President Obama's Credibility on the Line in Honduras

Last Friday an agreement was reached between the de facto regime in Honduras,
which took power in a military coup on 28 June, and the elected
president Manuel Zelaya, for the restoration of democracy there.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, in announcing what she called a historic agreement,
said: "I cannot think of another example of a country in Latin America
that ... overcame such a crisis through negotiation and dialogue."
Hopefully this will turn out to be true.

But the ink was barely
dry on the accord when leaders of the coup regime indicated that they
had no intention of honouring it. Some of them clearly saw the
agreement as just another delaying tactic. They have talked of
postponing congressional approval of the accord until after the 29
November elections, or even voting not to restore Zelaya.

If the
Honduran congress delays or rejects the restoration of Zelaya, it will
violate the clear intent of the accord. The agreement states:
"The decision the national congress adopts should establish a basis for
achieving the social peace, political tranquility and democratic
governability the society requires and the country needs." This and
other language makes it clear that the negotiators - who have the
ability to deliver the votes in congress - agreed on Zelaya's

Furthermore, justice delayed here is justice denied.
Two-thirds of the legally allowed campaign period has already lapsed,
under conditions of dictatorship that made free election campaigning

The Obama administration
has itself been divided on what to do about the military overthrow of
democracy in Honduras. Hence the mixed signals and vacillation from the
very beginning, when the first statement from the White House failed to
even condemn the coup.

Those in the administration who think
they can now wash their hands of the accord and let the coup leaders
turn their back on it had better think twice. The Obama team has
embarrassed itself enough by having to be pressured by the rest of the
hemisphere to tell the coup government that Washington would not
recognise the 29 November elections without prior restoration of
Zelaya. Just a few weeks earlier, the Obama administration had blocked
the Organisation of American States from passing a resolution to this

But now Washington's credibility is really on the line.
The Obama team brokered this accord and got a commitment from the coup
leaders. If they go back on it, how much will the Obama
administration's word be worth on anything else? Everyone knows that
Washington has the ability to force the coup regime to comply. There
are billions of dollars of its assets in the US that could be frozen or
seized. Seventy percent of the country's exports go to the US. The coup
regime has no international legitimacy and no standing to challenge the
US under international treaties for any economic sanctions that might
be invoked.

The Obama administration never used the effective tools at its disposal. Instead it dithered for months, finally cutting off a fraction of its aid to the coup government and revoking some visas.
The administration refused to even declare that a military coup had
taken place, since this would have required more cuts in foreign

Most tellingly, Washington refused to denounce the
massive human rights violations committed by the dictatorship. These
included police beatings, illegal detention of thousands, closing of
independent radio and television, suspension of civil rights and even
some political murders. The crimes were denounced by all major human
rights organisations, inside and outside of Honduras - and by many
governments - but the Obama administration maintained a deafening

Based on the recent past, the coup leaders - one of whom was forced to resign his post as foreign minister
after levelling racial epithets at Obama - might think they can safely
ignore the agreement. But the rest of the hemisphere, and the Honduran
people - who have courageously resisted the coup from day one - will
not let them get away with it. No one will recognise the November
elections if Zelaya is not restored promptly.

Tuesday night, Thomas Shannon, the US assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, told CNN en Espanol that the US plans to recognise the November elections
whether or not Zelaya is restored. This would definitely put Washington
on a collision course with the rest of the hemisphere, including
Brazil. Furthermore, according to diplomats close to the negotiations,
both Shannon and Hillary Clinton had given assurances that last week's
accord would bring Zelaya back to the presidency.

statement to CNN prompted a letter from Zelaya to Clinton, asking
whether the US government had changed its position on the coup d'etat
in Honduras.

Obama now has a choice. He can force the coup regime
to honour the accord or lose further credibility among governments in
the hemisphere and the world.

© 2023 The Guardian