The Big Winners in Honduras Are Lula and Brazil’s New Moral Authority in LatAm

Zelaya, Lula Five months since the coup d'état and the situation in Honduras only complicates itself further. After the elections on November 27 there are now 3 President in Tegucigalpa: a deposed president, an interim president and a president elect. The U.S. and a few Latin American partners recognized the elections and negotiations now seem just a formality to the resolution of the crisis.

Even President Zelaya seems to accept the reality that he may never hold power in Honduras and will be lucky to live there. However the crisis ends, the most striking development is the emergence of an independent Latin America foreign policy. Led by Brazil, it is insistent on resolving its own issues with a moral authority that questions the U.S. role in the region.

The Obama doctrine made its first statement in Latin America. Despite assurances from the head of Southern Command Lt. General Douglas Fraser that U.S. forces stationed at the Palmerola air base were unaware that President Zelaya would be deported from the airbase, many in the region remain skeptical. Secretary of State Clinton did not dispel suspicions delaying to describe the events as a coup.

By not taking a clear position early, it appeared the U.S. favored the status quo of the de facto government and its aggression against the Honduran President. In fairness, the U.S. sanctioned foreign aid and denounced many of the heavy-handed actions the interim government has taken. Regardless of the origins of the coup, the leadership and independence that Latin American countries have shown in addressing the issue.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias took the first steps to mediate crafting a compromise that seemed to address the concerns of both sides: the restitution of Zelaya and the end of referendums about constitutional issues. Dubbed the San Jose Agreement, it attempted to return to the state of affairs before the crisis. The Organization of American States, continuing to raise its international profile, sent multiple delegations to negotiate the adoption of the San Jose Agreement.

After repeated attempts at soft diplomacy from the OAS failed to generate results, President Zelaya attempted to compel the de facto government to relent. After several attempts to enter the country, President Zelaya appeared in the Brazilian embassy. His supporters rallied to the embassy and attempted to force the government to recognize the will of the people and return President Zelaya to the Presidency.

The interim government was aware of the historical implications and dispatched the army immediately. The tactic of rallying the populace has been an effective tool for populist presidents since President Peron was first returned to the Casa Rosada. Recently, President Chavez returned to power in a similar fashion during a failed coup in 2002. The army encircled the embassy immediately, dispersed President Zelaya's supporters and enforced a curfew among other restrictions to freedoms.

It is unclear how President Zelaya entered the country, but it is unlikely that he was unaided. When the Venezuelan State News Agency first released the news that President Zelaya was in Tegucigalpa  President Chavez boasted his support. No further evidence was needed to confirm what most everyone already suspected.
President Zelaya's safety is guaranteed by the Brazilian embassy and President Lula's goodwill. His presence pressures everyone to find a solution to the crisis making the injustice unavoidably visible. President Zelaya's mandate was ending, all he could hope to gain by restoration would be to insure his social reforms arrived to the term of the next President and to head the military, the institution responsible for conducting the elections. 

Venezuela is not the only country taking an active role in supporting President Zelaya. Brazil has taken its support of President Zelaya to the U.N. The Brazilian Chancellor of Foreign Affairs Amorim, attempted to corner the U.S. firmly against the interim government by formally requesting the current head of the U.N. Security Council Susan Rice to take the matter under review of the U.N. Security Council. The move would force U.S. representative, Susan Rice, into concrete actions and force it to adopt a clear position toward the interim regime.

Deaf to the isolation from Latin American countries the Micheletti government only accepted U.S. mediation. He agreed to the mediation and, subsequently, the settlement. Trusting in the good faith of all parties Zelaya signed the agreement allowing his reinstatement to be determined after a Supreme Court declaration on the legitimacy of the matter and a vote in Congress.

He naively assumed that international pressure would compel the government to reinstate him and accept what appeared to be the inevitable. President Zelaya signed an agreement without enforceable dates and vulnerable to a creaking political process.

After being confronted with a lesson in realpolitik in his pajamas at 3:00 A.M. the morning of June 28, it can be questioned if he learned anything. Trusting the Supreme Court that legitimized his ouster and the Congress from where the interim President (in the same party no less) served shows either President Zelaya's ignorance in international political affairs or his desperation to move the situation forward.

The forces behind the coup already showed their indifference to the rule of law; to assume that they would respect anything but cynical real power was naí¯ve.

The U.S. recognized the November 27 elections and its winner President elect Porfirio Lobo, presumably the government will be recognized internationally when he takes power. The story emerging from the corridors of Capitol Hill is that the State Department was obligated to surrender any moral opposition to recognizing the election in exchange for Republican Senatorial approval of ambassador appointments in Latin America.

Whether the U.S. State Department was coerced by Republican legislative maneuvers or was always insincere of Obama's campaign rhetoric is irrelevant. This administration has lost much of its credibility in the region and reinforces perceptions of U.S. imperialism.

Domestically, the only question is how close the interim President will allow Zelaya to his native country and if anyone will renounce the Presidency before the new government takes power. Internationally, the last hand in the political parlor game is for U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela to save face.

The Obama administration is trapped by its own rhetoric of an optimistic new brand of politics and the cynical demands of international affairs. In order to make both compatible Assistant Secretary Valenzuela visited Itamaraty, the Ministry of Brazilian Foreign Affairs, on December 14, to discuss issues of mutual concern.

His objective is for Brazil to endorse a palatable solution to all. The U.S. State department needs Brazil to lend its moral authority and, perhaps, pressure President Zelaya to accept less than he hoped for if not deserved from any agreement. The result of these negotiations will show the power balance between the two and the U.S. standing in the region.

In the end, how the situation is resolved is not as important as the new evolving dynamic in Latin America. Despite a new President U.S. credibility is still questioned and moral authority has not been restored. On the other hand, President Lula and his Latin American partners are not powerful enough to impose its will in Honduras and restore President Zelaya. However, they are resisting U.S. efforts in the region that may cause future complications for Washington.
A D.C.-native, Gregory Melus is currently a freelance reporter based in São Paulo, Brazil. He worked on the Obama campaign after serving in a Congressional Office on Capitol Hill for over two years. Greg is trilingual and has lived abroad for years to investigate the controversial conflicts and issues that affect our age first-hand. His experience includes working and volunteering for international aid institutions at the Grameen Bank in Argentina and Al-Najaf University in Palestine. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, Greg will be pursuing a JD at American University College of Law in 2010.


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