The Coup in Honduras: A Set Back for both Democracy and U.S.-Latin American Unity

Over a month has passed since the Honduran Congress ordered the military ousting of the country’s legitimate Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, sparking hemispheric-wide unrest and nasty flashbacks to a recent history of military coups, which many had hoped were no longer part of the landscape. Last month’s Honduran coup, which was almost unanimously decried across the hemisphere as unlawful, has brought global focus to Latin America. But while scores of various governments and international bodies have come together against the coup, their efforts to restore the lawful president to power have so far fallen flat in an effort which, has basically run out of steam, even though the golpe regime is friendless and an international pariah.

The de facto regime, lead by now-president Roberto Micheletti, remains comfortably in power while Zelaya can do little more than hold interviews from Nicaragua and taunt the government in Tegucigalpa by poking his toes in Honduran soil for scant minutes at a time. Of course a higher reality is being played off camera, as the interim regime runs out of international reserves, inflation mounts, and factional strife begins to break out, not the least amongst the military. This multiplicity of factors working against him are certainly the driving force behind Micheletti’s mixed support of the San José accords, orchestrated by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, that would reinstate Zelaya as President of Honduras, but forbid him to change the constitution, and would also move elections forward.

Micheletti has now requested a special envoy, Enrique V. Iglesias, to come to Honduras to build support for reconciliation among business leaders and the other two branches of government, the Congress and Supreme Court, which both helped mount the coup. However, the Honduran Supreme Court has already ruled out early elections, and the Honduran Congress is still evaluating the proposal, and it will remain to be seen whether mounting international and domestic pressures will cause them to change their tune.

While this ordeal has clearly fractured Honduran democracy, it has also served to re-drive a wedge between the Obama Administration and the left-leaning governments of Latin America, despite the American president’s recent assurance that Washington would begin a new relationship with the region. Honduras has turned out to be a Latin American toxic asset, which is poisoning hopes for the Obama Administration to restore a constructive relationship between the U.S. and its neighbors.

The U.S. approach to the coup
While denouncing Zelaya’s ousters early on, the U.S. has infuriated the Latin American left by refusing to take a strong enough stance against the de facto Micheletti administration by delivering a knock-out blow. Most notably, the U.S. has not labeled what occurred in Honduras as a military coup, a move that would automatically suspend all aid and remittances to the Central American country. Washington’s Jesuistic reluctance to take this step is most likely due to the unique nature of the Honduran coup, as it was orchestrated not by an autonomous power-hungry military, but by the Congress and Supreme Court, and then executed by the military. The continuation of aid has also been supported by spurious claims that suspending aid and remittances – which make up roughly 20 percent of Honduras’ GDP – would only hurt the people of Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, and not the government, to which the U.S. already has suspended its assistance. But many feel that were the U.S. to take such a step, the Micheletti government would be left with no choice but to quickly turn to negotiations, and allow the return of Zelaya.

Will regional rifts disrupt unity on Honduras?
In the past couple weeks, various feuds have flared up between Latin American countries. The Colombian government asserted that Venezuela had provided anti-tank weapons to the FARC and that the same rebel group had donated thousands of dollars to Rafael Correa’s 2006 presidential campaign. Chávez and Correa have definitively denied these accusations, and have even responded by suggesting that Bogotá and Washington have been conspiring together to fabricate allegations against their governments. Chávez struck back against Colombia, after the Uribe administration brokered a deal in response to the expiration of the lease for the U.S. base at Manta, Ecuador, that will allow Washington to use up to five military bases in Colombia. Chávez views the deal as a threat, and he has vowed to reevaluate his country’s relationship with Bogotá.

The question now is what impact these freshly re-opened wounds will have on the Honduran reconciliation process. Chávez has repeatedly called out the Obama Administration for not taking substantial action to restore Zelaya to Honduras. Now if Washington believes that the Chavez government is funding the FARC – undermining valued security gains in Colombia – it may be even more hesitant to support a Chávez-backed initiative to reinstate one of his protégés. The crisis in Honduras may tragically turn into a cog in a diplomatic war between Washington and its allies and Chavez and his, with the Central American country’s democracy becoming a casualty in the bitter process. Only one thing is certain: what began as a promising moment for Obama-era diplomacy in Latin America, with Cuban remittances beginning to flow, open-travel to Cuba by Cuban-Americans and a strong resurgence of U.S. pro-democratic policy in the Americas, has now fallen flat on its face, with Washington offering up more of the same and a policy devoid of inspiration.

One thought on “The Coup in Honduras: A Set Back for both Democracy and U.S.-Latin American Unity

  • August 5, 2009 at 1:48 pm
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    The unanimous votes by the UN Security Council and the OAS should tell us that Obama’s foreign policy is not changing at all with Latin America and we are continuing to alienate ourselves from any goodwill. A real shame but makes me more confident that my vote for Nader in the presidential election was the right one as there has been no “change” whatsoever in foreign policy.

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