Honduras: Another challenge for Obama


A few months were enough for Obama to peacefully revolutionise the United States and the world. He radically changed the policies of Washington, domestic and international, with visible consequences at the global level despite a financial and economic crisis that, notwithstanding certain signs of improvement, is still far from turning around.

The American president has had to contend with many the antibodies generated by ominous past US involvement in the region that people are beginning to forget but that is still relevant to numerous interests damaged by those who put profits above people and human dignity.

And so we come to the crisis that struck Honduras on June 28, which represents a test as much for Obama as for Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, despite the fact that both leaders condemned, albeit for different reasons, the coup that ousted the country’s legitimate president Manuel Zelaya.

First for the US

It is the first time in the 200-year history of US-Central and South American relations that a US president has unequivocally condemned the military overthrow of a democratic government. Normally Washington backed such coups, when it didn’t in fact support or even play a part in them, as occurred with General Augusto Pinochet in Chile, to mention one of dozens of cases.

Obama has announced, and is putting into practice, a policy towards Latin America that is diametrically opposite that of his predecessors, as seen in his opening towards Cuba and the overtures to Chavez, who has reacted with an alternation of elegy and diatribe.

It is obvious that the chess game of Latin America is extremely complicated. On the one hand there are deep contradictions that must be overcome among the various countries, which in turn have, and will not forget, substantial claims against their giant neighbour to the North. Notwithstanding their differences, all countries of the region are now democratic and thus the military overthrow of a democratic government is absolutely unacceptable.

Oscar Arias, the current president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was selected to mediate the conflict and is an excellent choice for this delicate task. He has followed the situation of Central America and the rest of the region for decades, is well-acquainted with American politicians past and present, and is personally and politically held in high esteem.

In a recent interview with Spain’s ‘El Pais’, Arias stated that in addition to “being in contact with many presidents of Latin America, with Washington, and the King of Spain,” he has had conversations with President Zelaya and the de facto president installed by the coup, Roberto Micheletti. He also stated that “any agreement would have to reinstate Zelaya as president”.

Failed attempt

But this outcome will not come about by trying to force his return to Honduras without a previous agreement, which Zelaya tried to do on July 25. On the contrary, such an approach would only make a military conflict more likely, which would be disastrous for everyone.

It is true that more than a month has passed and Zelaya’s impatience is understandable, as is his desire to avoid a consolidation of power by the de facto government.

Arias argues that “everything depends on the US and Europe”. But not only them: the world has returned to multilateralism and there are other forces that count, like Brazil, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and others.

In this context, it is auspicious that the armed forces of Honduras have shown their support for a negotiated solution to the crisis mediated by Oscar Arias.

Meanwhile international pressure and dwindling supplies are beginning to make conditions in Honduras extremely difficult.

One factor seems decisive: Obama cannot go back on the commitment he made immediately after the coup. If he did — and I don’t think he would — he would lose an invaluable source of political capital: the credibility he enjoys in Latin America.

(The writer is ex-president and ex-prime minister of Portugal)

IPS

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