Nov 11, 2009

U.S. State Department Sells Out Honduran Democracy for Senate Confirmations

• Policy change to recognize elections without reinstatement of Zelaya torpedoes peace agreement, mollifies Republicans and alienates Latin America

• President Zelaya pronounces Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord a “dead letter”

• Anti-coup organizations call for elections boycott on Nov. 29

In one of the lowest points in U.S. diplomatic history, the State Department announced a turnabout in its Honduran policy and stated it will recognize the results of Nov. 29 elections even if held under the military coup.

The new strategy to promote elections without first assuring a return to constitutional order torpedoes the accord that the State Department itself brokered and was signed by President Manuel Zelaya and coup leader Roberto Micheletti on Oct. 29.

On Nov. 4, just days after Secretary of State Clinton anounced a major breakthrough in resolving the Honduran political crisis, Asst. Secretary of State Thomas Shannon stated in an interview with CNN that “the formation of the National Unity Government is apart from the reinstatement of President Zelaya” and that the Honduran Congress will decide when and if Zelaya is reinstated. His surprise declaration scuttled the point of reinstatement in the agreement, leaving the matter up in the air while confirming that the U.S. government will recognize elections anyway.

U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States, Lewis Anselem and Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens confirmed this new position. At the OAS meeting, Anselem, whose disparaging remarks toward Latin American countries have alienated many southern diplomats, criticized the other nations’ refusal to recognize elections staged by a coup regime, “I’ve heard many in this room say that they will not recognize the elections in Honduras… I’m not trying to be a wiseguy, but what does that mean? What does that mean in the real world, not in the world of magical realism?”

Llorens also portrayed the new policy as pragmatism, stating on Nov. 8, “The elections will be part of the reality and will return Honduras to the path of democracy.”

The repeated use of "reality" as the justification for the policy change shows an attempt on the part of the State Department to unilaterally impose a definition of Honduran reality—contrary to its own previous definition and that of the international community. This unilateral diplomacy harks back to Bush foreign policies that many Americans and Latin Americans believed had been thrown out with the incoming Obama administration

The Diplomacy of Deceit
As analysts piece together the events of the past few days that took us from breakthrough to breakdown in international efforts to restore rule of law in Honduras, the real story emerges.

As former ambassador Robert White writes today, Tom Shannon met with Republican Senator Jim DeMint on Oct. 20 and DeMint urged him to recognize the Honduran elections without the reinstatement of Zelaya. DeMint offered to release his holds on Shannon's nomination to the ambassadorship of Brazil and the nomination of Arturo Valenzuela to fill Shannon's shoes as Asst. Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

DeMint, who traveled to Honduras to meet with the coup regime last month, had blocked these two key State Department nominations ostensibly in protest of the administration’s policies to reinstate Zelaya.

White reports that there is every indication that Shannon had already formulated this critical change in policy to abandon the demand for reinstatement when he flew down to Tegucigalpa on Oct. 28, and that coup leader Roberto Micheletti knew this. That left only President Zelaya and the rest of the world in the dark as to the real goal of the negotiations.

What will surely go down in the books as one of the worst diplomatic agreements ever, was hammered out by the State Department team—Shannon, joined by Obama advisor Dan Restrepo and the man who has now been sent in to try to clean up the mess, Craig Kelly. It was signed by the two parties on Oct. 29.

The agreement includes a commitment to form a Government of National Reconciliation by Nov. 5. It calls for the Honduran Congress to vote on returning presidential powers with no deadline whatsoever. It includes a non-binding opinion from the Supreme Court, again with no deadline.

In retrospect the trap is clear. The agreement left open the absurd but possible solution of having the coup form the unity government without a legitimate president, with non-compliance made to seem the fault of Zelaya if he refused to participate. So why did Zelaya sign?

Many of us believed at that point that the State Department was negotiating in good faith to reinstate the president and that the Congressional vote was merely a face-saving measure for the coup. Zelaya had laid out a position in negotiations that it should be the Congress, and not the Court, that made the decision to revoke the destitution decree. In the context of unspoken agreements with members of the Honduran Congress and the U.S. State Department, the understanding was that the need to hold recognized elections and the threat of more sanctions had finally broken the intransigence of the coup and paved the way for a return to constitutional rule.

Lest there be any doubt about the deal, DeMint released a press statement bragging “Senator secures commitment for U.S. to back Nov. 29 elections even if Zelaya is not reinstated.”

The statement reads, “I am happy to report the Obama Administration has finally reversed its misguided Honduran policy and will fully recognize the November 29th elections... Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Shannon have assured me that the U.S. will recognize the outcome of the Honduran elections regardless of whether Manuel Zelaya is reinstated. I take our administration at their word that they will now side with the Honduran people and end their focus on the disgraced Zelaya.”

He goes on to lay out his scenario for the anachronism of the first elections staged by a military coup in the 21st century.

“Now, thanks to the Obama Administration’s welcome reversal, the new government sworn into office next January can expect the full support of the United States and I hope the entire international community. I trust Secretary Clinton and Mr. Shannon to keep their word, but this is the beginning of the process, not the end. I will eagerly watch the elections, and continue closely monitoring our administration’s future actions with respect to Honduras and Latin America.”

The Washington script played out. On Nov. 9, the Senate confirmed Valenzuela. DeMint lifted his hold on Shannon's confirmation, although another Republican stepped up to protest, this time over Cuba policy. With Shannon's confirmation still blocked, it seems the Republicans repaid the diplomat in his own coin.

DeMint's crowing is understandable. The recent machinations mean that a rightwing coup could remain in power to preside over elections in which only pro-coup candidates are likely to participate. It means a setback—not defeat—of the popular movement to hold a constitutional assembly and push forward with policies to relieve the suffering of the poor and build greater equality.

But DeMint cannot take full credit for the reversal. The Clinton State Department had been signalling a reversal on the commitment to restore Zelaya for months. Statements became more and more ambivalent, sometimes saying it supported Zelaya's return and others calling only for a "return to constitutional order" without mentioning Zelaya even when pressed. This past week was the first time that it marked a clear "no-Zelaya" strategy option.

In Whites's words, "As Shannon well knew, this change of policy would give away the principal leverage the U.S. could bring to bear to persuade the de facto government to permit the prompt return of President Zelaya." By going back on the commitment to withhold recognition of elections held under a coup regime, the U.S. government has given coup leaders and the armed forces a green light to remain in power until a new president is sworn in on Jan. 27.

That president, if indeed the crisis doesn't explode into even greater proportions before then, will likely not be recognized by most of the countries in the hemisphere or a huge percentage of the Honduran population. Governance in these conditions will be impossible. Unless Zelaya is restored immediately, the groundwork has been laid for a prolonged and severe period of violence and unrest in Central America.

Move Producces Anger and Distrust in Latin America
The Honduran Congress has set no date for voting on reinstatement of President Zelaya and indicated he will not be reinstated before the elecitons.

Recall that Zelaya’s reinstatement was the key point of the San José Accords that the State Department organized under the auspices of Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, and the center of resolutions in the United Nations and the Organization of American States, both supported by the U.S. government.

The UN declaration resolves, “To reaffirm that President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales is the constitutional President of Honduras and to demand the immediate, safe, and unconditional return of the President to his constitutional functions.”

The July 1 resolution of the OAS, “Demands the immediate and unconditional restoration of the legitimate and Constitutional Government of the President of the Republic, Mr. José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, and of the legally established authority in Honduras;” Honduras was suspended from the OAS as a result of the failure to reinstate President Zelaya, amid ongoing diplomatic efforts to achieve that end.

The new U.S. position has raised the ire of other Latin American countries. At a meeting of the OAS Nov. 10, many expressed a commitment not to recognize coup-held electons. Secretary General Jose Insulza stated that the organization would not send elections observers to Honduras.

The Rio Group, which includes the U.S.’s most powerful allies in the region, Mexico and Brazil, issued an unequivocal statement Nov. 6 calling for the immediate reinstatement of Zelaya. It was signed on to by the meeting of Latin American and Caribbean foreing ministers held simultaneously in Montego Bay.

The 24 Latin American nations stated, “The immediate reinstatement of president Jose Manuel Zelaya in the office to which he was elected by the Honduran people constitutes an indispensable prerequisite to re-establish constitutional order, rule of law and democracy in Honduras, as well as for the normalization of relations between the Republic of Honduras and the Rio Group and for it to be possible to recognize the results of elections scheduled to take place on Nov. 29.”

Craig Kelly, one of the architects of the diplomacy of deceit revealed in the Oct. 29 agreement, has now been dispatched to patch things up. He did not receive a warm welcome from President Zelaya and unless he carries a mandate for repentence in his briefcase, he will have very little room to maneuver.


  1. Only allowed 4096 characters for a response? I pity the fool lol. Laura please raise the comment characters as no one can make a reasoned comment based upon a limitation of 4096 characters to such a well thought out prose.

  2. I will try to figure out how to raise the character limit on this program. Everyone should have the opportunity to express themselves, something the people in Honduras do not have this day before the elections charade. From Tegucigalpa, laura