After months of ill-advised interference by the United States, two Honduran presidents are back on speaking terms. Interim leader Roberto Micheletti and the ousted Manuel Zelaya have reportedly reached an agreement that could return Zelaya to power as a lame duck for roughly one month, before a newly elected president takes office. President Barack Obama may spin this as a U.S. victory, but in fact it’s the culmination of the administration’s mystifying diplomacy.
The deal still must be ratified by the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court, which legally removed Zelaya in the first place. The U.S. State Department is confident the Honduran legislators and judges will reinstate him. In any event, a department spokesman said, the U.S. will recognize the results of the regularly scheduled presidential election later this month. Neither Zelaya nor Micheletti are candidates in that election. There are some positives here. Even if Zelaya returns to power for a meaningless month, Micheletti has won the battle. Although the two men are from the same political party, Micheletti nonetheless deprived Zelaya of power for five critical months and thus blocked his illegal attempt to seek another term, something that is definitively banned by the Honduran Constitution. Micheletti also guaranteed that constitutional elections will be held to replace Zelaya, no matter who is interim president. After November’s balloting, a legitimate new president will take power, mindful of the one-term limit imposed by the Honduran Constitution. Still, this happy ending in no way justifies Obama’s bone-headed interference in Honduran internal affairs, which destabilized that nation’s political institutions and caused totally unnecessary violence and deaths.
His Honduran decisions make clear that Obama does not understand the true threat to democracy in today’s Latin America: It’s no longer guerrillas or generals of the 1980s, but rather elected presidents who weaken legal curbs on their own power and then refuse to step down. Exhibit A: Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Obama clearly was not promoting democracy in Honduras by instantly siding with Zelaya, who hoped to follow in Chavez’s footsteps and was actively aided in that effort by the Venezuelan strongman.
Even with a positive conclusion, however, this fiasco reinforces the impression Obama often left during last year’s campaign that he is inadequately prepared to make critical decisions on foreign policy.