Micheletti's Losing Battle for Honduras' Diplomatic Corps and its International Legitimacy
August 20, 2009
Since the Honduran military seized and expelled President Manuel Zelaya, the country’s de facto government has been losing the battle for international legitimacy. De facto President Roberto Micheletti and his allies have tried to convince the world that
In the last few weeks, both the
The current Honduran imbroglio presented ambassadors with the dilemma of whether to support the deposed president or the newly-installed leader, weighing political allegiances against career aspirations. Ambassadors, dependent on the politicians who appoint or remove them, lack domestic constituencies and live at the mercy of elected politicians at home.
With this coup, Honduran ambassadors suddenly faced a high-stakes decision. Unlike old-style coups—where the military simply takes power and replaces diplomats and other democratic representatives—Honduran ambassadors were not immediately dismissed. Instead, the Micheletti government wanted to maintain a semblance of continuity, giving ambassadors a significant degree of autonomy but forcing them to choose which master to follow.
Adding to the complexity of the situation, Micheletti, like President Zelaya, is a member of the Liberal Party. This party identification generated greater ambiguity in diplomats’ allegiances and enabled the new government to gain support from certain Zelaya appointees. Zelaya also had alienated most of
Ambassadors have faced a tough decision, but three factors have made supporting the Micheletti-run government riskier than supporting President Zelaya. First, the international community has resoundingly condemned the coup. Outside
For example, when the sitting Honduran ambassador to the
Domestic political factors are also having an impact. For one thing, even with international condemnation, a diplomat with longer-term plans might base the decision of which leader to support on who would most likely be
Finally, given Zelaya’s dismal approval ratings—which were below 30 percent before the coup—and the unprecedented turmoil with the Liberal Party still at the helm, the National Party should have a relatively easy time winning the upcoming elections. Recent polls show the National Party candidate, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, in the lead by six percentage points. While the election results are not a foregone conclusion, this means that Liberal Party ambassadors will likely lose their posts at year’s end, irrespective of whom they support. This reinforces the position of pre-coup Honduran diplomats who would have had little to gain by supporting Micheletti. By remaining with Zelaya, they remain on the internationally-sanctioned side of the right camp without taking on much political risk.
These factors—in addition to certain personal loyalties—likely explain the firmness with which most Honduran diplomats have stuck to a pro-Zelaya stance. After losing the initial discursive battle over whether what transpired was a coup or a “constitutional succession,” the Micheletti government had neither carrots nor sticks to ensure Honduran ambassadors’ support. And Micheletti’s inability to marshal ambassadors to his side has further weakened the prospects of shifting the terms of the international debate.
Despite this weakness, Micheletti’s government still controls embassies’ purse strings. Since the coup, embassies like the one in the
In this position of relative weakness, Micheletti appears to have resorted to a stalling strategy—biding his time until the upcoming elections—while trying to muster lobbying support within the
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