After realizing his swaggering actions had severely backfired, the interim president of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, is asking the Supreme Court to reverse last Sunday’s decree, which suspended civil liberties throughout the country as part of its 45-day “state of emergency.” As part of its crack-down on dissent, the Micheletti regime closed the two top Honduran news media outlets that had been covering ousted President Manuel Zelaya’s statements from his refuge inside the Brazilian embassy. The siege suspended constitutional guarantees of civil liberties, including freedom of assembly, press, and privacy. The Honduran Congress, Supreme Electoral Court, and the country’s four main presidential candidates for the November elections clearly have stated that they will not tolerate Micheletti’s efforts to suspend civil liberties. As a result, Micheletti has now been witnessing significant limits to his power. Mainstream Honduran officials are beginning to demonstrate their intentions to now find a political and diplomatic solution to the crisis, rather than through the use of pure force and constitutional tampering.
Too Late to Ask for Forgiveness
Micheletti is now seeking forgiveness from Hondurans, though it may be too little, too late for this to strike home. The decree limiting democratic rights in the country came as no surprise considering the increasingly radical nature of the undemocratic initiatives that his regime has been increasingly prone to take. As Micheletti digs a deeper hole for himself, he has stripped the de facto regime of any ounce of legitimacy that it may have had in the eyes of the international community, and demonstrably, with fellow Hondurans. Micheletti’s case has not been helped by the country’s declining standard of living, as its economy shrinks by as much as $40 million dollars a day and economic boycotts take effect. Micheletti believes he can hold on to the country until the November elections can take place. This way, he will be able to get rid of Zelaya by antiseptic means. However, international condemnation and drastically reduced political backing has left Micheletti’s regime dry and beached. Moreover, the suspensions of civil liberties as well as the regimes refusal to engage in diplomatic negotiations, further exemplify the preposterous claim that Micheletti is the legitimate ruler of his country.
Zelaya Holed Up In the Embassy
While Micheletti is rapidly losing both international and domestic support, Zelaya remains far from regaining office. However, the longer it takes for him to return, the longer it allows for Micheletti to sanction human rights abuses, which have become an increasing problem throughout Honduras over the past three months. The hundreds of soldiers and riot police surrounding the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, where Zelaya has been seeking refuge since his return to the country on September 21, are emblematic of the “war footing” taken by the Honduran security forces, which has resulted in repeated clashes with protesters. Security forces have used tear gas, rubber bullets, and other chemicals to disperse the crowds. Evidence also suggests that Honduran soldiers have fired into unarmed groups of protesters.
These unnecessarily violent actions taken by soldiers and riot police are repressive and illegal, proving that the interim government is far from willing to allow democratic procedures to freely function within the country. Amnesty International along with other human rights organizations have condemned the widespread human rights abuses committed by the Micheletti administration and have called upon the international community to take more public action.
The interim government’s neglect for democratic discussion and its counter-productive pacification efforts are further exemplified by the recent ultimatum given to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva by Honduran authorities: ten days to either grant Zelaya asylum outside of Honduras, or hand him over to Micheletti to be arrested and face trial, a threat that Lula angrily brushed off. While Micheletti assures the public that he will not forcefully remove Zelaya from the embassy, his threat to Lula would be extremely damaging for the country because it would force the Brazilian embassy to close, thereby ending diplomatic ties between the two countries. Such a course of action clearly showcases Micheletti’s plunge into the dangerous unknown in his attempt to cling to power. Zelaya’s presence in the country has caused Micheletti to further isolate himself from the international community and pursue increasingly authoritarian measures, such as his recent raid on the independent media.
U.S. Repeats its Hallmark Policy of Refusing to Take a Definitive Stance
While Micheletti’s support continues to ebb, it may seem like only a matter of time before President Zelaya is reinstated. Meanwhile Washington continues to blunder around, failing to decisively clarify its position on the continuing crisis and its diplomacy seems to be anything but sure footed. In a statement on September 28, acting U.S. chief representative to the Organization of American States, Lewis Amselem, a hard-line Foreign Service officer who served in Latin America throughout the Cold War, called Zelaya’s return to Honduras “irresponsible and foolish,” stating “the president should stop acting as though he was starring in an old movie.” One could respond to Amselem that he should stop acting as if he is a member of the intelligence branch. Words such as Amselem’s, which contradicted the official State Department’s position that the forthcoming election to replace Zelaya could be compromised if it was held under the de facto regime, could give hope to the coup regime that at the end of the day the U.S. will support its illegal command and have beclouded U.S.-policy. This was reinforced by the hesitancy of the Obama administration to take a definite stance on the coup since the day Zelaya was ousted from office.
With the U.S. using Amselem to send mixed messages to the de facto regime, Zelaya’s return may not be all that imminent, and the illegal abuses of power and human rights will continue under Micheletti. One can also expect Amselem, who previously served in Bolivia, Panama, U.S. Southern Command, Guyana, and Guatemala, to continue to espouse a Bush-Reagan-Clinton policy towards Latin America. Thankfully, he is to be shortly replaced by an Obama Administration nominee, Carmen Lomellin, another Career Foreign Service Officer who has had a more open background with Latin American issues. One can only hope that Ms. Lomellin will take a more definitive and hard-line stance against the Micheletti regime.
The Obama administration must once and for all, immediately and explicitly, deny all economic and military support to Honduras in an effort to force Micheletti out of power. The Honduran coup has now lasted for over three months, largely due to the hesitation and failure of the U.S. to act. As a result, deaths, injuries, and disappearances are beginning to be recorded in Honduras. In the tradition of Secretary of State Clinton accusing Zelaya of being “reckless” for briefly showing up in Nicaragua, Amselem’s use of the word “irresponsible” to describe Zelaya’s slipping into the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, follows the same.
In order to avoid further tarnishing relations with Latin America, Obama needs to take a decisive position and act accordingly. Coup d’états must not be allowed to stand as a legitimate portal to transferring power, or else the role of democracy in the electoral process, will have been compromised if not extinguished.
Despite Micheletti’s claim that he took office under a constitutional transfer of power, this was not an accurate analysis of what took place. What occurred was that Zelaya was thrown out of Honduras with a gun to his head. Due to the past damage inflicted on all of the Central American nations over the decades, Washington must take this opportunity to uncompromisingly promote the proper definition of democracy by demanding the return of Zelaya to office.