Thursday, August 06, 2009

Latin America's failure in Honduras

As I've noted before, the Obama administration is being criticized from all sides for its reaction to the Honduran coup. News that the administration will neither insist on Zelaya's return nor use economic sanctions is troubling, to say the least.

However, this also highlights the fact that not nearly enough attention has been paid to the anemic Latin American reaction, which has been characterized by an almost total refusal to go beyond rhetoric. Instead, Latin America talks, sits, and waits for the U.S. to solve the crisis.

The Arias talks came about precisely because of Latin American failure.

The only way to compel the coup government to accept Zelaya's return is to use leverage. Some of this will come from within due to strikes and protests, but the bulk will likely come from international actors who agree to take measures against the government. That includes Latin America.

José Miguel Insulza was very effective in quickly getting hemispheric consensus condemning Zelaya's overthrow, but failed completely in terms of going beyond statements and convincing Latin American governments to use whatever leverage they have. He went to Honduras, demanded action, and was ignored. As a result, before long he became a peripheral figure. If the mission he is organizing now is to succeed, the diplomats involved must demonstrate that Latin American governments are willing to put the heat on Micheletti. Thus far, they have not done so in any consistent (and certainly not collective) manner.

Fellow Central American countries do have some important leverage because of trade, perhaps the most leverage of any other Latin American countries. They halted trade for 48 hours after the coup, but then decided it was too painful for themselves. No one has said a word about a similar measure since.

Venezuela cut off oil supplies, which is a useful measure, and hurts because Honduras was getting it at preferential prices. The problem is that Zelaya himself notes that Honduras gets only 15 percent of its oil from Venezuela. The rest comes from the United States.

Now, Zelaya just visited Mexico, where Felipe Calderón treated him as a head of state, an important symbolic gesture. But Calderón promised only vaguely to help more "intensely." I hope that means something concrete, but thus far Mexico has done nothing.

And where is Brazil? Lula has promised to intensify pressure on the coup government, but I am not aware of anything specific. Zelaya has indicated he will visit Brazil, so we will see whether Lula takes any action.

I am disappointed at seeing so much passivity. Even Hugo Chávez was left saying, "Do something. Obama, do something!"

The big question is whether it is too late for Latin America to play a decisive role. The OAS is not being taken seriously after so many weeks of inaction, and if any international institution wants credibility, it has to go beyond talk. Can Insulza--indeed can anyone--do that?


Anonymous,  8:49 AM  

The US may have realized what a dangerous thug Zelaya really is. Calderon probably can't help but compare him with AMLO.

Latin America has little leverage among other reasons because they love to talk, but don't actually want to do anything. Mercosur has a democratic charter but they are close to letting Venezuela join! Talk about useless.

The good news is that the Alba-inspired nonsense appears to be limited to a handful of countries.

leftside 12:58 PM  

I know I shouldn't even respond to such adolescent nonsense, but I can't help it.

You talk about dangerous thugs in Honduras all the time Anon - but somehow that never includes the golpistas who are ordering the military to take off their kid gloves with priotesters. It never includes the Honduran military, who has killed and injured scores of Hondurans - and who yesterday beat hundreds of students, as well as the University Rector trying to break things up... nice. How many people are in hiding or in jail right now? Plus the media closings, etc.

The good news is that the Alba-inspired nonsense appears to be limited to a handful of countries.

I guess you missed the 3 countries joining ALBA on June 24th?

leftside 1:16 PM  

I appreciate the more thoughtful argument in this post. But I still can not understand this apparent insistence to blame Latin America for the failure up to this point? I mean, isn't the real story up to this point about US failure? Did I miss the post titled "The US Failure in Honduras?" I think we can mostly agree now that Latin America made a mistake in leaving this to America and Arias - without taking their own initiatives. But who was arguing otherwise at the time? Only Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. Their skeptical view of the Empire has been proven right up to this point (particularly in light of the troubling State Dept. letter - does anyone have a copy? Sen DeMint says the letter "also acknowledged that the current leaders of Honduras have taken encouraging steps to find a peaceful solution." WOW!!!)

I do not believe there is any trepidation "going beyond talk" in Latin American capitals. The question is only what can be done?

I understand Zelaya has put together an appeal before the Intl. Criminal Court. But he is conceding he may not have much luck there, because there are no international laws specifically against a coup d'etat. Yesterday he appealed for such a law, arguing that it is a crime against humanity to have their vote taken away. Seems reasonable to me. Without a law, without a court able to issue a meaningful sentance, we are left to the laws of the jungle (force) and persuasion. With persuasion seemingly useless in this situation, shouldn't force at least begin to be put on the table - if nothing more than another point of leverage?

politicjock 1:51 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
politicjock 1:53 PM  

The problem is that Honduras sits right in the middle of central america and thus an embargo against the country is going to affect every country that relies on the transport of goods.

The coup regime knows this, and that's why they are confident that the OAS won't impose an embargo or anything that would disrupt goods from traveling across Honduras.

Justin Delacour 4:26 PM  

I mean, isn't the real story up to this point about US failure?

Of course. Greg is silly to expect Brazil or Venezuela to hold any trump cards over a Central American country. Central America is the quintessential example of a region that is economically and politically dependent on the United States. The one who holds the trump card over Honduras is the United States. Thus, to the extent that that card isn't being played, any serious analyst knows where the primary responsibility lies. To try to deflect attention from the United States' culpability is highly irresponsible.

If this were a South American country, Brazil and Venezuela would have been able to do a lot more, but Honduras is not a South American country.

Kelby,  6:21 PM  

I want to specifically talk about the US response and domestic US politics.

Even if the administration wanted to return Zelaya to office or force the coup government out, that position would be politically untenable in the United States at the moment.

With the huge health care battle that is going on right now, they cant afford to get distracted or take risky political actions like an embargo when the US economy is so weak. Plus, you have republican congressmen cheering the coup and visiting the coup government, and the foreign policy bureaucrats are more concerned with stability and trade than democratic credentials.
I mean how many Americans really care about Honduras right now with everything that is going on in the US?

By taking an extreme measure such as a coup in the first place, its pretty clear that only military action or a severe economic embargo would dislodge it. No country is willing to take that risk right now.

Additionally, the expulsion of Zelaya rather imprisonment was a brilliant PR move, because it makes the coup government seem benign, and focuses all of the media attention on Zelaya, rather than the abuses occurring Honduras.

THe coup government seems to have called everyone's bluff.

leftside 6:55 PM  

With the huge health care battle that is going on right now, they cant afford to get distracted or take risky political actions...

That logic is obviously informing the Administration's cowardly position. However, it is pure nonsense.

There should be nothing risky about supporting the ENTIRE world in taking economic measures against a coup government. Even the US' hand-picked mediator, Oscar Arias, has publicly urged increased sanctions.

Meanwhile, the State Dept. claimed it is still considering sanctions today, at the daily press briefing. I also love this continuation of the when is a coup not a coup game:

Mr. WOOD (State Dept.)... But a coup took place in the country, and –

QUESTION: Well, you haven’t officially legally declared it a coup yet.

MR. WOOD: We have called it a coup. What we have said is that we legally can’t determine it to be a military coup. That review is still ongoing.


MR. WOOD: We have been very robust in our criticism of what took place on the ground in Honduras. It was clearly a coup. We condemn that.

"Clearly a coup" - which clearly involves mandatory sanctions. But a letter exists saying there will be no sanctions (State says this is private communication and therefore they will not comment on it - nice). But both reviews are supposedly ongoing.. yeah right. Delay and obfuscate seems to be the name of the game in Washington and Tegulcigalpa.

Slave Revolt,  7:38 PM  

I think the botom line is that the US is an extremely rightwing, anti-democratic country--and Obama is fearful of helping any left of center, social democratic movement in the Americas when the DNA of State and the corporations are so fanatical against basic notions like workers rights.

They are watching Obama for any signs that he might have a social democratic inclination.

These arefanatics that use terrorism to achieve favorable outcomes. Bottomline.

These comments don't excuse Obama's cowardice, however.

Justin Delacour 7:54 PM  

With the huge health care battle that is going on right now, they cant afford to get distracted or take risky political actions like an embargo when the US economy is so weak.

Economic sanctions against a tiny country like Honduras wouldn't affect the U.S. economy at all. That's a completely bogus argument. The U.S. could EASILY bring the kind of pressure necessary to end this coup, but it has so far refused to do so.

Slave Revolt,  8:33 PM  

True that, Justin.

I think this has everything to do with perceived interests and a fear of the power of the demos to affect real change--change that is not an advertisement.

Nell 12:49 AM  

The U.S. could not only have put a much quicker end to the coup, they could have done so in a way that worked with and strengthened the OAS. Just following U.S. law and formally declaring it a coup, pulling the ambassador along with all the other countries, and cutting off all the aid quickly would have given Insulza's first trip a much better chance of success.

But Clinton early on (June 30)telegraphed that while the U.S. wanted the credit for verbal support of democracy, they also wanted to teach Zelaya a lesson, so Micheletti and his bosses knew they could just sit it out.

Even now, there are some things that the U.S. could do with the rest of the hemisphere. One way to get the coup-makers to peel off would be having all the OAS member states to commit publicly that none of them will recognize a government resulting from elections held under the coup regime.

And it's not a moment too late for the "legal review" to conclude, now that the military is issuing orders to shut down media and assaulting demonstrators, that it is indeed a military coup, and follow through with the aid cutoff.

Not to mention freezing the U.S. accounts of the Facusses, Farachs, and Ferraris -- the funders, and yanking a boatload of the coup participants' visas.

Justin Delacour 1:17 AM  

At the end of the day, I think the Obama Administration is really shooting itself in the foot. The Obama Administration is now in a position in which even moderate Latin American governments are tacitly criticizing the Administration's unwillingness to bring real pressure to bear on Honduras' coup leaders. If a so-called "liberal" Administration can't even work with moderate governments in the region to pull the plug on a coup, what can Latin America ever expect from the United States?

Mrs. Clinton's stall tactics are doing irreparable harm to U.S.-Latin America relations.

Kelby,  9:37 AM  

I wanted to clarify my comments.

I do not believe that the economic embargo is risky because of the economic impact on the US, but the political barrage it elicit from Republicans, many of whom have cheered the coup government as some weird blow against Chavez and socialism.

I agree its political cowardice, but the Obama admin probably made the calculation it cant afford to.

leftside 1:52 PM  

the economic embargo is risky because of the economic impact on the US, but the political barrage it elicit from Republicans, many of whom have cheered the coup government

Again, I agree that is likely part of the calculus. But how many Republicans have actually peeled off to support coup? I think a rather small number signed their names to a letter that was couched in cautious terms - but made clear they did not support Zelaya. Whether all those actively support the coup enough to publicly criticize Obama is questionable. But I would argue that it does not appear to be a strong, united, politically powerful GOP group. I don't think Obama has much to lose politically for simply following our own law about how to sanction coup governments. Even if he did, this type of cowardly political calculus has no place in a moral conception of foreign affairs.

Justin Delacour 2:30 PM  

I do not believe that the economic embargo is risky because of the economic impact on the US, but the political barrage it elicit from Republicans

Sure, I'm sure that's part of the calculus. And not just from the Republicans but from U.S. media more generally. But failing to turn back the coup also poses longer-term problems for the Administration. It will make it more difficult for the Administration to secure cooperation from Latin American countries on other matters. That doesn't seem to be part of the short-term political calculus, though.

Nell 3:18 PM  

Lula has said that Brazil will not recognize a Honduran government resulting from elections held under the coup regime. If the U.S. would get on that train the cracks in the coup coalition would widen measurably, as neither Santos and Lobo want any obstacles between them and inauguration. That would be a very useful kind of pressure.

But, of course, the U.S. is signaling by inaction that they will recognize the winner of elections held under a coup government, even one that shuts down TV and radio stations, shoots demonstrators, and beats university administrators on their own campus.

It's just wrong-headed to blame Latin American governments for insufficient pressure without any acknowledgment of the impact on their decision-making of the Obama administration's active and passive participation in the coup government's wait-it-out strategy.

Hanif IM 11:05 AM  

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