Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mi sombrero, por favor

Manuel Zelaya, right, the ousted Honduran president, before a news conference Monday at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

First, depose a president. Second, hire a lobbyist.

In the months since soldiers ousted the Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, the de facto government and its supporters have resisted demands from the United States that he be restored to power. Arguing that the left-leaning Mr. Zelaya posed a threat to their country’s fragile democracy by trying to extend his time in office illegally, they have made their case in Washington in the customary way: by starting a high-profile lobbying campaign.

The campaign has had the effect of forcing the administration to send mixed signals about its position to the de facto government, which reads them as signs of encouragement. It also has delayed two key State Department appointments in the region.

Costing at least $400,000 so far, according to lobbying registration records, the campaign has involved law firms and public relations agencies with close ties to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator John McCain, a leading Republican voice on foreign affairs.

A tangled web, indeed.

In addition to the support of such cold war veterans — and partly because of it — the de facto government has mobilized the support of a determined group of Republican legislators, led by Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. They are holding up two State Department appointments as a way of pressing the Obama administration to lift sanctions against the country.

“We have made a wrong call here,” Mr. DeMint said in an interview with Fox News after returning from a trip to Honduras last Friday. Referring to the de facto government, he said, “This is probably our best friend in the hemisphere, the most pro-American country, but we are trying to strangle them.”

I favor the ouster, and don't see it as a coup, and dislike seeing Chávez and Ortega and Morales and Correa gloating in the company of the man with the sombrero, but DeMint gives me the creeps.

Chris Sabatini, editor of Americas Quarterly, a policy journal focusing on Latin America, said the lobbying had muddled Washington’s position on the coup. The administration has said publicly that it sees the coup in Honduras as a dangerous development in a region that not too long ago was plagued by them, he said.

But, he added, to placate its opponents in Congress, and have its nominations approved, the State Department has sometimes sent back-channel messages to legislators expressing its support for Mr. Zelaya in more equivocal terms.

“There’s been a leadership vacuum on Honduras in the administration, and these are the people who’ve filled it,” he said of the Micheletti government’s backers. “They haven’t gotten a lot of support, but enough to hold the administration’s policy hostage for now.”

Certainly the Administration wishes the problem would just go away, for supporting Zelaya is a slimy business.

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