Cunning Micheletti Determined to Outfox Zelaya, Insouciant U.S. Diplomats; Meanwhile, Clinton Delivers a Likely Fatal Blow to Ousted Honduran President Zelaya’s Already Grim Prospects

After adamantly rejecting all attempted negotiations, the Honduran de facto government signed an agreement on October 29th ostensibly opening space for a potential resolution to the country’s four-month standoff. The agreement called for the formation of a unity government that will assume power and oversee the November 29th presidential elections. But even under the most favorable of circumstances, the terms of the peace agreement would transform Zelaya into little more than a figurehead president, drained of all his authority. The accord left the restoration of executive power in the hands of the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court, the two bodies that authorized and led the way to Zelaya’s removal from the presidency in the first place. Still, the most lethal blow to Zelaya’s return was delivered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she acknowledged that his restitution would not affect Washington’s recognition of the elections.

Clinton’s Coup de Main

Apparently the U.S. plan under discussion was never meant to be implemented, and de facto leader Roberto Micheletti’s alleged agreement was probably little more than a hoax. While the new deal was feted as ending the conflict, such celebration may have proved to be premature as progress has since reached a standstill, which perhaps was the intended outcome all along. On Tuesday, Honduran Congressional leaders postponed calling the legislative body out of recess in order to verify the accords, and it remains to be seen whether they will even bother to endorse the agreement, especially after the State Department so effectively sabotaged the peace process.

Ubiquitously reported as guaranteeing Zelaya’s reinstatement as President, competing claims by both Zelaya and Micheletti over who will have the right to lead the unity government have led to further confusion and indecision. The two sides were granted until Thursday to agree upon its composition, but as of Friday morning no agreement had been reached. Some late-breaking reports go so far as to say that the negotiations have failed. Micheletti’s announcement that he was moving to form a unity government in the absence of representatives from Zelaya’s camp, whose presence was withheld pending his reinstatement as president, has further confirmed these reports.

Shooting Down OAS Multilateralism

The perceived breakthrough was achieved primarily by the long overdue application of U.S. pressure on the de facto government. Mediation efforts were left in the hands of the Organization of American States (OAS) and Latin American leaders while the U.S. vacillated and the Obama administration refused to take a lead in negotiations. Washington had, after all, asserted at the time that it did not want to dominate the issue, a claim that Latin American intellectuals echoed. But what the region really wanted was an act of primus inter pares, which they discovered would come only at a heavy price.

So after this period of quiescence, Washington apparently relented and dispatched a team of envoys to Tegucigalpa on October 28th. Led by outgoing Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon, Special Assistant for Western Hemisphere Affairs Dan Restrepo, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Craig Kelly, the delegation met separately with both Zelaya and Micheletti, taking a mere two days to reach a purported resolution. But like Costa Rican President Oscar Arias’ San Jose Accords, the new U.S.-brokered agreement has come under fire from critics over claims that inviting Micheletti to the bargaining table as an equal only further solidifies his position as a legitimate actor with a political status commensurate to that of Zelaya.

Since the day of the coup, the OAS and Latin American heads of state have doughtily insisted that the results of the November elections would not be recognized without Zelaya’s prior restitution. While the U.S. has threatened not to recognize the election, some commentators began to express doubts about the bona fides of such assertions. Suspicions were confirmed when, in an interview with CNN en Español, Shannon claimed that the U.S. will recognize the upcoming elections with or without Zelaya’s return. This unsettling point may come to be viewed as the crucial moment when Washington’s true intentions became apparent. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), who placed a hold on Obama’s nomination of Arturo Valenzuela as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs over the Obama administration’s handling of the crisis, claims that Secretary of State Clinton confirmed Shannon’s remarks in a phone call, allowing him to release the hold, which had removed Valenzuela from the front lines. The State Department’s lack of fidelity to restoring the constitutionally elected Zelaya provides a clear glimpse into the U.S.’s commitment (or lack thereof) to democracy in the region.

A Sad Moment for Honduras

The U.S. has, until now, played a particularly tepid role in resolving the crisis. While the OAS and nearly all Latin American states condemned the coup in the harshest of terms and called for Zelaya’s unconditional return, the Obama administration did neither for weeks, conducting itself in a depressingly desultory manner. In a particularly egregious public remark, Secretary of State Clinton described Zelaya’s attempted July return from his forced exile as “reckless,” rather than praising him for having the guts to dare to retake his presidency. Eventually, the U.S. aligned itself with the rest of the region, denounced the coup, canceled visas of Honduran leaders, and suspended a small portion of aid to Honduras, which later grew to a larger figure. However, it failed to utilize its unrivaled hemispheric clout to exert pressure in a timely and consistent fashion on the de facto government, which still continues to receive millions of dollars in non-humanitarian aid from Western sources. Such foot-dragging by the U.S. has prevented the region from putting down the coup with the decisive response it deserves.

Much more remains to be done to mitigate the damage being dealt to Honduran society by the de facto regime. Human rights abuses continue unabated as the opposition is routinely intimidated and beaten by a repressive state apparatus, led by the notorious former Battalion 3-16 commander, Billy Joya, disgracefully enough now Micheletti’s security advisor. A state of exception was declared from September 28th to October 19th that suspended five constitutional rights, including habeas corpus, freedoms of the press, association, circulation, and freedom from unwarranted search and arrest. It was only lifted after U.S. and worldwide outrage condemned the de facto government for violating the Honduran Constitution. Today, Zelaya remains holed-up in the Brazilian embassy and he has accused the de facto government of using hydrogen cyanide gas and sound cannons to unnerve his supporters and Brazilian hosts. Eleven citizens have already lost their lives and a resolution to the Honduran conflict is long past due.

If the latest round of negotiations fail, as all indicators at this time suggest, it will be a significant step back for the Obama administration’s relationship with Latin America. The failures in Honduras are a further indication that rather than presenting a bold, new, and enlightened policy in Latin America, Clinton and Obama’s conduct in dealing with the region has projected a shocking willingness to travel along the same discredited diplomatic ruts of the Bush administration. In fact, the U.S. has a responsibility to the Honduran people to use whatever means necessary to reestablish a legitimate government and assure that the ouster of a democratically-elected president will not be accepted nor tolerated under any circumstances.

22 thoughts on “Cunning Micheletti Determined to Outfox Zelaya, Insouciant U.S. Diplomats; Meanwhile, Clinton Delivers a Likely Fatal Blow to Ousted Honduran President Zelaya’s Already Grim Prospects

  • November 6, 2009 at 7:43 pm
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    The United States withdrew its support from Zelaya because, let's face it, the man is a clown and his actions are squarely against American interests in the region. There is no bold new enlightened policy, the U.S. sticks with what works. I find it funny that the claim that Honduran troops used hydrogen cyanide gas gets repeated with absolutely no verification. (Where is this documented, other than Zelaya's feverish imagination?) I find it funny that no mention is made of several terrorist attacks in recent days, including one against radio outlet HRN in which a journalist was seriously injured. Do Zelayista human rights violations not count? Do any of your research associates read local media or are they all reading the same lefty blogs? Go cry me a river, COHA. Hondurans won't be.

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  • November 6, 2009 at 7:46 pm
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    Of course Zelaya was outmaneuvered by Micheletti and the interim gov't. He really has not outlined a plan for his return other than a doomed stand at the Brazilian embassy and lacks the ability or will to adhere to any agreement. He knows one thing: that he wants to be president completely against popular will or the well-being of the nation. Instead, he backed himself into a corner by returning to the country, thereby opening himself to imprisonment or prosecution. Whoever wrote this piece has no idea of what geopolitical interests function like. Bold, enlightened policy from Obama? He's the president of the US of A! Honduras is very low on their list of priorities. As for US responsibility to reinstate a (barely) legitimate president? From their point of view, superpower resources are best used elsewhere.

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  • November 6, 2009 at 8:56 pm
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    Clinton has acquired the gift of maladroitness recently, whereby she leans right after feinting left. Witness the appalling rebuff at the Palestinian Authority's insistence that Israel halt settlements at least while negotiations are ongoing — which happens to be U.S. policy — only to be followed by a "clarification" by which the secretary of state acknowledges being out of tune with the president.

    She should never have been nominated.

    Zelaya should be returned to office until a legal election can be held. How can any democracy propose anything else?

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  • November 6, 2009 at 9:42 pm
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    Zelaya was removed legally and for good reasons. Viva Micheletti.

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  • November 6, 2009 at 10:04 pm
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    Why is the United States responsible for Honduran politics? When the U.S. intervenes against the left, the critics are up in arms against imperialism. Why call on the imperial power now?

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  • November 6, 2009 at 11:49 pm
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    Mr. Geortzel is right. COHA is being almost comically inconsistent. On most Latam issues, COHA berates any perceived evidence of US influence, describing the "US hegemony" as an evil presence in the region. On Honduras, they criticize the absence of US influence. COHA fails to realize that the US is being completely consistent in its refusal to support another wannabe leftist dictator in Latin America.

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  • November 7, 2009 at 12:11 am
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    This is an excellent commentary on the utter lack of American leadership regards to this crisis.
    I must also say I am a bit shocked about the reactionary comments on this board. Viva Micheletti? The man is an utter thug, and has confirmed to Argentine newspaper Clarìn that he ousted Zelaya for being too much of the left. To this poster: Does it worry you nothing at all that Billy Joya, a brutal torturer and killer, is his ¨security adviser¨?
    While I commend you for reading analysis from a source that clearly diverges from your viewpoint, this nonetheless is shocking to me.
    Second, to the person attempting to catch COHA in the act of hipocrisy: you are truly comparing apples with oranges. Organizations like COHA wanted the US to stop overthrowing governments, and stop armtwisting Latin American governments that didn´t want to follow the neoliberal agenda.
    Now, with a new leader in the US, there is a call for the US to use its influence to aid democracy in terms of ending a coup. This is not, Henry McDonald, being "comically inconsistent." It is being consistent with ones values.

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  • November 7, 2009 at 11:06 am
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    No one actually cares about Honduras. Never have; never will.
    El Pachuco

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  • November 7, 2009 at 1:26 pm
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    It's really depressing that for one moment, you almost could believe that the U.S. was going to do the right thing and help restore the legitimate government of Honduras.

    But, no, they'd rather indulge the old ways and please Acting Secretary of Right Wing Latin American Affairs, Senator Jim DeMint.

    Fine.

    So now, conservative pro-coup forces throughout the hemisphere, most proximately likely in Paraguay where the President is publicly begging the people not to allow one, and maybe Nicaragua, and a few other places, think that they can maybe throw out an elected government as long as they have some sort of Constitutionalist argument to do so.

    But I tell you what: don't act so surprised when one of the next coup-mongering forces turns out to be some aspiring *leftist* military officer who finds some friendly court ruling or friendly legislature as allies — oh, but the response will be different then.

    What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and don't think that in places even like Mexico and Colombia the Presidents will learn to look cautiously over their shoulders at what national armed forces leaders and some set of opposition or former allies might be planning.

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  • November 7, 2009 at 8:19 pm
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    There is a difference between being the legal president of Honduras and being the legitimate president of Honduras. Zelaya lost legitimacy when he attempted to illegally extend his mandate. As to the polls, Hondurans may not hold Micheletti in high esteem, but they have not placed much pressure on the regime. Aside from Zelayista protests which are quashed with comical ease, most Hondurans are going about their daily lives. Am I reactionary? Maybe. Hondurans, like most other people in this world, have transient interests. Ten years from now, who will remember the Zelaya question? I for one am thankful for people like Hillary Clinton. Hondurans would have not removed Zelaya on their own, and, even if it sounds politically incorrect, must be saved from their own poor decisions. The Left can scream about coups and legality all it wants, but at the end of the day these are the same people that supported Fidel Castro, the world's longest serving dictator. These are the people that think Hugo Chavez is something other than a mentally unstable thug. The Latin American Left thought it could gerrymander its constitutions without consequences, and received a blow in Honduras.

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  • November 8, 2009 at 12:01 am
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    Zelaya did not attempt to illegally extend his mandate. The proposed referendum ('cuarta urna') proposed the notion of a Constituent Assembly which might, in the future, IF it happen, propose changes to the Constitution.

    Had the referendum been held, nothing would have occurred until long after Zelaya's term expired in January.

    Anyone who makes that comment simply did not look at the proposed referendum. If you don't care enough to know the slightest bit of what you're talking about, Google is there for you.

    But it's perfectly okay for Alvaro Uribe to amend the Colombian Constitution once and now attempting twice now, just because.

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  • November 9, 2009 at 8:45 am
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    I rather appreciate the comments of El Jefezito. Because it comes to show in no uncertain terms, like the gas comming out of the cannisters against the protesters, the fog in which the US foreign policy operates to sustain corporate interests. The same interests which undermine every residue of democracy in that country, as well as in any other country where "US interests" are at stake, namely, the phantom of democracy. For we are seeing every day a two track policy that secures corporate interests at the expense of the rule of law and social well being. For who has not yet seen the deterioration of social order and moral and economic value in that country? Surely a country too small to be given attention, except by the second tier of government, diplomats who come to give the coup-de-grace in a continent crowned by so many coups. Actually this one is to ensure many more will come.

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  • November 9, 2009 at 8:47 am
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    There is yet another dimension to US "non-intervention". That same "non-intervention" everybody actually sees, but because at some level it is better to say nothing and pretending to go along with the propaganda machine of the Pentagon avoids a worse outcome, everybody knows the extent of US early support to the coup and its mentoring during the whole process. Just as well everybody knows of the desire of the US to have Zelaya's power fade away with the legitimacy of his presidency at the end of his term. But those who allow hind sight to prevail, against the mask of pseudo-sanctions and Obama's supposed noncommital to clear interest in manintaining Honduras enslaved, know full well is a sure sign of bad policy and lousy intervention in a continent which is sliding whole out of US influence. Worse yet, the US acts as if there is nothing unusual happening and no one keeping tabs. Besides, the US wills itself not to see the unanimiy at the OAS, and waves it away with a flick of the wrist as if it will disappear by magic.

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  • November 9, 2009 at 8:48 am
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    The whole matter is so laughable that we, latinamericans, let it happen not because there is nothing to do against massive show of force, but because allowing this blunder to happen is a short cut to a swifter undoing.

    Finally, there are those who see in these US actions a geopolitical strategy to maintain Honduras, as well as Colombia, a last ditch effort to secure what is left of a dying empire. But again, it surelly is the slow undoing of this most abhorent foreing policy towards a continent which will not remain without exacting a price in due time. It's just wait and see.

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  • November 11, 2009 at 2:59 am
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    In electing the Obama team the US does indeed get change, as does Latin America. Change in that there are no accusations that the US was behind the Honduran crisis. The fact that Zelaya might be returned to power as little more than figure head for a brief span, still signals the rest of Latin America that even non violent changes in power (circumventing an electorate) will not be tolerated. Thats's victory enough, hopefully it will come to fruition.

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