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Return of the Honduran Prodigal


On October 28, Robert Micheletti’s interim government and ex-president Manuel Zelaya reportedly agreed to a formula that should restore “pariah” Honduras to the ranks of normal states. It should also permit Hondurans to elect their next president on November 29 without the international community breathing down their necks.

Under intense pressure, the interim Micheletti government agreed to let Zelaya return to presidential office for the next three months. Exactly how that happens will be decided by the Honduran Supreme Court and Congress. Other terms of the deal include a temporary government of national reconciliation, no amnesty, and no constitutional referendums.

Secretary Clinton hailed the accord as a victory for “negotiation and dialogue.” Baring his pre-Halloween fangs, Zelaya said it signifies “my return to power.”

The agreement is really a tribute to serious U.S. arm-twisting. It is not difficult to imagine the message delivered by U.S. diplomats to Micheletti this week in Tegucigalpa. “Brace for economic ruin when the powerful and punitive U.S. refuses to recognize your silly-little elections!” It was a chilling message for the upper and middle classes who have defied the Hugo Chávez-inspired populism of Zelaya.

Since the Hondurans removed Zelaya from office for violating the constitution, the Obama administration has mismanaged the situation. It sided with the Chávez-influenced Organization of American States; it called Zelaya’s legal removal a military “coup;” and it threatened not to recognize the winner of an election process begun well before June 28.

The Obama team did an excellent job of undermining the Honduran economy by cutting off economic assistance, throttling tourism with travel warnings, yanking visas away from Hondurans, and creating a climate of massive uncertainty that spooked U.S. investors and businesses. The U.S. embassy in Honduras did yeomen’s work watching out for the interests of the Zelaya clan, leaving many to wonder which side it was pulling for. In short, against a small, friendly, anti-Chávez ally, the administration mustered the sort of muscle it would never dare use against Iran, Russia, or Venezuela.

The accord requires implementation by the Hondurans, good behavior by Zelaya, and a quick infusion of international support for the elections. It requires hands-on U.S. diplomacy, not pre-June 28 complacency, to make sure Zelaya doesn’t yet derail the electoral process and steal Honduras from under the eyes of the Obama administration.

— Ray Walser is senior policy analyst for Latin America at the Heritage Foundation’s Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.