Critical Questions: Honduras Update

By Johanna Mendelson Forman

What is the status of Honduras President Zelaya since his ouster in a coup on June 29th?

The stand- off continues. President Mel Zelaya remains outside his country in spite of an effort on July 5, 2009 to return to the capital, Tegucigalpa. His decision to return was based on a vote by diplomats at the Organization of American States to suspend Honduras from membership in the 35-member organization until he was restored to his lawful role as president. This action, which invoked the Inter-American Democratic Charter of 2001, was the first time a country had been suspended from the organization since the ouster of Cuba in 1965. Anti-Zelaya activists clashed with supporters and the armed forces of Honduras at the airport in Tegucigalpa, leaving one person dead. The army blocked Zelaya's aircraft from landing resulted in his being diverted to El Salvador. De-facto President Roberto Micheletti has threatened Zelaya with arrest should he step foot in Honduras. In the meantime, Zelaya was meeting with other regional presidents in El Salvador to plot his return to office based on the OAS decision requesting his immediate reinstatement.

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How is the U.S. managing this first regional crisis in the Americas?

In this first test of President Obama's foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere it is clear that his commitment to multilateral solutions is paramount in this current crisis. From the outset the United States has worked with regional actors through the auspices of the Organization of American States, to find a peaceful solution to this crisis. As more information has come forward about allegations of constitutional irregularities on Zelaya's part, the administration has continued to work with regional officials to parse out the legal issues. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have insisted that the intervention of the Honduran military was still an illegal act that tripped the mechanisms of the Inter American Democratic Charter and required the suspension of Honduras. It also used the United Nations mechanisms, working with the General Assembly, when it joined Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and others to condemn the removal of a democratically elected president, Zelaya, by his nation's armed force. The U.S. is also suspending aid programs and the military has stopped collaboration with Honduras' armed forces. The Inter-American Development Bank has also stopped activities for the time being.

Can we expect a resolution to this crisis soon and a return of President Zelaya to office?

Yesterday the de-facto government sent a message to OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza that he was interested in starting a dialogue. This is a promising sign. Whether Zelaya will be reinstated immediately is not clear, however, given the hostility that has been expressed on the ground in Honduras. What is clear, however, is that no member of the OAS, and especially those nations that have endured military dictatorships in the last decades, will ever again tolerate the use of the military to oust a sitting president. In countries like Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Uruguay, as well as in other parts of the hemisphere that endured long civil wars, sentiments run deep that political crises must be resolved through democratic mechanisms rather than by military force. Expect to see some political face-saving mechanism negotiated by the OAS with the leadership in Honduras in the days to come. Also consider that these events will undoubtedly spark a new debate about democracy in the Americas, and a closer look at constitutional problems that plague many Latin American states and their charters. Do not expect to see the Obama administration act in any unilateral fashion as this crisis again affirms a new partnership with our neighbors that seeks consensus and solutions toward shared problems, no matter how complex or challenging.

Johanna Mendelson Forman is a Senior Associate in the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS).

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