The Washington Post’s Conflicted Take on Honduras and the OAS

That the Organization of American States has squandered whatever credibility it had should be obvious to all by now — and it’s not just right wingers saying so any more. The Washington Post gets its largely (though not entirely) right in an editorial today.

[I]t’s worth reporting on a meeting that took place Tuesday at the Organization of American States headquarters in Washington between OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza and three elected Venezuelan leaders who, like Mr. Zelaya, have been deprived of their powers and threatened with criminal prosecution.

The three are Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and the governors of two states, Pablo Pérez of Zulia and César Pérez Vivas of Tachira. All three won election in November, along with several other opposition leaders. But since then, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has used decrees, a rubber-stamp parliament and a politically compromised legal system to strip the officials of control over key services and infrastructure.

Mr. Insulza, a Chilean socialist who has been flamboyant in his defense of Mr. Zelaya, listened to the Venezuelans’ account. But the OAS leader insisted that there was nothing he could do about Mr. Chávez’s actions, even under the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which was adopted by all 34 active OAS members in 2001. This month, Mr. Insulza helped spur the OAS to suspend Honduras on the grounds that it had violated the charter. But in the case of Mr. Chávez’s stripping power from the governors and mayors, Mr. Insulza said, “I can’t say whether it is bad or good.” His authority, he said, is limited to “trying to establish bridges between the parties.”

That is not how Mr. Insulza handled the case of Honduras, of course. Far from promoting dialogue, the secretary general refused to negotiate or even speak with the president elected by the Honduran National Congress to replace Mr. Zelaya. Instead he joined in a Venezuelan-orchestrated attempt to force Mr. Zelaya’s return that, predictably, led to violence.

But that’s not all. The OAS made a mockery of its own Democratic Charter before the Honduran crisis broke out by deciding to readmit Cuba, a disgraceful incident which the editorial doesn’t mention. I also found it strange that, while the subhead asks, “Why defend the rule of law in Honduras but not in Venezuela?” the editorial itself acknowledges that Zelaya, whose position Insulza and the OAS are backing, was “responsible for violating the constitutional order” in his country.

Finally, the Post’s editors apparent endorsement of “OAS intervention” in defense of democracy and “for the administration…to depend on organizations such as the OAS to advance its policies in Latin America” strikes me as utopian. A better approach would be to let individual countries sort out their own internal conflicts. Honduras would be a good place to start.