How the US deepened the crisis in Honduras
Washington won't support upcoming elections that could help resolve the standoff. Bad move.
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After the Sept. 3 announcement, Honduras's interim interior minister sent a letter to the US secretary of State dismissing the sanctions and vowing not to allow Zelaya to return. We can squeeze a lot, and hurt the people of the country by reducing aid, seeking sanctions, and targeting individuals, but a win in our favor is not guaranteed.Skip to next paragraph
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The United States may have backed itself into a corner.
What does that mean for the US?
If nothing else, the US should think about the broader implications of undermining previously scheduled elections, as well as the independent electoral institutions that run them.
Also, as the situation in Honduras unfolds, it raises some questions for Washington to consider: Does the legitimacy of a democratic election, no matter whether it is free, transparent, and fair, now hinge on the democratic legitimacy of the government under which it occurs?
If that were previously the case, we would not have been able to resolve the crisis in Nicaragua with the elections of 1990, overseen by the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega, or the 1989 elections in Chile, which ended the dictatorial Pinochet regime. Looking forward, what would such a policy imply for democratic transition in Cuba? These are tricky questions, and the answers are, like diplomacy, sometimes messy.
So, where can we go from here? If the current government does quit, despite its increasingly strident assertions, and Zelaya is allowed to return prior to the November elections, the gamble will have paid off. But if Zelaya is not restored prior to the elections, we only have a few options left.
We can try to have the elections postponed until Zelaya does return – which would have serious implications for the reputation and long-term viability of Honduras's democratic institutions, while extending the crisis indefinitely.
Another option would be to watch the elections go forward, having already undercut the new president politically necessitating another election down the road to bestow "democratic legitimacy" on the new leader. This could also extend the crisis.
On the other hand, we can force Zelaya's return before the elections, courtesy of the US armed forces.
Or we can quietly back away from our previous announcement about the elections and say nothing further about them, simply accepting the result – assuming they are free, transparent, and fair.
Unfortunately, all of these options entail costs to the US and none guarantee ultimate resolution. With the announcement designed to put pressure on the Honduran regime, we've also pressured ourselves.