The Obama administration has worked hard, if somewhat episodically, to try to resolve the political crisis in Honduras. Last week, it looked as if the administration had pulled it off. The deal is now unraveling because of the obstinacy of Honduras’s ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, and the man who ousted him, Roberto Micheletti. But we fear Washington also miscalculated that obstinacy.
The agreement was brokered by Costa Rica’s president, Óscar Arias, with some strong last-minute arm-twisting from Washington. It was a good one. Mr. Zelaya would be allowed to finish out his term, which ends in January. But he would do nothing to try to hang on to power. He and the coup plotters would be granted amnesty for any previous misdeeds.
That would have been good for Honduras. And it would have sent a clear message to all of Latin America that coups are no longer tolerated. But when it came time to implement the deal, it began to fall apart.
The rival leaders were supposed to establish an interim unity government this week. When they could not agree on who would lead the cabinet, Mr. Zelaya refused to appoint any members and Mr. Micheletti formed a new government without the ousted president. The two men also had agreed that the Honduran Congress would be given the final decision about whether to reinstate Mr. Zelaya. But there was no deadline, allowing his opponents to delay a vote.
Mr. Micheletti always wanted to play out the string to get through presidential elections, scheduled for Nov. 29. The situation wasn’t helped by the Republican members of the United States Congress who traveled earlier to Tegucigalpa to cheer on the coup makers. (They appear far more concerned about Mr. Zelaya’s cozy relations with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez than democracy.)
We fear the Obama administration made things even worse by suggesting that it would recognize the results of the election even if the Honduran Congress decided against returning Mr. Zelaya, briefly, to office. We appreciate the administration’s desire to encourage a Honduran solution. But that erased the most effective American leverage on the de facto government.
On Friday, the State Department sounded as if it had figured that out, warning that “failure to implement the accord could jeopardize recognition of the election by the international community.” It needs to leave no doubt. It needs to send its negotiator, Thomas Shannon, an assistant secretary of state, back to Honduras to get the deal back on track. An election run by the coup plotters won’t be credible to Hondurans — and it shouldn’t be to anyone else.
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