Sunday, November 01, 2009

Informal contacts and the Honduran crisis

RAJ at Honduras Coup 2009 touched on something I had not thought about, but which in fact has been a source of considerable research (at least in political science) in the past decade or so. That is informal politics in Latin America:

In retrospect, the main problem with the attempt to negotiate the San Jose Accord may have been that taking place away from Honduras impeded the kind of informal contacts that clearly helped promote an agreement.

In 2003 I published a book on Chilean civil-military relations, and I argued that informal contacts were not conducive to civilian supremacy over the armed forces. The military was able to use informal contacts to get what it wanted, all the while circumventing legally established channels.

However, that cut against the grain of most analyses, which viewed informal channels as often positive for getting things done (e.g. see Helmke and Levitsky's Informal Institutions and Democracy: Lessons from Latin America). Informal contacts could reinforce formal institutions.

Since then, my research has evolved in other directions, but it would be very interesting to study the role of informal contacts in the Honduran crisis. What horse trading went on outside the formal negotiations? In what ways was physical presence in Honduras essential to informal contacts?


Anonymous,  1:31 PM  

Reuters has an interesting article on where the situation stands:

The accord never mandated that Zelaya be reinstated, only that Congress vote on it and take into account what the Supreme Court has to day about it. According to Reuters the SC may opine that Zelaya should not be allowed back and some congressmen are saying they will vote for whatever the SC says.

Of course now Zelaya is claiming that the pact demands his restitution, which is simply not true. If that's what he wanted he should have not signed the agreement, since the agreement makes clear there is no guarantee that Zelaya can become president once again. But since Zelaya and his supporters have long made clear they couldn't care less about any other institution in the country, it's not very surprising.

So the situation remains in flux. Will Congress decide to just let him be, and have Zelaya assume power for the last couple of months of his presidency? It could be the simplest choice, particularly since he has been so emasculated (Unity government, no control of armed forces). Or will they say no, in the hope that the agreement means that even if they reject his return the US (only one that truly matters) will recognize the upcoming elections.

I was leaning towards the first (let him be) but some recent comments make me think that rejection could still happen.

Robert 6:27 PM  

At the risk of sounding redundant, I must argue impassionately that a perfect example of such "informal contacts" include the mediators within the Catholic clergy. Their role has been downplayed quite a bit in the press, but we all know that they carry immense political power (in which direction, it depends) in every Latin American country. It is clear that they participated in negotiations at some level--how much is still uncertain.

I am confident that the details will begin to emerge over the next few months.

Anonymous,  7:27 PM  

They carry 'immense power' in 'every' Latin nation? Really? And the evidence for that is what, exactly?

I've seen the Church fight divorce laws and lose across the whole region. Acceptance of same-sex marriages is growing and several cities across the region have created some form of civil unions for gays. Again, the Church is losing.

Voters don't even care too much what the church says.

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