Developments since the Military Coup in Honduras
July 8, 2009
Q1: What is the status of President Mel Zelaya since his ouster in a coup on June 29?
A1: The standoff continues. President Zelaya remains outside his country in spite of an effort on July 5 to return to the capital, Tegucigalpa. His decision to return was based on a vote by diplomats at the Organization of American States (OAS) 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, and he was 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.
Q2: How is President Barack Obama managing this first regional crisis in the Americas?
A2: 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 OAS to find a peaceful solution to the 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. The United States also used the UN 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 United States is also suspending aid programs, and the military has stopped collaboration with the armed forces of Honduras. The Inter-American Development Bank has also stopped activities for the time being.
Q3: What does the agreement worked out by the United States to resolve the crisis in Honduras mean for President Zelaya?
A3: The July 7 announcement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica will serve as a mediator in the crisis in Honduras is an important step forward to bringing closure to this nine-day-old crisis. Arias was asked and has agreed to negotiate a resolution to the removal of President Zelaya so that Honduras can return to the OAS and President Zelaya can find a way to return to his country. The agreement by all parties to accept this decision will advance the dialogue and seek a constructive solution to the crisis. Arias is well suited for this role. In 1988, while serving as president of Costa Rica, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring a resolution to the conflicts in Central America after a bloody period of civil war. While many issues remain to be resolved in this current political crisis in Honduras, the willingness of all parties to begin talking immediately is a positive sign that a nonviolent solution can be achieved in the near future. Arias is experienced and respected by all parties. For President Zelaya, the appointment of Arias may be the best that he can get at this time from the United States, which has been playing an important role behind the scenes to end the standoff between the elected president and the de facto government. While there are no guarantees of the final outcome, what is clear is that the United States, by working with a respected regional leader, has been faithful to its commitment to doing business in a new and constructive way in the hemisphere.
Johanna Mendelson Forman is a senior associate with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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