Honduras: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right, But They’re Starting to Look Like a Marx Brothers Movie
That ridiculous mess known as Honduran politics is back in the news. Unfortunately for the people of Honduras, it’s for all the wrong reasons.
In June, a military coup overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, who was hustled onto a jet and out of the country (while still wearing his pajamas, apparently). Shortly thereafter, the Honduran Congress voted unanimously to remove Zelaya from office and replace him with Roberto Micheletti, the president of Congress.
According to Micheletti, the coup was made necessary by an extended constitutional crisis, during which a term-limited Zelaya attempted to extend his rule through a referendum that would have. . .wait for it. . .eliminated presidential term limits. After both Honduras’s Supreme Court and Congress called the referendum unconstitutional, Zelaya refused to back down. His opponents accused him of wanting to remain in power and compared him to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Next thing you know, Zelaya is on a plane looking like the punchline in a Marx Brothers movie — a perception not helped when it turned out that it was his own idea to wear pajamas.
But Zelaya’s antics in no way excuse the actions of those responsible for his ouster. Zelaya was democratically elected in what absolutely everyone (even his opponents) agrees was a free and fair election. His undemocratic moves took place after he assumed office. The military’s decision to toss him out of the country — even if subsequently sanctioned by a unanimous vote of the Honduran Congress — was equally unconstitutional (if not more so).
So why am I reminding you of all this now? Because things just got much, much worse — and vastly weirder.
On Monday, Zelaya snuck into Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, managing somehow to claim a triumphant return while looking foolish at the same time. A photo of Zelaya taking a nap inside the embassy didn’t exactly help his cause.
Zelaya really doesn’t have very good timing. As Mark Goldberg at UN Dispatch points out, he was scheduled to give a speech to the UN General Assembly on Thursday — which would have given him a much better pulpit — and far more attention — than his current perch allows.
In response, Micheletti defended the de facto government’s actions with an address on national television and an op-ed in The Washington Post. He argued that Zelaya’s return “changed nothing,” continued to defend the coup, calling it a “constitutional succession” and insisting that he would hand over power to a new, democratically elected President in January.
This is ridiculous. Thanks to Zelaya’s continued appetite for media-friendly antics and Micheletti’s refusal to compromise, Honduras once again is once again being mocked as a banana republic.
These two windbags have turned a serious constitutional crisis into a cojones contest.
Meanwhile, the people of Honduras continue to suffer. The OAS has suspended Honduras’s membership, the United States has suspended more than $30 million in foreign assistance, the EU has pulled its ambassadors, and not a single country has recognized the Micheletti regime. That said, nobody seems that enthusiastic about a return by Zelaya either.
The problem, of course, is that the international community (or, for that matter, individual states) cannot merely say “a pox on both your houses.” Someone has to be in charge. The question is not who is right and who is wrong but rather who will do more damage to the prospect for continued democratic governance in Honduras (and beyond).
Both Zelaya’s attempts to hold on to power and the parliamentary-military coup that installed Micheletti were undemocratic. Neither side has acted in the long-term interests of Honduras.
The real solution is some sort of compromise. Here’s one possible way:
1. Adopt new constitutional measures that a) explicitly outlaw the use of a simple majority vote in a referendum to amend the constitution and b) provide for some sort of legitimate democratic process to remove a President acting extra-constitutionally (preferably one that does not require the military to grab him/her while still in his/her pajamas).
2. Micheletti resigns, turning the government over to a new caretaker that is acceptable to both sides.
3. Drop all action against Zelaya. Allow him and his followers to choose a candidate to run in November’s elections — as long as it’s not Zelaya himself.
4. Invite international observers and the UN to the November elections. And if the results are the product of a free and fair poll, then accept the results as the mandate of the Honduran people.
Is it a perfect solution? Absolutely not. But somebody has to come up with something that addresses the reality that neither side is acting in the best interests of the country.
It will take years for Honduras to recover from this morass. But it won’t be able to start until Zelaya and Micheletti both get out of the way.
Photo credit: Knut Burmeister via Flicker using a CC BY 2.0 license.
Charles J. Brown is Senior Fellow and Washington Director at the Institute for International Law and Human Rights and the host of Undiplomatic, a blog on the intersection of foreign policy, politics, and pop culture.