- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

ZELAYA ‘MISTAKE’

The former ambassador from Honduras conceded that expelling Manuel Zelaya from the Central American nation was a mistake but defended removing him from the presidency, after the country’s Supreme Court and Congress ruled that he had violated the constitution.

Roberto Flores-Bermudez, in a panel discussion at the Hudson Institute in Washington on Tuesday, said the ouster of Mr. Zelaya “was constitutional [and] followed procedure.”

However, the United States and other nations in the Western Hemisphere denounced Mr. Zelaya’s expulsion as a military coup because the army, acting on a Supreme Court arrest warrant, apprehended him and expelled him to Costa Rica. The Obama administration has suspended more than $300 million in aid and revoked the visas of leaders of the interim, civilian government.

“Taking him out of the country was a mistake,” Mr. Flores-Bermudez said.

The State Department withdrew Mr. Flores-Bermudez’s diplomatic credentials in July, after he sided with Roberto Micheletti, the interim president installed by Congress after the ouster of Mr. Zelaya on June 28. The current Honduran ambassador, Eduardo Enrique Reina, was appointed by Mr. Zelaya.

The Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Zelaya violated the constitution by organizing a campaign for a second term as president. He mobilized demonstrations and tried to impose a referendum to overturn the one-term limit on the presidency.

Mr. Zelaya this week re-entered Honduras and sought sanctuary at the Brazilian Embassy.

The Hudson panel explored threats to democracy in Central America from the constitutional crisis in Honduras to the dangers posed by youth gangs and drug smugglers and the populist influence of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Eduardo Ulibarri, a political analyst in Costa Rica, warned of “troubling trends” in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, where the governments have moved politically leftward, while crime and poverty have increased. Mr. Ulibarri also acknowledged that corruption remains widespread because “it goes beyond ideology.”

Regina Vargo, a former assistant U.S. trade representative, said conditions in Latin America would be worse without the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

Thomas O’Donnell, an energy specialist on Latin America, described Mr. Chavez’s efforts to extend his influence through subsidize sales of Venezuelan fuel. “He is winning friends through cheap oil,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

Diana Negroponte, a Latin America specialist at the Brookings Institution, warned of the spread of crime, especially through violent male youth gangs. She described gang initiations that required new members to “rape, mutilate and murder” women.

“The consequences are the incapacity of states like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to contain violence,” she said. “Prisons become training grounds for gangs.”

BRAZIL MEDDLING

A former Brazilian ambassador to the United States expressed exasperation with his government for sheltering ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the capital of the Central American nation.

“Brazil has adopted a militant position, which is different from diplomacy,” Ambassador Rubens Ricupero told Brazilian reporters this week.

Mr. Ricupero, ambassador in Washington from 1991 to 1993, added that the government of the leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is interfering in the internal affairs of another country.

“This is the same thing we have accused the U.S. of doing,” he said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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