EDITORIAL: Subverting Honduran democracy

The shameful siege of Honduras continues. In the past few weeks, the United States has cut more than $30 million in non-humanitarian aid, suspended most visa services and sided with Venezuela, Cuba and other of Latin America’s worst dictatorships in undermining democracy. Meanwhile, the people of Honduras are desperately trying to maintain their freedom and prevent the return of a regime that Washington is committed to forcing down their throats.

The United States rushed to the wrong side of this issue when former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted on June 28, and since then it has reinforced a bad policy. Rather than seek means of mitigating the crisis, the United States clings obdurately to demands that Mr. Zelaya be returned to power. The “San Jose process,” a peace initiative brokered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias that the United States supports, would place Mr. Zelaya in office to serve out the rest of his term, which ends in January. But the Honduran government - all of it, the president, Congress and the Supreme Court - has determined that Mr. Zelaya’s ouster was a legal response to his illegal attempts to rig a referendum to establish himself as president for life. This scheme followed the model of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

The United States has attacked Honduran autonomy with bullying tactics. Washington recently stood by as Honduras was hectored out of the United Nations Human Rights Council by Cuba and Nicaragua, and current Honduran President Roberto Micheletti said he would not attempt to travel to New York to attend the upcoming meeting of the U.N. General Assembly because his U.S. visa was revoked. All the while, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - who heads a government that is among the world’s most odious human rights abusers - is being welcomed to the city to spread his message of hope and change.

The United States has a chance to make a diplomatic escape from this perverse policy. On Nov. 29, Honduras will hold its regularly scheduled presidential election, which is the one Mr. Zelaya was seeking to undermine. Term limits make him ineligible to run, so his current status should have nothing to do with the validity of the election. The central premise of the San Jose process - that Mr. Zelaya serve out the rest of his term - will be moot by January, when the new president is inaugurated. After the ballots are counted and a new president is elected, that would be a perfect opportunity to recognize the will of the Honduran people, declare the crisis over and move forward.

But offering no particular reason, the United States has decided not to recognize the outcome of the election. This not only is bad policy but is amateurish diplomacy. The November election and January inauguration are natural firebreaks that end any pretense Mr. Zelaya would have to continue his rule. Undermining the succession process will put relations with Honduras into free fall with no clear mechanism for resolution. The State Department said that “policy and strategy for engagement is not based on supporting any particular politician or individual,” but this claim is hard to square with the facts.

Taking a stand against a constitutionally mandated, free and fair election is a statement from the Obama administration that Mr. Zelaya - the would-be autocrat - is the administration’s man, right or wrong. The Honduran people be damned.

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