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John Kerry’s refusal to fund a fact-finding mission to Honduras led by Republican Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), has been largely chalked up to partisan squabbling, with Republicans accusing Kerry of a “power play.”
However, the act of extending a hand to the interim government of Honduras and its leader, Roberto Micheletti, has very real consequences for US foreign policy.
Senator DeMint disagrees with the administration’s stance that Manuel Zelaya’s ouster was a military coup, arguing that the interim government operated within the confines of the Honduran constitution. While debate continues on how to categorize the events of the summer, the fact-finding mission threatens to upset U.S. diplomatic efforts which have thus far exerted pressure on the Micheletti government through economic and diplomatic sanctions.
“These Senators are acting in a way that undermines President Obama,” said Tomas Ayuso, a Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric affairs who spent the summer reporting on the crisis from Tegucigalpa. “Further, their actions are in violation of the Logan Act, which ‘prohibits citizens from negotiating with other nations on behalf of the United States without authorization.’”
Joy Olsen, executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America, told AP that the trip would likely affect negotiations by “muddy[ing] the waters even more,” and that “the danger of this visit is that those supporting the Micheletti government re-entrench.”
By signaling approval for the interim regime, the Senators’ visit may hamper efforts to resolve a political crisis that is paralyzing the Honduran economy. Government-implemented curfews have reportedly cost approximately $50 million per day, and an estimated $200 million in investment has been pulled from the Honduran economy since the crisis began.
It is still unclear whether the Senators uncovered anything during the fact-finding mission, which they ended on Saturday after approximately one full day in Honduras. However, DeMint has managed to claim credit for Michiletti’s move to re-instate civil liberties, a decision which the interim government made days before the Senator’s visit. His sopkesman told AP that “DeMint and the delegation pushed [Micheletti] very hard on that issue … and stressed that it was very important that civil liberties be restored.” However, the Associated Press reports:
[DeMint’s spokesman] wasn’t certain how Micheletti intended to restore the freedoms and DeMint could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, Micheletti has taken no action to repeal his decree, continuing to promise that it will be lifted “as soon as possible.” Unfortunately, the barrage of international and domestic pressure which convinced the interim leader to restore civil liberties was surely weakened by a friendly photo-op with three US Senators.