The door appears to be closed to even a symbolic return to power of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. But many problems face both Honduras and the Obama administration, in spite of claims that the election somehow resolves things.
On November 29, the national elections were held under the coup government headed by Roberto Micheletti. Although the corporate controlled press worldwide was quick to characterize them as “clean”, they took place under an illegitimate government, with troops in the street suppressing mobilizations of the left and the anti-coup press for the whole three month campaign period. For this reason, most of the countries in Latin America, including Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, Cuba, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Uruguay and Paraguay, still refuse to call the results legitimate. Countries ruled by right-wing governments, including Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica and Panama, have joined with the United States in calling for the recognition of the results.
The winner of the election was rancher Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo of the right-wing National Party, which also appears to have got a majority in the unicameral Congress. There is still a dispute about the turnout, with Zelaya supporters and the left saying it was low, and Micheletti supporters saying it was high. On December 2, the outgoing Congress voted 111 to 14, with three abstentions, not to restore Zelaya to the presidency for the rest of his term which ends on January 27.
Zelaya’s attitude is that a deal for a merely symbolic restoration would be pointless, and is not in the offing anyhow. The anti-coup resistance says that they continue to consider the elections illegitimate, and that they are regrouping to focus on the demand for a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Honduran Constitution which the current crisis has shown to be so radically wanting. This is an uphill fight, but the four month struggle has developed new unity of purpose among the 70% of Hondurans who are poor.
There are serious dilemmas facing the Obama administration as well.
First of all, now what happens to Zelaya? He has been besieged in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa since September 21. He can’t leave without being arrested and put on trial on trumped up charges of treason and abuse of power. If he asks for diplomatic asylum, which so far he has declined to do, it takes him away from Honduran politics completely. And the possibility can’t be excluded that the Micheletti government launches an armed attack on the embassy. If the Obama administration has some sort of plan for dealing with this possibility, it has not been revealed.
Secondly, what happens to the Honduran Embassy and several consulates within the United States, if the administration withdraws its recognition from the Zelaya government? The Honduran ambassador in Washington Eduardo Enrique Reina, is a Zelaya man who does not recognize either the coup government or the results of the elections. Lobo will certainly name a new ambassador. Will the Capitol police then be asked to go into the Honduran embassy to throw out Zelaya’s ambassador so that Lobo’s can come in? The administration, again, challenged on this point at a December 3 press conference, appears not to have any answers.
Finally, how do the State Department and the White House propose to repair the damage to the administration’s image in Latin America which has resulted from the abrupt decision to recognize the results of the election even when key conditions of the October 30 Tegucigalpa agreement were flouted by the Micheletti regime?
The Honduras debacle, combined with the uproar about new U.S.-run military bases in Colombia and the continued anti-Cuba stance of the U.S., has undercut any short-run possibility of increasing the level of trust and cooperation between the Obama administration and the majority of Latin American governments. The United States now appears to many in Latin America to be aligned with the ultra-right regimes, and there is fear that Honduras will now return to its role in the 1980s, as a launching pad for destabilizing efforts against left-wing governments in Latin America. The oligarchies in Central America will certainly try to bring this about.
Will the Obama administration allow U.S. military forces at the Soto Cano military base to abet such efforts?