What happened to the U.S.-brokered political deal in Honduras? 

Cringe-inducing displays of weakness, ineptitude and cynicism

I owe my reader(s) a big apology.

In my Nov. 2 column, I dumped several heaping tablespoons of praise on the Obama administration for brokering a peaceful political compromise to the military coup crisis in Honduras. Even though I included the weasel-y journalistic hedge phrase “assuming the deal is OK’d by Honduras’ Congress,” I still wrote the entire column as if the agreement was a done deal.

I was wrong and apologize. Big-ly.

It turns out I spoke way too soon. Honduras’ Congress didn’t OK the deal. They haven’t even bothered to vote on it. A series of events I characterized as a victory for the Obama administration’s multilateral diplomacy, for democracy, and for improving the U.S.’ standing in Latin America, were in fact cringe-inducing displays of weakness, ineptitude and cynicism.

First, a little background info.

On June 28, Honduran soldiers picked up an hombre named Manuel Zelaya, put him on an airplane, and deposited him approximately 350 miles to the southeast in beautiful Costa Rica.

That doesn’t sound too bad, right? After all, who wouldn’t want a free flight to Costa Rica?

There were a couple catches, though. Catch No. 1: It was a one-way ticket. Zelaya was roughed-up by the soldiers and warned never to return to Honduras. Catch No. 2: Zelaya is the democratically elected president of Honduras.

What you and I might consider a homoerotic, S&M-themed surprise getaway vacation was in fact a coup.

The coup was the violent climax of a long-simmering political crisis in Honduras. Since taking office in 2006, Zelaya’s populist initiatives have annoyed the crap out of the wealthy oligarchs long accustomed to controlling Honduras’ government institutions for their own gain. (Transparency International, the corruption watchdog group I wrote about last week, ranks Honduras as one of the Western Hemisphere’s most corrupt nations.)

On the day of the coup, Hondurans were to vote on a nonbinding referendum asking the people if they supported rewriting the nation’s constitution. Zelaya initiated the vote. He wanted it to be binding, but was overruled by the country’s Supreme Court, so he made it nonbinding. Even a nonbinding referendum was unacceptable to Honduras’ ruling elites, though. Why risk tinkering with a system that’s completely rigged in your favor?

With Zelaya exiled to Costa Rica, the coup-doers went about “legitimizing” their coup. Congress signed off on it, as did the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the army and police were sent into the streets to thwart all public demonstrations for Zelaya. Amnesty International reports that police in Honduras are using curfews and mass arrests to stop opponents of the coup from organizing. Human Rights Watch has documented the systematic abuse and unlawful detention of journalists in Honduras who’ve attempted to report on the new government’s abuses. With world governments suspending nearly all relations with Honduras and tourism all but kaput, Honduras has been in an uncomfortable limbo for the past five months.

President Obama to the rescue! On Oct. 30, Obama hyped a “historic agreement” that claimed it would rescue Honduras from crisis. Zelaya would be restored — if he promised to go away after his term officially expires in January. The regularly scheduled Nov. 29 presidential election would go on as planned. The winners of the election would take office like normal elected officials, and international recognition — and life in Honduras — would resume as usual.

Only that didn’t happen. Honduras’ Congress never approved the deal. The Supreme Court, in fact, rejected it. Obama & Co. made a huge tactical error: They hyped the deal before it was done.

Meanwhile, the coup-doers went ahead with the election anyway. As of Nov. 30 with most of the votes counted, the pro-coup right was winning. Opponents of the coup on the left are by-and-large boycotting the vote to protest the suppression in recent months of anyone willing to publicly oppose the coup.

Seemingly caught off guard by the coup-doers, the Obama administration seems confused. At first, Obama & Co. said the Nov. 29 Honduran election results would not be recognized unless Zelaya was restored first. Now, Obama & Co. are broadly hinting they’ll recognize the election results regardless.

After months of opposing the military coup, Obama is suddenly legitimizing it.


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