Although President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya prefers to wear a white hat, there are no men in white hats in the escalating situation in Honduras. Unfortunately, now with the military’s statement supporting Costa Rican President Óscar Arias’ seven-point plan to resolve the impasse between the ousted President and the de facto government that replaced him, the implication is that again the men in the barracks will save the day. But by announcing its support and, in effect, contradicting the position of de facto President Micheletti, the military is again insinuating itself in politics and serving as a political broker. It was dangerous and wrong when it did it on June 28th, and it’s dangerous now.
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 Honduras to a shorter mandate and with severely curtailed powers in a coalition government. Micheletti stated that he would not allow Zelaya to return to Honduras and then never budged.
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 Nicaragua. Zelaya swore he’d return to Honduras and on Friday led a caravan and a television crew briefly over the Nicaraguan border into Honduras then flitted back across the border to set up a camp on the Nicaraguan side. To anyone (myself included) who supported the idea that the events of June 28th were a coup and that Zelaya should be returned in a limited capacity, the clownishness of his actions made his stunt Friday and Saturday tough to watch.
But that’s precisely why Zelaya should be allowed to return to Honduras as a defanged President with a limited mandate: to close this chapter of his leadership. Forcing him to stay outside only gives him a platform (and a three-ring circus) he doesn’t deserve. And this I’ll wager: if this chapter isn’t closed, Zelaya will come raging back but this time not across a border with a ragtag caravan but through elections, as a martyr of the elite, with more angry popular support.
Perhaps it was this fear or disapproval of being forced to guard the border and confront protesters that provoked the Honduran armed forces to announce their support for the San José Accord. It appears also that U.S. congressional officials were behind the discussions and statement. We may (again myself included) agree in this case with the position and maybe even the outcome. But the mere fact that the military feels it has the right to assert a political position, contradicting the Honduran supreme court and the congress, only underscores the lack of institutions and civilian processes to resolve political conflicts. As much as we may secretly applaud any sign of sensibility inside Honduras right now that undercuts Micheletti’s shortsighted-bullheadedness, we can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s the military stepping into the breach here—the same military that rousted Zelaya out of bed and arrested him at gunpoint early in the morning on June 28th. At the time many of us denounced that as an undemocratic insertion of the military into constitutional politics—even if ordered by the Honduran supreme court. How now can we agree with the military’s new political voice?