Commentary: U.S., Brazil and OAS get failing grades for Honduras test

The Miami HeraldDecember 6, 2009 

Brazil, the United States and the Organization of American States deserve a gold medal each for their awful handling of last Sunday's presidential elections in Honduras.

Let's examine how the main international players behaved in the crisis triggered by the June 28 civilian coup against deposed President Manuel Zelaya, which was the first break of the rule of law in Latin America in nearly two decades.

• The gold medal for political hypocrisy should go to Brazil. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is leading the group of nations that is not recognizing the results of the Honduran elections won by leftist-turned-conservative businessman Porfirio Lobo. Lula da Silva says, rightly, that recognizing Lobo's election would set a bad precedent for Latin America because it would legitimize an election convened by a non-democratic government.

The trouble with that argument is that most of today's democracies in Latin America were born out of elections called by coup-originated governments, starting with the 1989 victory of late Chilean President Patricio Aylwin in national elections organized by Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. Also, the recent Honduran elections were not a concoction of outgoing President Roberto Micheletti's de facto regime, but had been scheduled before the coup.

But what makes the Brazilian position a showcase of political hypocrisy is that, only days before asking the world not to recognize Lobo's election in Honduras, Lula da Silva had given a red carpet welcome in the Brazilian capital to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, giving him much-needed international recognition.

In addition to defying United Nations warnings about its nuclear program and repeatedly stating that he wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, Ahmadinejad has just proclaimed himself the winner of highly dubious elections. Worse, Ahmadinejad's regime has condemned eight opposition protesters to death -- something the outgoing de facto Honduran government has not even come close to doing.

Besides, how can Lula da Silva call for maintaining international sanctions against Honduras while at the same time urging the world to lift remaining sanctions against Cuba?

Brazil apparently wants to maintain Honduras' suspension from the OAS while it recently championed the vote that lifted Cuba's nearly five-decade suspension from the OAS. It's a curious stand, considering that the Cuban regime has not allowed a free election nor opposition parties in five decades, something that cannot be said about Honduras' de facto government.

Granted, Brazil may be forced to be louder than others in defense of Zelaya's position because the ousted Honduran president is holed up at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. But Brazil's handling of the Honduran crisis has been a joke.

• The gold medal for flip-flopping -- and keeping all of us scratching our heads -- should go to the United States.

At first, the Obama administration joined Brazil and other Latin American countries in denouncing the coup and cuting off development and anti-drug aid to the Micheletti regime. Then, the U.S. State Department said it would recognize the results of Sunday's elections, arguing that it would help re-establish full democratic rule in the country.

More recently, it backtracked a little bit, suggesting that Honduras needs to create a government of national unity before the transfer of power to get Washington to lift its sanctions. If you are confused, don't worry -- so am I.

To be sure, the Honduran crisis took place while the job of head of Latin American affairs at the State Department was vacant because Republicans had delayed the nomination of Arturo Valenzuela until his confirmation last month. Still, the U.S. position has at best been confusing.

• The Organization of American States deserves a gold medal for one-sidedness. Instead of condemning the coup and simultaneously casting some criticism at Zelaya for disobeying his country's Supreme Court rulings, the OAS in the early days of the crisis campaigned almost exclusively to support Zelaya. That made it more difficult for the 34-country group to intervene as an honest broker in the ensuing crisis.

What should all international players have done? Contrary to what right-wingers in Congress say, there should be some sanctions against Honduras for what undoubtedly was a break of the rule of law. No coup should go unpunished.

But there should be a distinction between political sanctions and economic sanctions. Holding Honduras' president-elect accountable for a coup he did not take part in is unfair.

Furthermore, it makes no sense to call for imposing economic sanctions on Honduras, while demanding lifting them from Cuba.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Andres Oppenheimer is a Miami Herald syndicated columnist and a member of The Miami Herald team that won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize. He also won the 1999 Maria Moors Cabot Award, the 2001 King of Spain prize, and the 2005 Emmy Suncoast award. He is the author of Castro's Final Hour; Bordering on Chaos, on Mexico's crisis; Cronicas de heroes y bandidos, Ojos vendados, Cuentos Chinos and most recently of Saving the Americas. E-mail Andres at aoppenheimer @ herald.com Live chat with Oppenheimer every Thursday at 1 p.m. at The Miami Herald.

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