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Timing is Everything in Diplomacy and Soccer

Word from the annual OAS General Assembly in Lima this week is that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appealed to the hemispheric community to re-instate Honduras to full membership, but that a number of other hemispheric countries, notably Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina, demurred.  After a year wandering in the hemispheric wilderness since being expelled from the OAS in 2009, Hondurans are wondering what they need to do, to paraphrase BP’s chief executive Tony Hayward, to get their lives back.  Indeed, duly-elected Honduran President Porfirio Lobo must be thinking right about now that he faces political difficulties approximating the Gulf oil spill, and that the clean-up efforts from last year’s coup ousting then-president Mel Zelaya are just as oily.

My colleague Chris Sabatini has argued in this space that a path forward exists and that countries of goodwill can and should work together to help Honduras beyond its self-inflicted diplomatic isolation, even though such a path will go well beyond Lima this week.  He’s correct.  The problem, however, is that the OAS is a body that makes decisions by consensus, and a number of the member states—for larger political and ideological reasons—have little interest in working collaboratively to bring Honduras back into the fold.  It is in their interests, in fact, to keep the issue alive as long as possible, in order to divert US attention in the hemisphere away from the larger agenda, as well as to keep the United States isolated and on the defensive in hemispheric forums.  To the extent Washington is made to remain worried about the state of democracy in Honduras, it suggests even less attention from Washington and others to the state of democracy in neighboring Nicaragua, or in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, or Venezuela, just to name a few.

Therefore, expect this issue to dog President Lobo for most or all of his term.  It is ironic that a president who was elected freely and fairly, in a process that began long before the June coup, could be stigmatized and delegitimized before the hemispheric community by the likes of Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega, and that even the US Secretary of State is unable to inflict reason upon the OAS.  But that’s the sad state of hemispheric relations these days, a reality that must be recognized.

Of course, had the OAS General Assembly been held even one week later, after the start of the World Cup soccer tournament on June 11, the results might well have been different.  That’s because the eyes of leading protagonists Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and even Honduras itself would all have been turned to the television screens to follow their respective teams’ progress in the soccer tournament.  Even the Secretary General of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza, is reportedly a huge soccer fan, following his native Chile’s participation in the tournament.  With much of the hemisphere preoccupied, it would have been noticeably easier to establish a path forward for Honduras consistent with the norms of the international community and the restoration of democracy in an impoverished nation.

Ok, that last point is clearly absurd.  Because it suggests that the hemispheric community really doesn’t care about Honduras for Honduras’ sake, and that it is just a foil for other, larger issues and can be discarded at a moment’s notice.

Then again, maybe it isn’t so absurd.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Organization of American States, Honduras, Hillary Clinton, Porfirio Lobo, OAS General Assembly

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