Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Handling Dissent in the OAS: Can Hillary Clinton Negotiate Honduras’ Return?

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This week, from June 6 to 8, the Organization of American States (OAS) will hold its General Assembly with all the region’s foreign ministers and secretaries gathering in Lima to discuss affairs in the hemisphere….well, almost. Last year the theme of the General Assembly, held in Honduras, was supposed to be security, but the event was derailed by a movement to revoke Cuba’s suspension from the OAS. This year, it’s likely to be the return of the government of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa of Honduras to the OAS that will consume the attention of the gathered diplomats.

Different country, same divisions, on different sides. As with the outcome at the last OAS General Assembly, some artful diplomacy could produce a positive step that will finally–for the good of regional diplomacy and Honduras–help to move this process along.

This will all likely come to a head this week at the OAS. Ironically, last year’s resolution to Cuba’s accession provides a pathway. In that case, the U.S. successfully negotiated a compromise that changed the status of the Cuban government’s suspension from the OAS by requiring the Cuban government to agree to the covenants and commitments of the OAS before the regional body would consider re-integration. Those commitments included the democratic and human rights clauses that the current Cuban government has no interest in honoring.

Now it’s Honduras, which–unlike Cuba–really does want to be accepted back into the fold of the OAS and the regional community. The OAS can lay out a similar series of tests for the Lobo government that could establish a path for reintegration. In this case, the Lobo government will want to follow them.

But they won’t be easy. Since the coup, Honduras remains a divided country. Former President Zelaya remains in the Dominican Republic and faces charges in Honduras should he return. A recent Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) report cited a pattern of violence and detention of government opponents and journalists. And a number of the actors in the June 2009 coup remain in powerful positions, including General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez who found his way into the head of Honduras’ state-owned telecommunications company, Hondutel–a lucrative and powerful post.

At the same time, President Lobo has made a number of earnest efforts to address some of the U.S. and international concerns and conditions. Among them have been the appointment of a bipartisan cabinet and the formation of an international truth commission headed by the former vice president of Guatemala, Eduardo Stein, who was–not coincidentally–the independent and stalwart OAS representative in Peru after then-President Fujimori ran for an unconstitutional third term in a criticized election.

A negotiated compromise this week could point a way forward to allow Brazil, Argentina and Mexico to climb down from their public positions and eventually vote for the reintegration of Honduras. Here’s how: the General Assembly could vote that the Permanent Council can determine by consensus to consider Honduras’ status after a specific set of steps. Among those should be: the completion of the Truth Commission’s investigation, the satisfactory implementation of its recommendations for promoting consensus, the potential return of former President Zelaya, and the investigation and prosecution of the recent cases of human rights abuses documented by the IACHR. If necessary, these can be confirmed by a fact finding mission by the OAS that could travel to Honduras within a set time and report out to the OAS Permanent Council.

The trick is to allow for a consensus decision for the OAS that will allow it to resolve this and move on. Unanimity won’t work. The ALBA countries have no interest in seeing this resolved. But moderate countries should, and objective and skillful diplomacy can get them there; it’s up to the U.S., its Brazilian colleagues and the much-criticized leadership of the OAS.

Now there’s also the matter of why two whole meetings of the region’s foreign ministers and secretaries should be taken up by Cuba and Honduras. But that’s another issue.


Christopher Sabatini is the former editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and former senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas. His Twitter account is @ChrisSabatini

Tags: Honduras coup, OAS General Assembly, U.S. Latin America policy
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