From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Calderón on NorthAm Integration, Clinton on Hemispheric Cooperation
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered her views on U.S. collaboration with Latin America in a new era at the 41st Annual Washington Conference on the Americas, saying: “We are interdependent, and we have to deal with the real questions that interdependence poses.” The secretary talked on a range of hemispheric issues, from the near-term goal of approving Colombian and Panamanian trade deals to academic exchange, institution building, and security pacts. Mexican President Felipe Calderón closed the conference by talking about the need to deepen North American integration, and said: “The closer we are, the more competitive we will be, and the faster we will grow.” Calderón called the current U.S. immigration system “broken” and described it as a “bottleneck for growth and prosperity.” He also called for U.S. leadership on climate change and bilateral security issues, pointing out that winning Mexico’s fight against organized crime required Washington’s collaboration to tackle arms trafficking, money laundering, and drug consumption in the United States.
Other speakers at the conference included Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, U.S. Senator John McCain, and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Get complete coverage at AS/COA Online.
Obama Steps up Call for Immigration Reform
President Barack Obama gave a major speech in El Paso on May 10, calling for comprehensive immigration reform that would include a path to citizenship for the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. It was the fourth major event over the last three weeks in which Obama continued his push for reform, though he did not clarify when legislation will come or how he will win over opponents in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Read an AQ blog post by Senior Editor Jason Marczak about the renewed call for immigration reform.
Fame, even political fame, seems to depend more and more on your ability to grab the public fascination—even if it’s lack of respect—than any real attributes. Just the mere aura of media attention confers importance, talent and relevance now-a-days. Just ask the vacuous Paris Hilton, or the duly-elected president of Honduras, Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, whose latest tactics indicate that more than resolving the constitutional crisis in a serious manner, he’d prefer to just be in the news. For whatever. Just today (Monday, September 21) Zelaya appeared suddenly in the Brazilian embassy claiming he had crossed mountains, rivers and the military-manned border to re-appear in Honduras to defy the government’s arrest order. And then he gave a friendly wave to supporters from the Brazilian embassy.
This isn’t helpful.
Sure the man was deposed in a coup. (Just a quick side note: as Mary O’Grady wrote in today’s Wall Street Journal, the Honduran constitution does allow for the Supreme Court to try a president and issue a warrant. What it clearly does not say is that it gives them the power to bundle him up and take him out of the country. It also implies that the trial would be transparent and under due process—neither of which was true in the rushed, closed-door “hearing” that was held preceding President Zelaya’s jammy-clad plane trip into exile. The U.S. constitution allows for an impeachment process; but once it has been completed and a president found guilty, it doesn’t allow for him to be sent into exile—most would agree that to be beyond the constitutional order.)
But his antics: first circling over the airport in a Venezuelan government plane, then the hokey pokey at the Nicaraguan/Honduras border, and now this demonstrate a craven need to keep himself in the public eye and to remind the world of his martyrdom, and, in some twisted way, even present himself as a credible politician.
Although President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya prefers to wear a white hat, there are no men in white hats in the escalating situation in
As I wrote here earlier, de facto President Micheletti’s refusal to accept President Arias' San José Accord was a serious mistake. The stumbling block was the provision to allow President Zelaya to return to
The intransigence led to the breakdown in the talks and drove Zelaya—never a cool head to begin with—out of a sensible, moderate process and back into the arms of Presidents Chávez of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of
In a logical world, President Oscar Arias’ seven-point plan for resolving the Honduran impasse is the best—and perhaps only—way forward after the Honduran coup. In many ways it reflects the things that we have promoted on this website: move up the date of the elections (in Arias’ plan to October), allow President Zelaya to return with a significantly curtailed role in a coalition government, an amnesty for the charges against him pre-June 28, and a commitment by the ousted president not to press for re-election. Pretty straightforward.
And it almost got the parties there—except for the de facto government of former Congressman Micheletti which has dug in its heels, refusing to allow the ousted president to return. There are three major problems in their position, though: 1) it only deepens Honduras’ isolation; 2) it will only serve to radicalize Zelaya and the alliance of the more extremist presidents who support him; and 3) the coup itself is not as popular as the de facto government wants to portray it to the outside world. (Which really shouldn’t matter anyway because it was, in fact, a coup even if orchestrated by institutions.) The truth is that coups have received popular support. Yes, even the Chilean coup of 1973 was supported by a broad segment of the population. That didn’t make it right, though—nor certainly did it justify the bloodshed that followed. (This is a side note to those who want to argue that this wasn’t a coup: there have been plenty of coups that haven’t followed the classic playbook and have enjoyed both popular and institutional support. But they were still coups.)
Concerning the first, on Monday, July 20, 2009, the European Union announced that it was suspending $92 million in assistance. This is on top of the $270 million World Bank loan and $200 Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loan that have been put on hold, the U.S. assistance to the Honduran military and the more than $180 million in U.S. bilateral assistance that hangs in the balance. And there’s the suspension from the OAS, the condemnation of the UN, and the pulling of most foreign ambassadors from Tegucigalpa—and Honduras looks like it’s become a political pariah and economic loner. There’s also the issue of remittances, which represent 25 percent of Honduras’ meager GDP. If the de facto government hews to the original timetable for elections in November and the transfer of power in January, it’s going to leave its people pretty high and dry. And let me venture a guess here: at that point for most Hondurans, living in the third poorest country in Central America and the Caribbean, the coup and the government that came in its wake are going to look a heck of a lot less inspiring.
Concerning the second, as the clock ticks and Zelaya’s return is delayed—under any form—the new-found populist is threatening again to go back to the silliness and rhetoric orchestrated by his puppeteer Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. We’ve already seen this before with the irresponsible (though unfortunately ultimately deadly) stunt he performed on July 5 when he tried to return and the military blocked his way. When that failed he returned to a more sensible fold: the U.S. and a mediated solution through Arias. As the possibilities appear to be closing down, Zelaya is returning to his position of going back to Honduras as soon as possible with or without an agreement. Maybe it’s just a—misguided—negotiating tactic. But it does indicate that he could resort again to the destructive, polarizing and deadly tactics of before.
The de facto government shouldn’t have to yield to such irresponsible posturing. But it demonstrates that beyond the Micheletti government’s unconstructive intransigence the success of any negotiated solution will depend on Zelaya accepting a symbolic return to power. Ultimately, that’s all he’ll get—a shortened term and constrained powers—but it will be what is necessary to restore some modicum of institutionality to Honduras and demonstrate the hemisphere’s and international community’s capacity to enforce constitutional processes. But is Zelaya enough of a stateman to do this?
I wouldn’t hold my breath, especially as time goes on. But this should be put to the test for world public opinion to see. It all boils down to whether Zelaya prefers to be seen as a responsible symbol of democracy for the world community or a political martyr. The latter would allow him to someday stage a comeback as the wronged advocate of the poor ousted by the elite. This may seem like a stretch now, but should things go south in the next administration, with the financial and rhetorical support of President Chávez, Zelaya could return as a populist symbol. In other words, the opposition’s intransigence today could lead to their being steamrolled later, as Zelaya roars back as a victim of the past and champion of the poor. Letting him return now in a defanged form will help head this off.
Third, as unpopular as President Zelaya was in office, the coup has split the country down the middle. At the time of his removal, President Zelaya was enjoying a measly 25 percent approval rating. Today according to polls, 46 percent of the population opposes the coup. Should Honduras’ economic and political isolation drag on, support for the coup will only decline further. Some governments and observers have even the questioned the legitimacy of the de facto government to convene new elections. Worse case scenario? Without a compromise that brings in a more legitimate government to oversee the November or October elections (whenever they’re held) Honduran citizens may be looking at another four years of isolation. Unlikely, but a disaster should it happen.
In short, for all the flaws of President Zelaya (and there are many) the short-(and even medium-) term future of Honduras hinges on these negotiations. There are plenty of reasons for either side to dig in its heels. But neither Honduras’ future, the interests of its citizens, or the rule of law internationally would be served by their doing so. Let’s just hope for the sake of their country they do accept something close to what’s on the table now.
Things aren’t going well in
The international community is squarely in favor of declaring this a coup and having Zelaya returned to power. The Honduran Congress, armed forces, Supreme Court, and many of its people refuse to allow it. Just yesterday when Zelaya (unwisely) chose to try to return on (again, unwisely) a Venezuelan jet, he was turned back by the military blocking the airport.
Meanwhile, the OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza is engaging in shuttle diplomacy, going between the different actors in the Honduran capital,
Before laying out my position on this, to avoid any confusion at a time (and in a region) where people like to ideologically pigeonhole others and claim that one or the other is not on the “side of freedom,” let me say the following in as direct a fashion as possible:
Let me say upfront, unequivocally: what occurred on June 28, 2009, in Honduras was a coup and should be condemned for the violation of constitutional, democratic rule that it is. And unlike the street coups that removed Presidents Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (Bolivia) or Lucio Gutiérrez (Ecuador), this one was positively 1970s-style retrograde: the marching of military officers into President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales’ residence, his forced removal (or kidnapping as he called it) at gun point, his being placed by military brass on a plane to be flown out of the country, and the swearing in of a new president, Roberto Micheletti—the speaker of the Honduran Congress. But let’s be clear. This event has been brewing for some time and regional governments and multilateral institutions have sat on the sidelines. Their reaction now—while correct—underscores their passiveness earlier, and turns a President who had been bent on steamrolling the checks and balances of power to secure re-election into an unnecessary victim.
Despite the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court’s superficial efforts to give this a constitutional fig leaf, the sacking of President Zelaya represents a genuine threat to the shared democratic vision and system of governance that most of the region has enjoyed for over two decades and violates the body of regional law and precedent defending democratic governments from the “interruption of the constitutional order.” In short order, as they should have done, the governments of the region have denounced President Zelaya’s removal and called for the restoration of democratic government.