Honduras Could be Limping Towards its Gotterdammerung

Although talks between officials of the exiled Honduran government and the de facto regime now in power in Tegucigalpa began last week at the San Jose residence of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, it has not taken long for the modicum of hope surrounding these negotiations to dissipate. This disillusionment with the diplomatic process is especially potent as neither ousted President Manuel Zelaya nor interim President Roberto Micheletti are currently participating in any kind of talks with each other aimed at resolving the constitutional stand-off now in effect in one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Frustration with the process has flared up in the international community, which is united in its decision that the status quo must be restored. There is widespread belief that the interim government is stalling in a bid to hold out until the November elections, and the dissatisfaction with the results to date manifested in Zelaya’s perhaps rash announcement yesterday that if he is not reinstated by the end of the next round of talks, scheduled to begin Saturday, he will resort to other means. Before the coup, Honduras was already mired in poverty and corruption, notorious for its reputation as one of the least transparent countries in Latin America, and extremely dependent on the United States and multilateral organizations for financial support. It appeared that the situation could be swiftly resolved if key outside players were willing to apply the necessary diplomatic heft to insist that the rival Honduran presidents come to an agreement based on goodwill derived from a patriotic sense of perspective.

A significant amount of aid to Honduras already has been suspended, as have oil shipments from Venezuela to the small country, and it is commonly acknowledged that Tegucigalpa’s dependent economy cannot easily survive the economic isolation and political quarantine that would be brought on by a comprehensive embargo. Yet there has been reluctance, especially on the part of the U.S., to push hard enough on Honduras’ now entrenched golpistas for an immediate restoration of the bare-bones democracy that existed before it was shattered by the June 28 military coup against President Zelaya. This illegal act of defiance brought to the surface serious realities negatively affecting not only the country in which it was perpetrated, but also other countries in the region, not least the minimalist democratic system that existed in Honduras. If a case could be made that corruption weighed down the Zelaya administration, it was not limited to the ruling government but also had a corrosive effect on the Supreme Court, the national legislature and, top-to-bottom, the country’s security forces.

The negotiation fatigue that is beginning to make itself evident among the two sides has raised further questions. As the various meetings drag on under antiseptic conditions, it is becoming impossible for President Arias to carry on even the most basic dialogue, let alone to reach a satisfactory consensus. The logistics and practicality of Zelaya’s return have become foggier with every passing day. Furthermore, a prudent end game that removes provisional President Micheletti with amnesty and restores Zelaya with certain limitations and ground rules that both sides can live with, will almost certainly end up being adopted although it doesn’t speak well for a vibrant system of democratic Latin American self-rule. Distressingly, it appears that the U.S. State Department, despite its initial condemnation of the coup, language of support for democratic solidarity, and firm support for Zelaya, is beginning to waver in its commitment to implement its original game plan to restore Zelaya. Additionally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has announced that he will not recognize any government that comes to power as a result of early elections implemented by the coup government, a move intended to strengthen Zelaya’s position but diplomatically risky given the uncertainty of Honduras’ presidential future.

The entire region has been outspoken in its support of Zelaya, and has staked its democratic hopes on the outcome of these negotiations. With their unanimous rejection of the usurper government, Latin American leaders have insisted, in speech after speech, that democratic continuity not be trifled with. They have firmly maintained their intolerance for any example of extra-constitutional change of power that might evoke the memory of the dark and bloody history of repressive military regimes that harshly ruled throughout the hemisphere as recently as two decades ago. Thus, a failure of Oscar Arias’ attempts to settle the dispute would be a disaster for a region fighting to establish an iron-clad principle that unstable presidencies are no longer to be tolerated and that illegitimate seizures of power will no longer be recognized, if a flourishing society is to be achieved.