U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking at the Organization of American States (OAS) annual meeting in Lima, Peru on Monday urged countries in the hemisphere to readmit Honduras into the regional organization. The OAS suspended Honduras after the military coup which overthrew President Manuel Zelaya last June.
"We saw the free and fair election of President Lobo, and we have watched President Lobo fulfill his obligations under the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord – including forming a government of national reconciliation and a truth commission. This has demonstrated a strong and consistent commitment to democratic governance and constitutional order," said Clinton.
This is a message the U.S. has been consistently advancing for months.
"Other countries in the region say that they want to wait a while. I don’t know what they’re waiting for, but that’s their right, to wait," said Clinton during a visit to Costa Rica in March. "We believe that President Lobo and his administration have taken the steps necessary to restore democracy."
The problem is that Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and other countries in the region disagree.
"Honduras's return to the OAS must be linked to specific means for ensuring re-democratisation and the establishment of fundamental rights" said Brazil's deputy foreign minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota.
These nations want to see former President Zelaya free to return to Honduras. They want recent dismissals of judges opposed to the coup to be reversed. And they are also waiting for human rights violations to be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.
As for Clinton's statement about the Tegucigalpa Accord of October 30, 2009 -- that accord was never even implemented. No amount of saying that Porfirio Lobo Sosa is carrying it out changes that. And Roberto Micheletti, former leader of Honduras's Congress who stepped in as de facto president after the coup toyed with the international community when he unilaterally named a "reconciliation" government, while his allies in the Congress delayed considering restitution of President Zelaya until after elections were held. The U.S. must ultimately take the blame for taking the pressure off Micheletti, due to diplomatic statements guaranteeing that elections would be recognized whether or not President Zelaya was restored. Repeating that the November elections were "free and fair," the U.S. government denies the fact that there were no independent observers that would reassure the world community, and the Honduran people, of this claim, while also never achnowledging other evidence of fraud that surfaced.
The more the U.S. insists that the Lobo government is implementing an agreement (the Tegucigalpa Accord) that died stillborn, the less credibility it has. In place of a government of reconciliation Lobo devised a cabinet in January with token appointments of politicians from other parties. But the reconciliation that was, and is needed in Honduras is not between political parties. Zelaya and Micheletti are both members of the same Liberal Party. What remains unreconciled in Honduras is the gap between the political class, composed of all the traditional parties, and the population that feels alienated from this class. These people who actively opposed the coup d'etat and the de facto regime and continue today to advocate fundamental reform of Honduran institutions remain the targets of repression. This was vividly illustrated in recent weeks by the dismissal of judges who opposed the coup and the military and police assault and closure of an opposition community radio station in the southern peninsula of Zacate Grande.
Meanwhile the "Truth Commission" that the U.S. touts, repudiated by both Honduran progressives and the right-wing forces behind the coup, is so manipulated by opposition on the right that it dropped the word "coup" from its vocabulary. Other Latin American nations that have done the hard work of coming to grips with their own histories of disrupted democracy are under no illusions that this commission will uncover the truth.
Secretary Clinton's insistence on rewarding the Lobo administration with readmission to the OAS, for so-called adherence to the terms of an accord that fell impart long before he was elected, is both a fallacious and feeble argument. When the OAS unanimously voted to suspend Honduras in 2009, it was for violations of its own charter. It is compliance with the OAS charter that Honduras must make good. In the face of continuing human rights violations, and the failure to prosecute violations under the de facto regime, both amply documented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS itself, it is really not so hard to understand why other hemispheric powers feel Honduras is not yet ready to rejoin the international community.
The path to reintegration in the OAS is not through "implementation" of a non-existent accord to which Honduras's present president was not even a signatory. It requires acknowledging and atoning for the disenfranchisement of the people by the forced removal of a duly elected president. It requires the removal from positions of authority of those who participated in the rupture in government. It requires guarantees of freedom of speech and opinion, of freedom of the press, and encouragement of public debate about the constitutional and governmental framework of Honduras today. A coup is not so easily forgotten.
Rosemary Joyce is the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. She is an anthropologist who has worked on Honduran cultural heritage for over thirty years. Russell Sheptak, Visiting Scholar at Berkeley, is an historical anthropologist who has collaborated in research in Honduras for most of that time. Together, they write the Honduras Culture and Politics blog, successor to Honduras Coup 2009.