Howie Mandel wasn’t there, but he may as well have been as yesterday the small group of dedicated Latin Americanists waited to hear if the negotiations had been successful in resolving the crisis in Honduras. The morning opened up with news that the negotiators were optimistic and that they were 90 percent there. Then came the news from the Commander of the Army, General Romeo Vásquez, that a deal to resolve the impasse was close at hand. Then the news! A deal had been struck. Then the downer. No deal, said de facto President Roberto Micheletti.
In the statement he warned the national and international media “to be cautious in their reporting about the negotiations as they have a responsibility not to interfere with the dialogue.” Before that, Micheletti clearly left his options open: “Today, the negotiating teams began discussing the most difficult issue in the negotiations—the possible reinstatement or not of former President Zelaya within the rule of law and in line with our Constitution.” (Which by the way was broken when the military sent him packing out of the country on June 28, but I guess that doesn’t matter.)
We probably all should have taken the optimism with a grain of salt. In large part because by their own admission the negotiators were saying that they had resolved everything except the status of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Saying that you’re 90 percent there but having not resolved the critical and most polarizing issue of the crisis is akin to saying you’ve solved global warming except that messiness about countries controlling carbon emissions. You can’t get a resolution without it, and yet it’s the major sticking point. Other countries have called explicitly for his return, including Brazil, Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain and more recently the ambassadors from Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela and the foreign Minister of Panama—who’s government had said earlier that it was willing to accept the results of the November 29 elections even if they were conducted by the Micheletti government. The statement represents an important about-face.
Venezuela and Bolivia are no surprise, of course. The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) alliance—of which President Zelaya had been a card-carrying member (assuming they actually had cards and maybe even a secret handshake)—has been pushing for his return for a while. This has led to all sorts of semi-paranoid, exaggerated claims by some that the return of Zelaya was the same as returning President Hugo Chávez to the seat of power in Honduras. And it also led to the inflammatory questions by those on the Right about why the administration of President Barack Obama was suddenly on the same side as the Chávez government in calling the events of June 28 a coup and calling for Zelaya’s return. I’m not sure whether this is disingenuous or just facile. Diplomatically, this is precisely the moment when we can serve to back Venezuela into a corner to endorse the OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter—which until now they have scoffed at. Now they are supporting it; of course it’s for different reasons, but unintentionally they have landed on the side of institutions.
The central question of what will happen to Zelaya is central not only to the negotiations but also to the international community. Will it be willing to accept a resolution that does not involve his return—even if (as should be) in a constrained form? A number of governments are on record demanding his return. What happens if Hondurans themselves resolve the crisis without meeting the international community’s demands?
Personally I believe that a resolution that does not involve Zelaya’s return sets a dangerous precedent. But so does allowing the crisis to limp on and the rejection of a consensus resolution crafted by the very players themselves. There are a number of symbolic ways around this, to be sure—Zelaya simply passing on the presidential sash in the January inauguration, a quick reinstatement then a quick resignation to a coalition government.
But all of that now is hypothetical. First we have to see a deal.
*Christopher Sabatini is the Editor-in-Chief of Americas Quarterly and Senior Director of Policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.