Oh the perils of running a news weekly. We posted a story today that will appear in our next issue reviewing a diplomatic breakthrough in Honduras that seemed early this week to have ended four months of political crisis and social chaos in Central America's third-poorest nation. Unfortunately the good news on the presumed deal between ousted President Manuel Zelaya and de-facto President Roberto Michellitti is already old news. The deal, which was aimed at restoring the deposed president to power long enough to finish his term of office and get Honduras through to its Nov. 29 presidential election, seems to have completely unraveled, and, according to some observers, it may have been intended to so unravel from the get go. At least that's the opinion of Ethan Katz at Washington's Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA). He argues that the fecklessness of the U.S. State Department may have doomed Zelaya to a political purgatory inside Tegulcigalpa's Brazilian embassy.
A few weeks ago COHA's Adam Isaacson told me it seemed that the Micheletti regime seemed quietly ready to endure the slings and arrows of outraged international diplomatic opinion in a waiting game to the Nov. 29 Honduran elections, under the apparent belief that once new elections were held all the political and economic recriminations surrounding Zelaya's June 28 ouster would diplo-miraculously subside. Though it cut off some aid, suspended visas and offered some indications that it would not regard the outcome of the elections as legitimate if Zelaya were not returned to office, it is fair to say that the Obama administration and State Department have not been as forceful as they could have been on the issue of the elections and the return of normal relations. Micheletti and his freres perhaps astutely noted some ambiguity in the U.S. position. Cut to last week and the U.S.-brokered deal is concluded that seems to leave all parties as satisfied as they can expect to be under the circumstances: Zelaya in a toothless restoration and moved out of the Brazilian embassy, a unity government established and hands across Honduras on Nov. 29.
But just a few days after the deal was announced no progress had been made on its major components, and the Honduran Congress has been demonstrating little interest in reconvening to vote for a Zelaya restoration. COHA's Katz says Zelaya's fate was sealed when deal-broker Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon said the mere presence of the deal, not its actual enforcement, was enough to tip the U.S.'s position on the upcoming election, a position reinforced by Secretary of State Clinton (in her second surprise aboutface in recent days—Go ask Abbas, I think he'll know), who managed to break Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) hold on Obama’s nomination of Arturo Valenzuela as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs with a phone-called confirmation of Shannon's statement. Was the whole weekend escapade a cynical exercise in diplomatic damage control and face-saving eyeing Nov. 29 all along?
Zelaya's antics leading up to the June 28 coup—or arrest, depending on which side of the street barricade you're leaning—could not have endeared the democratically elected born-again leftist to the Obama administration, which already has enough headaches to contend with. But joining the other members of the Organization of American States, the U.S. had presented a unified position on Zelaya's restoration as something of a nonnegotiable. In a region troubled for generations by military dabbling in democratic processes, the removal of Zelaya was an unexpected reminder of some truly bad old days, and it was hoped that America's boy prince of a president was ready to model new good neighborly behavior. After the last few days of apparent machiavelian intrigue, however, it could be that the Obama administration was modeling a prince of a decidedly different sort.