Friday, October 30, 2009

Agreement Reached in Honduras (?)

There have been so many reports over the months that an agreement between Micheletti and Zelaya was close, only to be wrong, that this almost seems hard to believe. Still, the New York Times and other news agencies are reporting it as if it were a done deal:

A lingering political crisis in Honduras seemed to be nearing an end on Friday after the de facto government agreed to a deal that would allow Manuel Zelaya, the deposed president, to return to office.

The government of Roberto Micheletti, which had refused to let Mr. Zelaya return, signed an agreement with Mr. Zelaya’s negotiators late Thursday that would pave the way for the Honduran Congress to restore the ousted president and allow him to serve out the remaining three months of his term.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed on Friday that Mr. Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti had approved what she called “an historic agreement.”
The "final details" have to be hammered out still (allegedly today), so I'm still not quite willing to believe this is a done deal. Still, there are not-illegitimate reasons to think this may take place. Micheletti has managed to stall to the point that Zelaya's final 3 months (if he is in fact to return) could be some of the lamest of lame-duck terms. If he wanted to prevent Hondurans from having more say in their government (something towards which Zelaya was moving), then Micheletti's tactics were most likely successful - if Zelaya's government is going to be a "reconciliation and unity" government, as one of the details proposes, I just don't think the previous quasi-populist bluster of Zelaya will be as strong as it was prior to the coup. That's not to say it won't happen at all, but I would be somewhat surprised.

Another particularly interesting point is the fact that this settlement is finally reached after Obama dispatched an envoy to Honduras to try to negotiate an end to this mess. I'm very curious as to why this agreement happened now - are the negotiators just that good? Were there some "suggestions" made that neither Micheletti nor Zelaya (and especially the former) could not refuse? What exactly made these two men come closer to an agreement than they had, and what role did the U.S. negotiators have? (And I suppose it's possible they didn't play a catalyzing role, but I find that highly unlikely).

Of course, if Obama's dispatching of the negotiators was the catalyst for this change, I can already imagine that many (especially on the left) will condemn Obama for not acting sooner. The reasoning will probably go as follows: well, the U.S. refused to get involved, and when it finally did, it was able to restore the democratically elected leadership, so it should have made this move back in July or August or anytime before the end of October.

This criticism will fall short for a few reasons. No doubt, many will ask why, if it just took some negotiators from the U.S. to resolve things, why didn't this happen sooner? But this way of thinking gives too much credit to the U.S. and not enough to other political contingencies and actors. For example, as I alluded to above, just because Micheletti has (apparently) agreed with these negotiators at the end of October does not mean he would have agreed with them in mid-July or late-August. Certainly, the global response against his regime has played a part in all of this; after all, many governments (including the U.S.) were saying they could not recognized elections that were held under a coup-installed government. For a man whose hope was that elections would allow Honduras to return to "normalcy," those were more than empty threats. Additionally, to blame the U.S., and the Obama administration specifically, forgets particularly important aspects of this whole timeline, such as the fact that Zelaya wasn't even in Honduras (and thus didn't have the negotiating power he currently has) until the end of September, when Zelaya surprised the world. At that point, the negotiation process entered a whole new phase, and I don't think it's unfair to say that Honduras had to try to work this out itself (with Zelaya's new, more powerful negotiating position) before actors like the U.S. could get involved. Thirdly, we cannot forget the importance non-political actors may have had in this alleged agreement. Certainly, the Zelaya supporters in the embassy and the demonstrators who had taken to the streets periodically over the last several months had made their voices heard, but they were not the only ones. I can't help but wonder if the country's business leaders may have also had a role in this. After all, they were the first ones to feel the economic pinch of the global condemnation of the Micheletti regime, and they have made efforts before to bring this to an end before. And to be clear, I'm not saying that they had more sway or importance than the thousands who took to the streets, often risking their lives, to protest the coup and make their voices heard. What I am saying is that I suspect that these negotiations were most likely much more complex and part of a much longer process than we could possibly know for certain now. Unless Micheletti or Zelaya (or both) come out and say, "well, we weren't going to do this at all, but then the negotiators convinced us," I don't believe Obama's action was the only one that had any role in this agreement being reached. And even if Micheletti and Zelaya openly say this, I won't necessarily believe them - to do so would be to refuse the power of the Honduran people themselves in this matter.

I still write all of this with a bit of hesitancy; too many times, reports in this vein have emerged, only to break down at the last minute, and there's still a window of opportunity for another breakdown here. Still, this is being reported with more certainty and detail than any other previous "agreement," so this could happen. If it does, it will finally bring an end to what should have been resolved long ago (indeed, what probably never should have happened), and I suspect that it will be through the actions not just of the U.S. negotiators, but of the Honduran people, business leaders, Oscar Arias, the OAS, the European Union, Brazil, global economics, and numerous other factors and agents that make the whole process, from before the coup to the present and beyond, a very complicated series of events.