Honduras deal: Breakthrough or fig leaf?
The media are jubilant because the State Department has finally brokered a deal to "resolve" the standoff in Honduras between the ruling junta and ousted President Mel Zelaya. The accord between Zelaya and self-proclaimed president Roberto Micheletti is supposed to end the standoff in the capital city of Tegucigalpa where Zelaya has been holed up in the Brazilian embassy since sneaking back into the country last month.
To read the English language media, you'd swear that Zelaya's triumphant return is imminent. That seems highly unlikely. If congress ratifies the deal, the accord would create something called a power sharing government. But according to Democracy Now! the document doesn't spell out how the power would be shared.
I predict that congress will not reinstate Zelaya. The real purpose of the vote is to allow the U.S. to gracefully back off from its earlier observation that the Micheletti regime is illegitimate. Realistically, it looks like Washington cajoled the self-satisfied Micheletti and the desperate Zelaya into signing a deal to provide a fig leaf for the coup.
Why does it seem unlikely that congress will reinstate Zelaya? Recall that Micheletti's last real job before proclaiming himself president was as the leader of the Honduran congress. As he himself noted in an Wall Street Journal op/ed, congress voted overwhelmingly to back Micheletti's putsch and remove Zelaya in the first place.
It's possible that congress will want to ratify the power-sharing deal in order to legitimize the upcoming elections in the eyes of the world, but they didn't care about world opinion when they backed the coup in the first place. Furthermore, the U.S. has already show itself unwilling to impose real consequences on the junta.
Media reports stress that Zelaya preferred to let congress decide. The other option was to give the Supreme Court the final say. Zelaya seems to think he has a better chance than Congress than he would if the matter were left up to the Supreme Court, which also colluded in his ouster. The Supreme Court has already ruled that Zelaya forfeited his presidency by backing a non-binding referendum on reforming the constitution. (Cf. Prof. Gary Weeks, the Juan Cole of Latin America, for more details about why that argument is transparently bogus.)
Note that under the deal, the Supreme Court would still have some input into whether Zelaya wold actually be reinstated--a body that has already ruled that Zelaya forfeited his presidency.
Why would Zelaya agree to such a deal? Keep in mind that he's not exactly negotiating from position of strength. Actually, he's trapped in an embassy surrounded by armed guards. His only hope of regaining power was to provoke a standoff that would focus international pressure on the Micheletti regime. Now, the U.S. is losing patience with the embassy circus in Tegucigalpa and it doesn't seem prepared to back up its pro-democracy rhetoric with any real consequences that might induce Micheletti to relinquish power. The U.S. has immense sway with Honduras through millions of dollars worth of trade and aid. Honduras is one of the poorer countries in the Western Hemisphere and the U.S. is its best customer.
When the junta seized power, the world immediately and forcefully condemned the coup, the first military takeover of its kind in Latin America in years. The United States, the United Nations, and the Organization of American States denounced the ouster. President Obama called the overthrow "illegal" and said it set a "terrible precedent."
Under the circumstances, the world couldn't very well acknowledge as legitimate the upcoming presidential elections, set for Nov 29, unless Zelaya were restored to power.
How could an illegitimate regime hold legitimate elections? The even coup prompted the UN to withdraw promised election aid to Honduras on the grounds that to oversee a vote under Micheletti would legitimize a farce.
Elections under Micheletti can not be legitimate because, in addition to taking power illegally, the regime has been condemned by independent human rights monitors for media censorship, arbitrary detention, torture, and murder. This week, eight members of Congress urged President Obama to break the silence on human rights abuses in Honduras.
No date has been set for the reinstatement vote. In theory, the opposition could filibuster the vote to delay it until after the elections.
One way or another Hondurans will likely go to the polls with the brutal and repressive Micheletti regime firmly in place.
The state department is patting itself on the back and praising the negotiators as "heroes of democracy." Heroes of hypocrisy is more like it. Obama's top envoy to Honduras, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Tom Shannon wants to be confirmed as Ambassador to Brazil already--but jet-setting coup-booster Sen Jim DeMint (R-SC) has a hold on Shannon's nomination. Perhaps Shannon's desire to sip caipirinhas in Rio eclipsed his love of democracy.