Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Successful Coup

After everything, the Honduran coup was an unmitigated success for Roberto Micheletti, the army, the business owners, and the other elites who supported it. Last weekend's election saw the left hobbled, the conservative candidate victorious, and the United States basically agreeing to recognize the results. Spain and most of the world refuses to recognize the elections. But with the United States signaling its recognition, it's only a matter of time before the rest of the world gives up and comes around.

What's so disturbing is the success of Jim DeMint and other right-wing Republicans in the matter. DeMint led the Republican charge in favor of the coup. He put a hold on Thomas Shannon, Obama's nomination for ambassador to Brazil over the matter. But after the last talks on returning deposed president Manuel Zelaya to power fell apart, even after a preliminary accord had been reached, Shannon announced that the US would recognize the elections even if Zelaya was not returned to power. DeMint took his hold off Shannon's nomination. Hillary Clinton confirmed the government's intentions to DeMint.

In the end, Honduras just isn't important enough to the United States. It's been a client state for a century and that's where American policymakers would prefer to keep it. Certainly they aren't going to the democratic mat for it. Given that Republican senators can stop nearly anything right now through delaying tactics, the far right has major control over foreign policy despite its small numbers.

The bigger issue is not Honduras, which is a total mess and is likely to remain that way, but how other Latin American countries see this news. I'm not particularly worried about Nicaragua or Bolivia, where a coup would lead to civil war, or Venezuela, where Chavez remains in strong control. I'd say Paraguay might be the nation most likely to follow Honduras' lead--a popular and populist leader with leftist credentials versus a long history of single-party right-wing rule, a very weak democratic tradition, and a nation peripheral to American or world interests.

In the end, the U.S. provided weak leadership in Honduras. The coup leaders were shocked at Obama's unwillingness to recognize their actions, and they'll be supporting Republicans however they can from now on. But Obama could have gone farther, freezing coup leaders assets and banning them from visiting the United States. Many of these families have major investments in the U.S., including large estates, and they come to the U.S. on weekend shopping trips. For people who don't care about sanctions or international aid, this is how you get at them. Alas, we failed and much of the world thinks so. I can't really say Obama earned his Nobel Peace Prize for Honduras.