Thursday, November 5, 2009

Is Alice Leaving Wonderland? Taking a Step Away from Chavez in Honduras


Deposed Honduran President Manuel ZelayaU.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

An Agreement to End the Honduran Crisis Reached?

Over the past few weeks the eyes of Latin America watchers around the world have fixated upon Honduras, where U.S.-backed negotiations between representatives of deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and the interim government which came to office after his ouster strove to achieve a resolution to the constitutional crisis in the small Central American nation. The talks proceeded slowly, with fits and turns which frequently made their outcome uncertain, but negotiators finally produced an agreement the U.S. State Department hailed last Friday as paving the way for international recognition of the results of Honduras' pending presidential elections scheduled for the 29th of this month.

The Honduran Congress first must approve the negotiated settlement, a point Zelaya insisted upon rather than permitting the question to be put to the country's Supreme Court, which he blames for legitimizing his ouster in the eyes of his fellow countrymen. Once the congress ratifies Zelaya's return he then would reassume his office with only limited authority. A national unity government would be created containing both Zelaya supporters and others who have backed the interim regime of President Roberto Micheletti. And finally, a special committee to guarantee the fairness and transparency of the upcoming elections also would be formed; all of which would secure the international community's recognition of the legitimacy of the Honduran electoral process and a return to normal governance early next year, when the newly-elected president will assume the duties of his office.

Continued Honduran Resistance to U.S. Pressure

However; events over the past few days suggest that the Hondurans will attempt to delay Zelaya's reinstatement long enough to make the event an inconsequential footnote to obtaining international recognition of the validity of their presidential elections, which has been the common goal of all major parties and presidential candidates in the country from the onset of the crisis last summer, a fact largely unreported in the American news media. But even if Honduras should put the terms of the accord into effect quickly, other unforeseen problems could yet arise.

Wall Street Journal editorialist Mary Anastasia O'Grady has argued that there is more than one possible scenario under which the fulfillment of the negotiated agreement could be carried out which could create an altogether different kind of constitutional crisis for Honduras. Up until now, and contrary to the reporting developed in most of the international press, Hondurans have largely accepted Micheletti's interim government as legitimate. Only Zelaya's firmest supporters have opposed it, but their numbers are so small that they really constitute only a fringe element in Honduran politics. Micheletti himself is a member of the same Liberal Party as Zelaya, another fact not often made clear to Americans, who have been inundated with the interpretation that Zelaya's ouster was a "military coup" that overthrew civilian rule--it did not--and was therefore blatantly unconstitutional. According to O'Grady it is possible that various institutions of the Honduran state could find themselves at odds with each other over the legality of the accord and the procedural steps required for its implementation. This could create something which has not existed in Honduras since Zelaya's removal--real divisions beyond the leftist fringe as to the legitimacy of the government in power in Tegucigalpa.

Last Tuesday, November 3, the Honduran legislative committee empowered to call the Congress into special session to act upon the accord voted to wait until the country's Supreme Court, Attorney General, and others weigh in with their own legal opinions on the agreement, and without setting a deadline. The American response has been muddled, to say the least. U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis has been dispatched to the country to help the Hondurans in the formation of a unity government, a move some interpreted as indicating increased U.S. pressure on the interim leadership to move quickly. But Secretary Solis has stated since her arrival that she is more involved with working on the formation of a new cabinet, saying that she knows things move slowly in Honduras but she is at the moment "focused on bringing different groups together to create a new cabinet," a comment that does not place Zelaya's reinstatement at the top of the agenda for the U.S.

Has the Obama Administration Policy Changed?

Apparently, the U.S. now believes that the negotiated agreement binds both parties to its terms; however they may be carried out. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon told CNN en Español that both Zelaya and Micheletti "took a risk and put their trust in [the Honduran] Congress, but at the end of the day the accord requires that both leaders accept its decision." Zelaya has requested Secretary of State Clinton to clarify the State Department's position, pointedly asking whether its earlier stance that his ouster was a coup still holds true. But Shannon's statement makes clear the U.S. intention to get past the Honduran elections later this month, sacrificing Zelaya if necessary. To quote Blas Padrino of the Orlando Republican Examiner "the Obama Administration has now thrown Mr. Zelaya under the bus." The evidence is mounting daily to support Padrino's analysis. So perhaps it may be worthwhile to ask why the change has occurred.

Analysis:  The Absurdities of Aligning U.S. Latin American Policy with Chavismo

There are complexities to the Honduran constitutional crisis, which the Obama Administration does not feel comfortable explaining when asked for clarification. The U.S. State Department has arrogantly refused to produce its own legal analysis of the perplexing problems surrounding the ouster of former President Manuel Zelaya last June 28, yet the assessment of the Congressional Research Service has been available for several weeks. Senior Foreign Law Specialist Norma C. Gutierrez prepared and submitted the CRS report last August and its findings reveal much about the facts of Zelaya's ouster as judged under Honduran constitutional law.

Ms. Gutierrez gives a thorough examination of the intricacies of the Honduran Constitution, the facts of the case against Zelaya, and the manner in which the country's two main institutions, the Congress and the Supreme Court, interpreted and handled the matter. Her conclusions are strikingly at odds with the public policy stance the Obama administration has pursued from the outset:

   V. Was the removal of Honduran President Zelaya legal, in accordance with Honduran constitutional and statutory law?

      Available sources indicate that the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system.

      However, removal of President Zelaya from the country by the military is in direct violation of the Article 102 of the Constitution, and apparently this action is currently under investigation by the Honduran authorities.

Norma C. Gutierrez
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
Congressional Research Service

The above analysis presents the problem we have confronted with Honduras in a nutshell. Honduran institutions acted properly under their own laws right up to the point when they sent Zelaya into exile, which they were forbidden from doing by their constitution's prohibition against extraditing or expatriating Honduran citizens. Their removal of Zelaya was legal, but sending him out of the country was not, a mistake Micheletti admitted this past August.

Norma Gutierrez's clear thinking has not been part of the Obama Administration's approach towards the handling of the crisis however, and it may be that some of the responsibility for this lies with lower level diplomats, including Ambassador Hugo Llorens in Tegucigalpa and others in Washington, who set the tone for U.S. policy almost immediately. But the tact of treating Zelaya's ouster as a military coup, while simultaneously refusing to permit any discussion of the facts on the ground in Honduras, has aligned the Obama Administration with some of the worst players in Latin America--Chavez and his leftist allies in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Ecuador. And the dangers inherent in this realignment were not lost on Hondurans, who only fortified themselves further to preserve a democratic way of life they have come to treasure since 1982, when they adopted their new constitution. The widespread support from all major factions within the country for preventing Zelaya from returning to power speaks volumes, but until very recently the words have not been heard in Washington.

Rather than pursuing a calming of the situation through an open diplomatic dialogue, which would involve not only all parties in Honduras but also inform the American people of the progress of events and the formulation their foreign policy, the Obama administration instead adopted the very worst tactics of the Latin American Left to force Honduras to bend its knee to power. The administration has controlled public debate over the controversy through its manipulation of the press, silenced any discussion of Honduran constitutional law and the facts which led to Zelaya's removal, misrepresented the political situation within the country after the installation of an interim government, and worst of all threatened the Honduran people with their own immiseration and internal political disintegration so long as they continued to insist upon ... wait for it America! ... the rule of law fairly interpreted in an open hearing and a resolution of the crisis through free and fair elections.

By the time the final step of denying international recognition of the validity of regularly-scheduled elections approached, the Obama administration's policy was defeated by its own absurdity. America, the rule of constitutional law, and free elections remain inseparable. That maxim was greeted with jeers when afternoon mate de coca was served at Mad Hatter Hugo Chavez's party with los nuevos invitados Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in attendance. But the jeering will stop soon. The Hondurans have put the lie to the taunts.

The Hondurans have spoken truth to power.



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