Honduras Agreement Did Not Promise Return of Authoritarian Ex-President, Contrary to Earlier Press Reports

The small country of Honduras did not agree to return its authoritarian ex-president to power after all.  Press reports said it did, but The Wall Street Journal says it merely agreed to submit a request for his return to Honduras’s Congress and Supreme Court, which previously backed the ex-president’s removal, in exchange for an end to U.S. sanctions and U.S. recognition of upcoming election results.  Under continuing U.S. pressure, they may soon allow his return to office, but it hasn’t happened yet.

The Washington Post admits that the ex-president, Manuel Zelaya, was trying to make himself into a dictator, like his mentor, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.  But the Post demands that he be returned to power anyway because he was “illegally deported” by the military after being removed from office.

But the ex-president is busy spinning the agreement as an unqualified recognition of his right to rule, which it isn’t.  And Obama Administration officials, like the State Department’s Thomas Shannon, are busy threatening Honduran legislators with sanctions and cancellation of their visas if they vote against reinstating Zelaya, in a manner seemingly at odds with the agreement itself.

Honduras removed ex-president Zelaya after he systematically abused his powers: he sought to circumvent constitutional term limits, used mobs to intimidate his critics, threatened public employees with termination if they refused to help him violate the Constitution, engaged in massive corruption, illegally cut off public funds to local governments whose leaders refused to back his quest for more power, denied basic government services to his critics, refused to enforce dozens of laws passed by Congress, and spent the country into virtual bankruptcy, refusing to submit a budget so that he could illegally spend public funds on his cronies.

By levying sanctions on Honduras, and refusing to recognize its current government, the Obama administration has destabilized the country, one of the poorest in Latin America, resulting in mass layoffs leading to 65% unemployment among workers at small and medium-size enterprises in Honduras.  Vulnerable social groups in Honduras, like orphans, have suffered especially acutely, and malnutrition has risen.

Even before the current crisis, the World Food Program noted that “One out of  four Honduran children under 5 years old falls  to chronic malnutrition. In some rural communities to the west of the country, chronic malnutrition can reach 48.5 percent.”  Since the crisis, things have gotten much worse: “A woman caring for six grandchildren can no longer afford milk. A bricklayer who used to work six days a week now is lucky to get two. A shop manager has seen his earnings evaporate.”

The Obama administration insisted that Zelaya’s removal was illegal, although many legal commentators said that Honduras’s removal of ex-president Manuel Zelaya was legal — and thus, not a coup. The ex-president’s removal was perfectly constitutional, say many lawyers and foreign policy experts, including attorneys Octavio Sanchez, Miguel Estrada, and Dan Miller, former Assistant Secretary of State Kim Holmes, Stanford’s William Ratliff, and The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady.  Former Secretary of State James Baker, a lawyer, says that Honduras’s removal of Zelaya from office was legal, although its exiling of him was not.