Fallout from Honduras's presidential crisis – in Washington
The military ouster of Honduras's president, Manuel Zelaya, has led to a deep divide between Democrats and Republicans.
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Washington's Honduras divide is captured in the heated battle between the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry of Massachusetts, and a Republican committee member, Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Senator DeMint enraged Senator Kerry by placing a hold on two nominations before the committee: that of Arturo Valenzuela to become assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, and that of Thomas Shannon to be ambassador to Brazil.Skip to next paragraph
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DeMint, like a number of conservative Republicans, says Zelaya was legitimately removed from office as he plotted a takeover in the image of Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chávez. He faults both nominees for, "like the Obama administration, defending the unconstitutional strong-arm tactics of Zelaya."
For his part, a furious Kerry tried to foil DeMint's plans for a fact-finding trip Friday to Tegucigalpa. In the end, the Pentagon provided DeMint and his delegation with a plane.
"This is the kind of latent ideological divide that flares up in Congress when you get a crisis like this one in Honduras with elements that fit the beliefs and concerns of each side," says Mr. Erikson. The involvement of Venezuela's Mr. Chávez, who defends Zelaya against a "rightist coup" he insists was aided by the US military, "really reverberates with the US Congress," Erikson adds.
DeMint claims that, as a result of his trip, Mr. Micheletti on Monday announced his intention to lift a controversial emergency decree, made shortly after Zelaya's surreptitious return to Honduras, that limits civil liberties such as press freedoms and freedom of assembly.
But Obama administration backers say DeMint's actions undermine US foreign policy. Micheletti is playing the US congressional divide for all it's worth, these policy analysts say, adding that he may feel little incentive to compromise if he senses he has support in Washington. After some hesitation, the State Department sided with Zelaya and imposed some measures against the Micheletti government, including a revocation of some Honduran officials' visas and millions of dollars in reduced aid. The US is also threatening not to recognize the winner of presidential elections set for late November.
But the administration was also irked by Zelaya's risky, undercover return to Tegucigalpa and has refrained from imposing anything as harsh as trade sanctions.
Meanwhile, says Erikson, the sound and the fury in Congress go "well beyond Honduras to the whole question of how the US should deal with the left-leaning countries in Latin America."