The news from the State Department earlier this month was all but unbelievable. The United States announced it would not accept the results of a sovereign country’s elections, unless the offending government would accept a disputed agreement that had nothing to do with the elections.
State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley told a press briefing on Honduras, “Based on conditions as they currently exist, we cannot recognize the results of this election. So, for the de facto regime, they’re now in a box. And they will have to sign on to the San Jose accords to get out of the box.” Department staffer Ian Kelly reiterated: “… we would not be able to support the outcome of the scheduled elections. A positive conclusion of the Arias process would provide a sound basis for legitimate elections to proceed.”
These comments were made during briefings in which suspension was announced of most U.S. aid to Honduras, among the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Simply put, such a position is blackmail, bullying at its most blatant. It represents both the real suspension of aid and the blatant threat to not recognize Honduras presidential elections (whose candidates had been selected well before the Zelaya dismissal), unless the government accepts the so-called San Jose accords, devised by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.
Mr. Arias — or some creative diplomat — termed July discussions in San Jose among deposed President Manuel Zelaya, interim President Roberto Micheletti and Mr. Arias as an “accord,” which according to Webster means “agreement.” There was no agreement: Before, during and after the meetings Mr. Micheletti stated that under no circumstances would the government allow the disgraced Mr. Zelaya to return to the presidency.
When I was a senior diplomat during the Reagan administration, the rigorous discipline of my colleagues in choosing the most accurate language possible impressed me greatly. To term the proposal put forward by Mr. Arias as an “accord” was and remains an outright distortion. Sadly, it fits with the Obama administration’s inexplicable alliance with the likes of Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in demanding Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement.
Mr. Zelaya sought to force his re-election, specifically prohibited by the Honduran constitution. Supported and funded by Mr. Chavez, he insisted on a referendum seeking popular support for constitutional reform, also forbidden by the country’s charter. Defying Honduras’ Supreme Court, Mr. Zelaya organized an abortive invasion (by mostly Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan agitators) of the military base where the referendum ballots, prepared in Caracas, were held so he could stage a rump referendum.
This is why Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza was told by Honduran Supreme Court President Jorge Rivera that the unanimous court order to remove Mr. Zelaya would stand and a warrant issued for his arrest.
And that is why Mr. Insulza’s threat to oust Honduras from the OAS was met — in perfect application of the classic “you can’t fire me, I quit” rejoinder — by the response that Honduras would willingly move to disassociate itself from the organization.
Over and beyond such clear constitutional contempt, Mr. Zelaya has been reliably connected to the burgeoning traffic of Venezuelan air force planes landing daily with cocaine cargos in transit to the United States. Is this really what President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and their professional staffs want?
What makes Mr. Zelaya’s departure from Honduras’ presidential palace so deserving of unanimous regional opposition? His unconstitutional attempt to alter the country’s constitution? The Supreme Court order that he cease his unrelenting refusal to comply, or be arrested? His connivance and personal profiteering in expediting transit of thousands of tons of cocaine to the United States?
Perhaps his regional counterparts disliked the atmospherics of shunting Mr. Zelaya aboard a waiting aircraft in his pajamas, which the interim government has admitted was inelegant but necessary lest Mr. Zelaya be arrested, convicted of multiple crimes and imprisoned.
More than likely, heads of state in neighboring Nicaragua plus Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela having acted extraconstitutionally and participated indiscriminately in corrupt practices — as have several others — they feared a precedent of their own possible fates.
Peaceful removal of a democratically elected president for cause, followed by overwhelming opposition of Latin leaders, the U.S. administration, the OAS and the United Nations is unprecedented in this hemisphere, and elsewhere.
Democratically elected, uber-corrupt Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos was militarily removed — with no sanction by the country’s Supreme Court or Congress — and the world cheered. Peru’s similarly elected, similarly suspect President Alberto Fujimori was shoved into exile with a similar lack of institutional endorsement, and his fellow Latin heads of state and the media uniformly wished him bad riddance. U.S. troops invading Panama, arresting President Manuel Noriega and shipping him to Florida, evoked scarcely a murmur, as have multiple coups in Ecuador and Haiti. The U.N. was silent; no multinational body met within days to condemn the failed presidents’ dismissals from office.
Whatever the motivation, the political, governing, military, business, educational and religious leaders of Honduras acted carefully, humanely, peacefully and lawfully.
There is something very stirring about all this. Honduras ranks at the bottom of the Western Hemisphere’s economic heap, together with Haiti and Nicaragua; it is a travesty to push the country and its people further down. The country’s leaders have sought in the last two decades to establish a firmly democratic system after a long history of military-controlled governance.
True democracy advocates should laud the government’s efforts to right the wrongs of the Zelaya presidency and its resolution as it faces pressure from hypocrites in Managua and Moscow, Buenos Aires and Berlin and, yes, Washington.
Will Honduran democracy, however fragile, prevail? Or, will Latin politicians successfully cover their backs — supported by world leaders unwilling to affront them and the Obama administration — and thus strike a woeful blow for the Castro-Chavez dictatorial axis?
Humble Honduras has stood for democracy — so effectively that Mr. Chavez openly doubts his man will be reinstated — thanks to its Supreme Court, Congress, military, religious leaders and interim President Roberto Micheletti. Dedicated democrats can do nothing less than stand with them.
John R. Thomson is a geopolitical analyst, journalist and former diplomat who focuses on the politics and economies of developing countries.