

There is little question that the US was the main force behind the Oct. 30 agreement between the de facto Honduran government and representatives of deposed president Manuel Zeleya. Talks to end the crisis were deadlocked as of Oct. 23, after 16 days of negotiations. A delegation from the US headed by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon joined the talks in Tegucigalpa on Oct. 28, and an agreement was signed just two days later.

Until Oct. 28 the administration of US president Barack Obama had publicly let Latin Americans take the lead in negotiations, claiming the US wanted to avoid “intervention.” “Not all countries have the same weight, especially in relation to Honduras,” Michael Shifter, vice president of the Washington, DC-based nonprofit Inter-American Dialogues, told the BBC network, referring to longstanding US economic, political and military ties to the country. “Who knows what would have happened if the [US] delegation had arrived earlier?” asked Eduardo Enrique Reina, the Honduran ambassador to the US appointed by Zelaya in July. (BBC, Oct. 30)

Various US interests had been stepping up pressure on the Obama administration for a solution. On Oct. 27, just as the State Department delegation was about to leave for Tegucigalpa, seven trade associations—including the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the National Council of Textile Organizations and the National Retail Federation—sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton a letter on the crisis. “We are increasingly concerned that with the continued uncertainty regarding the political situation… [T]he US-Honduran textile complex—one of the most vibrant in the Western Hemisphere—is in danger of being permanently damaged,” the associations said. Imports of textiles and apparel from Honduras dropped by 38% in June, July and August this year, according to the letter, and exports of US textile products to Honduras fell by 38% in August, September and October, a $165 million loss. (The Hill, Washington, DC, Oct. 28/09) Honduras is a major center for the maquiladora industry, the tax-exempt assembly of products like apparel chiefly for export.

Meanwhile, US supporters of the coup were experiencing setbacks in their efforts to claim that the coup was legal and backed by a majority of Hondurans.

Several legal experts had already dismissed an August report by the Law Library of Congress claiming that Zelaya’s removal was constitutional. On Oct. 27 Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Librarian of Congress James Billington calling the report “misleading to the Congress and the public” and charging that it “contains factual errors and is based on a flawed legal analysis.” They asked for the Law Library to issue a corrected version including other views. The report had been requested by a Republican, Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois, and Republican Congress members promptly charged Kerry and Berman with censorship. (The Hill, Oct. 27; Miami Herald, Nov. 1)

In late October the CID Gallup polling organization released the results of a survey it conducted Oct. 13-19 among 1,420 Hondurans over 18; the company put the margin of error at 2.8%. Some 42% of those interviewed recognized Zelaya as their president, as against 36% for de facto president Roberto Micheletti; 18% recognized no president. Those surveyed were split over whether it was necessary for Zelaya to be returned to office—with 49% against and 47% in factor—but 60% said that Zelaya had always or almost always done “what is good for the people,” while 59% said Micheletti had rarely or never done this. (La NaciĂłn, Paraguay, Oct. 28 from AP; Honduras Coup 2009, Oct. 31). The latest poll followed the same pattern as the three other polls that have been taken in Honduras since the coup.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 3

See our last posts on Honduras.