Under U.S. pressure, impoverished Honduras may allow authoritarian ex-president to return to power

Under U.S. pressure, Honduras’s leader has reportedly agreed to return to power its authoritarian ex-president, Manuel Zelaya, in exchange for an end to U.S. sanctions and U.S. recognition of its upcoming election results, and Zelaya’s agreement to turn over control of the military to a tribunal. It is not absolutely certain, however, that Honduras’s Supreme Court or Congress will approve the agreement, which appears to violate Honduran law.

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.”  After it, things have only gotten 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 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.

While attacking Honduras’ democratically-elected Congress and Supreme Court for their role in removing and replacing the country’s ex-president and would-be dictator, the Obama Administration has paid little attention to human-rights abuses in countries ruled by dictatorships.  Those countries include Guinea, where troops recently committed mass rapes against women in broad daylight; Niger, where the president recently turned himself into a dictator; Iran, where vast numbers of pro-democracy demonstrators have been tortured or killed; and Nicaragua, right next door to Honduras, where the unpopular president, who routinely engages in vote fraud, is busy trampling on constitutional term limits in order to turn himself into a president-for-life.