From: andres thomas conteris
PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/AP FILE PHOTO
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, shown in Washington Sept. 3, 2009, was forced into exile on June 28, 2009.
International pressure mounts for coup leaders to reinstate president, as U.S. takes tough stand
Sep 06, 2009 04:30 AM
FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER
It's been two months since Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was seized in the middle of the night and bundled onto a plane by his political foes. And since the coup, regional and international diplomats have been struggling to negotiate his return.
An announcement last week that Washington won't recognize the results of an election scheduled for November - a month before Zelaya's term officially expires - has raised the stakes for the coup leaders, and the people of the cash-strapped country.
"Based on conditions as they currently exist, we cannot recognize the results," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Friday, adding that the Honduran regime was now "in a box."
The Obama administration urged the de facto government, led by Roberto Micheletti, to accept an accord brokered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. It would allow Zelaya to return with limited authority until the poll was held.
But coup leaders rejected the deal, saying Zelaya was ousted for trying to extend his power illegally by running a referendum that would open the way to a now forbidden second term - a charge he denies.
The Organization of American States suspended Honduras's membership, and Washington slapped on limited sanctions and withdrew non- humanitarian aid. Canada supports the accord, but has continued its small military aid program for Honduras.
Inside Honduras, news of the U.S. decision on the election was greeted with elation by Zelaya's supporters, many of whom are impoverished. The country's elite, and more affluent middle class, generally supports the coup, which they believe would save Honduras from becoming a satellite of Zelaya's ally, flamboyant left-wing Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.
"The Obama administration has made an important move," said Luis Granados, a Toronto youth worker who is in the capital Tegucigalpa as part of a Latin American Solidarity Network delegation to document human rights violations. The Toronto-based coalition supports progressive social movements in the Americas.
"The mood has changed, and people are more optimistic," Granados said in a phone interview. "The country is unstable, and they've experienced repression, but they support cutting aid. They're willing to suffer for a month or so if they can get rid of the coup."
But there are fears that Honduras's turbulence could last longer, and create a larger crisis in the region, which has been increasingly polarized since the anti-American Chavez came to power.
"It's a real dilemma for the international community," says Jennifer McCoy of the Carter Center's Americas Program in Atlanta, Ga. "If election day comes and nothing changes, what will happen then?"
But she adds, "the real tragedy is for the Honduran people. They're the ones who will suffer if the standoff continues."
With widespread reports of repression and human rights violations under the coup regime, it would be difficult for the international community to recognize any election it held as legitimate.
But, says Maxwell Cameron, a Latin American expert at the University of British Columbia, the U.S. and Canada have so far failed to push forcefully enough for a diplomatic solution that would allow Zelaya to serve out his
term, and set the stage for a democratic election.
"The international community could have taken more aggressive measures to make it clear to the regime that even for a short period of time it can't be considered legitimate," he said.
With two months to go before the vote, there's still time for coup leaders to take heed of America's tougher stance. If not, experts warn, instability could spread.
"The true significance of the coup, in one of the poorest and weakest countries in the hemisphere ... lies in the test it poses to the inter-American system," says Jorge Heine of the Balsillie School of International Affairs. "If the latter cannot succeed in restoring democracy in Honduras, it cannot do so anywhere. The message would thus be crystal clear: coup-makers can act with impunity."