Monday, July 13, 2009

The Honduran "dialogue"

Ginger Thompson at the New York Times examines the talks going on at Oscar Arias' house. Several things are becoming more and more clear:

First, Roberto Micheletti thinks he can ride this out, and will do whatever he can to stall. He has hired expensive Clinton administration lawyers to get more members of Congress on his side.

Second, everyone knows this, so there is increasing pressure on the Obama administration (such as from Arias) do so something.

Third, like it or not, the solution to this crisis will come from the United States, which is why we even have Hugo Chávez calling Tom Shannon. The solution will not come from ALBA or any other new alliance that have received so much press. The presence of the United States remains much more relevant than many people would like to admit, no matter how many new international institutions are launched.

Fourth, the solution will not come from the OAS, which further weakens an already badly limping organization. If the OAS became largely marginalized this quickly during a serious crisis, what is its purpose?

29 comments:

Anonymous,  8:53 AM  

When I read this article I thought to myself that while the Arias dialogue is disliked by many, there is a reasonable hope here to undo the coup. He is setting an agenda, identifying the core issues that have to be addressed, and started a process. He also has identified where both sides are susceptible to pressures that induce flexibility and will explore face-saving formulas. While Micheletti wants to stall and deploy his PR narrative, Arias is quietly working to undermine it. The US economic pressure is critical to getting the Honduran Congress to legislate an amnesty and the scheduling internationally supervised elections. Micheletti will have to go. Secondly, the Zelaya side will be stripped of its links to Chavez and Castro. If Zelaya returns, he will be returned as a caretaker president without much power or as a private citizen. However, he will be able to claim victory by undoing the coup--the removal of MIcheletti-- and a new schedule for democratic elections. I think some version of this outcome will satisfy the majority of Hondurans and the international community. It is certainly better than a civil war, endless sanctions, streams of refugees, a military dictatorship or a foreign invasion.

As to what is the point of the OAS, the need remains for an Inter-American organization that works on issues of common concern, from development issues to keeping the peace in Latin America. It is now being reported that the US has decided it will not support the reelection of Insulza, principally because of the way the Cuba issue was handled. Although the OAS response to this crisis does not help him much in Washington. No small irony given that the Obama administration is the most diplomatically open-minded presidency with regard to Latin America since Jimmy Carter.

Greg Weeks 9:04 AM  

On your latter point, perhaps I should rephrase, but the issue is that the OAS already exists to "keep the peace," but in this case was utterly unable to do so.

Nell 9:26 AM  

Had the U.S. acted in full concert with the other OAS countries, pulling its ambassador and cutting off aid promptly (in compliance with the Foreign Assistance Act), i.e., before Zelaya's attempted return, isn't it reasonable to think that Vasquez and Micheletti have caved earlier?

I don't think the OAS has proved irrelevant at all. And the U.S. failing to support Insulza over the readmission of Cuba is only going to convince more people in the hemisphere that nothing has changed, and that the U.S. was maneuvering to weaken Zelaya, if not in full support of the coup.

Nell 9:34 AM  

If the OAS became largely marginalized this quickly during a serious crisis, what is its purpose?

If it has become marginalized, who has marginalized it? The most obvious candidate would be the U.S. government, whose passivity encouraged the coup government to believe they could ride this out.

Greg Weeks 10:40 AM  

Then point #3 is even more salient.

el callao 11:09 AM  

Even if we get a new OAS (or something like it), the US will still continue to call the shots. The US is not about to hand over its "backyard" any time soon. Diplomacy is good as long as it works in the US's favor.

Anonymous,  11:09 AM  

Well, this event is undoubtedly setback for the OAS in some ways, in others not so much. The region is grappling with a longstanding set of problems--undue US influence, interventionism vs. sovereignty, and what is democratic legitimacy? It would help if the organization developed better ways to prevent these kinds of events from happening in the first place. From the Spanish Civil War to Liberia, Haiti to the Balkans, I don't see many examples of where the international organizations have managed these crises well once they escalated. Undoing a coup is in some ways an international effort at damage control. The coup itself is the sign of failure.

Large and moderate countries in Latin America must take leadership in the OAS. They have workable diplomatic relationships across the ideological spectrum. They are large enough to coordinate enforceable penalties and to forgo their own national interests if the situation demands it. They can both stand up to the United States (if acting in a unified manner) as well as work with it. Increased attention to the full range of democratic norms and issues--economic development, rule of law, civil liberties, rights of minorities, public education, free and fair elections, women's rights, fighting drug networks and corruption, separation of powers and civilian control of the military must be prioritized with regard to furthering democracy and constitutional legitimacy. Otherwise, the credibility of the organization with regard to a democratic intervention in a coup is powerfully undermined (as in this case).

Nell 11:31 AM  

No argument from me that the U.S. response is the critical one. What I'm objecting to is the implication that the U.S. has played no role in marginalizing the OAS, that the OAS's failure to bring the coup government to heel is something for which all the other governments in the organization should be blamed.

There was a lot of (most welcome) elaborate verbal deference to the OAS by Shannon, Restrepo, and Clinton in the early days. But in the critical July 2-3 period, that deference became a dodge, with the refusal on Clinton's part to show that the U.S. was fully on board with the OAS position of an immediate, unconditional return for Zelaya, and to back that up with an aid cutoff and withdrawal of Llorens.

It would seem to me very much in the U.S. interest, broadly conceived, to have strengthened the OAS by full-throated support for its efforts. Instead, by prioritizing its long-term goal of marginalizing Zelaya and any significant opposition to business-as-usual economic policies in the region while maintaining democratic cred with tepid support for Zelaya's restoration, Clinton undermined the OAS. And she's done further damage, at the worst possible moment, if the reports of her anti-Insulza communications are accurate.

Nell 11:35 AM  

Clarifying: in my last paragraph, prioritizing its long-term goal should be prioritizing the U.S.' long-term goal

Nell 11:43 AM  

Excellent point by Anonymous that the coup itself is the failure, and that regional efforts to prevent such crises are more likely to be fruitful than dealing with the aftermath.

And those efforts at prevention mean united push-back against the U.S. interventions that encourage elite control, such as the funding for "pro-democracy" golpista NGOs and the Civic Union.

That's why U.S. bigfooting of the 'we won't support Insulza because we didn't get our way on Cuba' variety is such poison.

Doug 2:24 PM  

Going to the first point, I think it goes beyond stalling until November; I think Micheletti believes just sending a delegation to Costa Rica should get a positive response from the US.

Guillermo Perez-Cadalso said as much on Friday in the House Hearings:

"Third, we hope that the interim government's earnest efforts to engage in the dialogue are proof enough that the restrictions on credit flows from international financial institutions should be lifted, and that bilateral and multilateral cooperation in aid programs should continue."

Anonymous,  3:38 PM  

The U.S. did not support Insulza originally so I am not sure why its such a big deal if they do not support him again. In regards to the role of the OAS it still serves an important purpose as a trusted monitoring organization (elections or truces...it did some good work monitoring the various violations of the "truce" between paramilitary groups and the Colombian government) as well as in mediating internal conflicts BEFORE they lead to unconstitutional actions...its role in convincing the Venezuelan opposition to pursue a referendum in 2004 is a good example of this...they also played an important role (with the U.S.) in ensuring the coup against Mahuad in 2000 (in Ecuador) or the unconstitutional removal of Gutierrez in 2005 (in Ecuador) did not lead to the establishment of a military regime and/or an unconstitutional successor...even the step to invite Cuba is an important symbolic measure that establishes the degree that the U.S. is alone in maintaining its backward embargo policies, a potential contributor to weakening further this effort....I agree that the U.S. still maintains a dominant role within the region, despite the OAS, but I do not believe that the OAS is an irrelevant organization because of this power....

-Will

Justin Delacour 3:42 PM  

Fourth, the solution will not come from the OAS, which further weakens an already badly limping organization. If the OAS became largely marginalized this quickly during a serious crisis, what is its purpose?

Well, I don't agree with either the statement or the intended meaning of the rhetorical question, but, in any case, you ought to better explain yourself.

I think there are a lot of dots that you're failing to connect. It has been the OAS' Democratic Charter that has provided the normative basis for such unified opposition to this coup. The fact that all Latin American governments have publicly opposed the coup is what makes it impossible for the Obama Administration to just turn a blind eye to what's happened.

mcentellas 3:44 PM  

Greg: Do you think a coup in South America (rather than in Central America) would go differently? What I mean is, would UNASUR have more leverage if dealing in its immediate geographic proximity? My question comes because of the role of UNASUR (not the OAS) in resolving the Bolivian crisis of several months ago (though it was not a coup). I wonder if the proximity of a major regional player like Brazil alters the equation, or how much it alters it.

Justin Delacour 3:48 PM  

It is now being reported that the US has decided it will not support the reelection of Insulza, principally because of the way the Cuba issue was handled.

Well, the United States can support whoever it pleases, but it will nonetheless have to come to grips with the fact that it no longer has the means to turn the OAS into a rubber stamp for whatever it would like to see in the hemisphere.

Justin Delacour 4:33 PM  

by prioritizing its long-term goal of marginalizing Zelaya and any significant opposition to business-as-usual economic policies in the region while maintaining democratic cred with tepid support for Zelaya's restoration, Clinton undermined the OAS. And she's done further damage, at the worst possible moment, if the reports of her anti-Insulza communications are accurate.

I agree with that analysis. In effect, the United States is basically using this crisis to send a signal to the OAS and to the Latin American Left that it still runs the show in Central America. This is basically just old-fashioned power politics. Those who pretend that it's something more lofty than that (like Will) are simply deluding themselves.

Greg Weeks 5:11 PM  

Will, I'll grant you that, though it leaves open the question of why the OAS did nothing before the coup.

Miguel, that's a great question and I really don't know. Certainly the larger and richer countries would have more at stake and might therefore take a higher profile role.

Justin, you're right, it's about power. Which is why the leader of the OAS is now marginalized from this conflict.

My "limping along" comment comes from the fact that Chavez, Castro, and others had already expressed their disregard for the OAS, while the right (as now in Honduras) is doing similarly.

Justin Delacour 5:59 PM  

My "limping along" comment comes from the fact that Chavez, Castro, and others had already expressed their disregard for the OAS, while the right (as now in Honduras) is doing similarly.

But I don't think that's a proper standard of evaluating the relevance of the OAS. The fact that Chavez has threatened to leave the OAS is not an indicator that it's an irrelevant institution. Rather, it's an indicator that Chavez can use such threats to try to gain leverage within the OAS.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is essentially working to restore its own leverage over the OAS (and Central America) by showing that it can operate unilaterally in the event that the OAS strays too far from its objectives.

The fact that contending actors in any given institution will competitively seek to gain power and leverage within the institution is quite natural.

The danger arises when either or both contending actors decide to abandon the institution altogether. At the end of the day, the OAS fulfills a very important role of facilitating the kinds of dialogue and compromise that will be necessary for the hemisphere to avoid a return to the military juntas and dirty wars of the past.

leftside 6:38 PM  

State Dept. spokesman Kelly got laughed at today going out of his way to try to convince reporters that the discussions in San Jose with Arias had nothing to do an "American process." Who came up with the idea and made it happen then?

Any talks only had a shot at working if either side was willing to compromise on the core issue. They made clear they were not but the US chose this route, rather than take any concrete action - even that mandated by US law. As the delay tactic seems evident, it is time to wonder if this path is helpful or now hurting things.

Greg said about a solution "will come" from the US. But while I understand the US' unique power in Honduras, I would no longer bet on this coming true. Nor would I discount other possible solutions if the US continues to waste its position. Not even Chavez is proposing ALBA take the lead, but there are other institutions and possibilities.

Gabriel 6:55 PM  

In fairness to the OAS, which I don't particularly like, what more, exactly, could they have done? The US has leverage because of its economic ties with Honduras. No other country in the region has that clout. Brazil, for example, doesn't do that much trade with Honduras.

This goes to show that while Chavez can extend misery next door by supporting the FARC, his clout is generally limited. The region would not even support him for the UN Security Council! Now he's left begging Shannon to help him keep ALBA alive.

Another thing I suspect that's happening is that the Obama administration is realizing how much of this is due to Zelaya, and they probably don't want to help create another Chavez-figure. So from their point of view the best result is a Zelaya that doesn't return and new elections that simply change the situation in the ground.

Justin Delacour 7:26 PM  

Now he's left begging Shannon to help him keep ALBA alive.

Is this supposed to pass as analysis?

leftside 7:56 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
leftside 9:02 PM  

Insulza has said that Zelaya should be reinstated PRIOR to beginning any dialogue. He's also criticizing the "inflexibility" of Micheletti's side and called on Washington to apply some real pressure. It appears he is (smartly) walking away from the sputtering San Jose process, leaving the mess firmly in the hands of Washington and Arias.

The fact that “every proposal that Micheletti’s group presented was written or approved by the American” is not going to help either.

Either the US gets serious right away, or it can kiss goodbye any of the goodwill it has gained from the election of Obama and nice words exchanged in Port of Spain.

boz 9:20 PM  

State Dept. spokesman Kelly got laughed at today going out of his way to try to convince reporters that the discussions in San Jose with Arias had nothing to do an "American process."

Actually, they were laughing because someone asked something along the lines "isn't Costa Rica an American country." He clarified he meant not a "US" process. It's nice to see US officials called out on their use of the word "American" in the Western Hemisphere.

Gabriel 9:26 PM  

No need to worry too much about goodwill. Latinobarometro shows that even Bush was about as popular in Latin America as Chavez. The US is pretty popular in the region and most governments know they need to pay attention to what Washington says.

One of the fascinating things about traveling to the region and talking to government officials is realizing that in most cases they care more (I would say much more) about their relationship with the US than about relationships with the rest of Latin America. This is true of Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, even Brazil (after all who else could offer Brazil a $30 billion swap line? Venezuela?). It's also true of most Central America and the Caribbean.

Another fascinating thing you realize from reading polls like Latinobarometro is that the US is most popular in Central America, where it has 'intervened' the most, and least popular in Argentina and Uruguay, where its influence is much weaker. I suspect part of the reason is that almost every Central American has a close family member or friend in the US, while in Argentina most people simply don't know the country.

Anonymous,  10:24 PM  

Here is the link to the videotaped speeches at the OAS on July 4th.

http://www.oas.org/OASpage/
videosondemand/home_eng/
videos_query.asp?sCodigo
=09-0180#

It is not hard to see that beyond the goals about supporting democracy and restoring Zelaya, there have been major differences in approach among OAS members since the beginning. The OAS resolution did not call for a specific strategy that would achieve the goals. The US, of course, was cautious in part because it has responsibilities in the crisis that other countries do not. The US alone--whether we like it or not-- has the kind of leverage with the coup government that will help resolve the situation. Mexico and Costa Rica as likely destinations for Honduran refugees are plaintively cautious.

No one here has provided any evidence that the US government supported the coup. In the absence of such evidence, one might let the process go forward and see what it can accomplish. To declare it dead before it starts, as did Venezuela (and Fox News), doesn't help practically. Arias and Obama are not pursuing a narrow and rigid ideological position but pursuing a peaceful process to support the concept of democracy. When working on mediation, one tries to air every grievance and then forge a new consensus that isolates the extremes. The word perception gets used a lot to mollify the different positions. Ideological purists on both sides of this issue may not like any such diplomatic solution.

The clear distinction needs to be maintained between the Obama administration and the right wing of US politics. There is evidence that the Senate hearings, PR firms, various op-eds and others that are defending the coup have influenced but do not control US foreign policy. It is a new administration that is filled with liberals who are trying to thread a needle.

It is hard to see in domestic political terms what the Obama administration gains by pushing too hard and too fast. It risks further hardening positions and failing to conduct a process that leads to success. The consequences of failure are far more significant for Honduras but also weigh on the administration. The best outcome for Obama is a restoration of some form of democratic legitimacy without Venezuelan influence in Honduran politics.

I also wonder if the Honduras situation will abort a more progressive Latin American agenda on the part of Obama. I remember how harsh Castro's rhetoric and policies were with regard to Jimmy Carter. How the Nicaraguan Revolution, African issues and the Mariel exodus pushed Carter to a place he did not want to be. It contributed to Reagan's victory in 1980 and led to a series of really bad US policies. Many years later Castro remarked that of all the US presidents he has had to deal with, he misjudged Carter.

Justin Delacour 4:45 AM  

The clear distinction needs to be maintained between the Obama administration and the right wing of US politics. There is evidence that the Senate hearings, PR firms, various op-eds and others that are defending the coup have influenced but do not control US foreign policy. It is a new administration that is filled with liberals who are trying to thread a needle.

I don't disagree with that observation. All that I would point out is that the mere fact that a "liberal" Administration can't help but be influenced by the country's essentially conservative political culture limits the possibilities of meaningful Inter-American cooperation. If U.S. right-wingers can sabotage something as simple as the hemisphere's unity in the face of a coup, there really isn't much that Latin America can rely on the United States for.

leftside 9:23 PM  

Boz, the laughter at the State Dept briefing came after the reporter followed up a response about the Arias discussions saying "isn't that an American process." He very well may have meant what you suggested but I doubt that is how the room took it and why they laughed. I could be wrong as i was going off the transcript. But the America geographical terminology was referred to after the first laughter... Not that it really matters. I bet you'd even concede the CR talks are essentially a US process.

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