Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Honduran President-Elect Proposes a General Amnesty, and Why It's a Terrible Idea

This seems like a terrible idea:

Honduras' president-elect said Tuesday he wants amnesty for ousted President Manuel Zelaya and for all of those involved in the June 28th coup that deposed him.

"There should be (an amnesty) for all those involved," Porfirio Lobo said in Costa Rica, where he met with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli in an effort to build support for his presidency and break his nation's isolation.

I understand why Lobo may want to do this. He certainly is walking a tight line between acknowledging it was a coup and not irritating the military so that they do it again.

Still, in the larger picture, this is just a terrible, terrible, terrible idea. The fact that you forgive the military and Micheletti does not only offer the message that future coup-leaders who overthrow democratically-elected leaders can expect to be let off scot-free; it also forgives Micheletti and the military for the gross acts of human rights violations, ranging from censorship to curfews to blatant violence against Hondurans, in the wake of the June 28 coup. If you want to know how well these "general amnesties" work, just ask Brazil, whose military government offered a general amnesty in 1979 that allowed political exiles back in the country and set political prisoners free, but also prevented torturers and murderers in the military from ever being charged in their crimes. As a result, to this day, Brazil has not fully reconciled and confronted the legacy of its dictatorship, and particularly the repressive arm, in ways that Chile and Argentina have. Connected to this, practices of torture and executions by military police against the poor continue to this day in Brazil, with little interest in inquiring as to the institutional origins or continuation of these practices.

Again, Lobo's declaration isn't without its logic, particularly in the short-term. But if a general amnesty in Honduras goes through, letting Micheletti and the coup-leaders off the hook, then Lobo will have established a dangerous precedent for the future, and Honduras may never fully deal with the real causes, events, and legacies of the coup and Micheletti's repressive regime.