Saturday, November 28, 2009

Region finds U.S. lacking on Honduras

Scrawl outside a military base where ballots for Sunday's presidential election are stored tells Hondurans not to vote.

Of course, the headline should read Some in Region finds U.S. lacking on Honduras

The ouster of Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran populist president, five months ago propelled the deeply impoverished country onto President Obama’s packed agenda. The question now is whether his administration’s support for the presidential election being held there on Sunday will be seen as a stamp of approval for a coup or, as senior administration members maintain, the beginning of the end of the crisis.

Curiously, when the action went down in Honduras, Latin America as a whole, including Chávez and Ortega, implored the US to step in and fix things. That is, they invited what in other cases they call meddling.

Most countries in the region see it as the former. Haunted by ghosts of authoritarian governments not long in the grave, countries like Brazil, Argentina and Chile have argued that an election held by an illegal government is, by definition, illegal.

Illegal by their standards; some Hondureños see the removal of Zelaya as proper and legal.

They worry that if Mr. Obama appears to set aside that principle in Honduras, where the United States has long been a power broker, what would Washington do if democracy were threatened in a more powerful country where it wields less influence?

What principle? The US has supported the restoration of Zelaya, and an agreement was reached between Zelaya and Micheletti (though not instituted because the Honduran legislature did not ratify it). Is it supposed that other Latin govenments wish the US to impose its will on the Honduran legislature?

Last week, Marco Aurélio García, a senior adviser to the Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said his country “continues to have great hopes” for good relations with the United States. But, he added, “the truth is so far we have a strong sense of disappointment.”

O, por favor.

Latin American governments accused the administration of putting pragmatism over principle and of siding with Honduran military officers and business interests whose goal was to use the elections to legitimize the coup.

Pragmatism over principle: what a curious charge to lob. Curious charge made by, say, the Chavista government that has installed relatives and cronies in positions of power. To say nothing of Cuba. This is an argument with nothing but subterfuge and cynicism wrapped in the mantle of idealism. Easily dismissed.

“They really thought he was different,” said Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to Latin America’s view of Mr. Obama, adding, “But those hopes were dashed over the course of the summer.”

This is all public posturing. In six months there will be different public arguments being waged.

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