Honduras Must Hold Firm on Zelaya

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

Politics is full of surprises. Roberto Micheletti, designated president of Honduras by that country's parliament, wanted former President Manuel Zelaya to remain in jail in Tegucigalpa while judges and prosecutors formalized the judicial process against him for violation of the Constitution, corruption and misappropriation of public funds. Curiously, Hugo Chávez, Lula da Silva and Daniel Ortega have made that detention possible.

True, Zelaya is not in a Honduran jail but in the Brazilian Embassy in the capital, but that's a lot more convenient for the government of Micheletti. It is unlikely that pro-Zelaya commandos will break into the Brazilian haven to try to rescue him, because he entered it of his own will and, in any case, the responsibility for Zelaya's physical integrity is now in the hands of Brazil. The Honduran police need only guard the building's exterior and control the comings and goings. At some point, Zelaya will decide to submit to his country's justice, or maybe he'll choose to spend a long time under asylum.

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Meanwhile, President Micheletti, with remarkable firmness, says that he's going ahead with the elections planned for Nov. 29. Shortly before Zelaya's return, Panama declared that, if the upcoming Honduran elections are fair and transparent, it will recognize the new government. That's the sensible thing to do. Fortunately, President Ricardo Martinelli is a brave statesman who doesn't mind swimming against the current if it is morally justifiable to him.

In addition to being a mechanism for the legitimization of authority, the elections are a ceremony to bury the past and begin a different, more-hopeful stage. The pluralistic, free consultations in Spain, Portugal and Chile served to put those countries back on track after long dictatorships. The same happened in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. It would have been madness to deny recognition to the new democratic governments on the grounds that the elections had been conducted by illegitimate and transitory regimes.

The OAS fell into a trap laid by Chávez when it warned that it would not recognize the president elected in Honduras' next balloting. Does Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza want to plunge the country into a violent conflict to crown a victor soaked in blood?

The candidates in those future elections were freely and peacefully elected in open primaries before Zelaya was expelled from power. They were not imposed by anything or anyone and represent the country's entire political spectrum. Now that President Oscar Arias' healing efforts have failed, what better option than to propitiate an election that can return political normalcy to the nation?

The State Department hasn't acted reasonably, either. Who in that madhouse decided that it is good strategy to try to discredit a priori the democratic solution for the Honduran crisis? How could Zelaya's return be imposed against the will of the country's institutions, against the judgment of almost all political parties, the opposition of Christian churches and the rejection of the productive apparatus?

Is the United States willing to create a sort of protectorate in Honduras and assign 20,000 soldiers to hand the government back to Zelaya against the wish of a majority of Hondurans and the rulings of the Supreme Court but with Chávez's blessing? How can the United States today even consider destabilizing one of the continent's poorest nations and one of the few societies that genuinely sympathize with its powerful neighbor -- to the point that it sent troops to fight in Iraq -- in a hemisphere that is increasingly dominated by anti-Americanism?

Following Panama's announced recognition, probably other countries will do the same. To their leaders it is evident that what's best for the Americas is the existence in the continent of stable nations ruled by democratically elected governments that are not under the disastrous influence of Chavism. That will be the start of a gradual normalization of international relations with Honduras.

In any case, one of the first decisions the new government will have to make is what to do with Zelaya. Will it grant him amnesty, give him safe conduct or leave him permanently ensconced in the Brazilian Embassy?

Former Cuban President Manuel Urrutia -- the first chief executive designated by the revolution after the fall of Batista -- spent more than two years secluded in the embassies of Venezuela and Mexico in Havana until Castro granted him safe conduct. Peruvian President Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre spent five years in the Colombian Embassy in Lima. It's a question of firmness.

(C)2009 Firmas Press

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