Winners and losers in Honduras

Failure to form a unity cabinet could spell renewed instability in Latin America.

There are fears that instability could return to Honduras if a political accord is not observed [EPA]

Al Jazeera’s Will Stebbins takes stock of the winners and losers in the wake of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose power-sharing accord which ended the four-month Honduran constitutional crisis.

The crisis was precipitated in June when the Honduran military, backed by the Supreme Court, led a coup against Manuel Zelaya, the president, and ousted him from power. He was forced into exile in Costa Rica before returning to Honduras in September.

However, Zelaya remains in internal exile, marooned inside the Brazilian embassy in the capital Tegucigalpa. After a bold and deft campaign to regain power, and with the prize within his grasp, he committed a critical, strategic blunder.

Zelaya believed that it would be enough to sacrifice his social project, and the mass movement that backed it, to convince his political enemies to restore him to the presidency.

His representatives signed an agreement that categorically forbids the convening of a national constituent assembly, or any other form of popular referendum on the constitution, but without a written guarantee of a return to power for Zelaya.

That was left up to the congress, who appear poised, in the face of US indifference, to deny him even this hollow victory. 

Upcoming elections

Thomas Shannon, Washington’s envoy to Latin America, has said that the US would recognise the November 29 presidential elections, whether Zelaya was reinstated or not. He also suggested that the deposed president had no one but himself to blame for entrusting his fate to the Honduran congress.

Apart from this uncharacteristic innocence in believing that the interim government would adhere to anything but the strict letter of the accord, Zelaya had another tragic flaw.

He had clearly come to confuse his personal drama with the fate of the country. Sounding like France’s 17th century monarch Louis XIV, Zelaya claimed that peace would be restored to Honduras once he was returned to power.

For the trade unions and social movements that had put their bodies on the line in protest against the coup which removed him from power, the story would not have ended there. Zelaya was never seen as the embodiment of Honduran democracy, but rather as the unlikely champion of a mass movement to reshape society, and end the monopoly on political power held by a privileged elite.

The power-sharing accord offers very little to the movement that formed behind the ousted president. It provides no relief from the summary detentions, or suspension of civil liberties, to which they have been subject. There is mention of ‘deepening democracy’, but much like returning Zelaya to power, it does not include a timetable.

The clear winners

Zelaya, centre, has been in internal exile at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa [EPA]

It is the oligarchy, as the privileged elite are known, that are the clear winners. In signing the agreement, they have effectively eliminated the very cause of the June 28 coup, which was the spectre of mass political mobilisation, in the form of a popular referendum, that they feared had the potential of altering the status quo.

The accord proscribes any changes to the current political system that guarantees their hold on power.

The oligarchy may, however, be overreaching in their belief that they do not have to pay the small price of allowing an emasculated Zelaya to serve out the last few, symbolic months of his presidency.

What could have been a diplomatic victory for Washington, is now looking like another example of its clumsiness, which will end up exacerbating ideological divisions. If the agreement does collapse there will be repercussions, and collateral damage, throughout the region.

Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president who from the start condemned the negotiating track led by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias as a trap, will be vindicated.

It will not only provide the script for the next episode of his television show, Alo Presidente, but also nurture his suspicions about the threat posed by the planned US military bases in neighbouring Colombia.

Smoldering regional war?

This will be felt most acutely along the Venezuelan-Colombian border, where a cold war between the two countries has begun to smoulder, with drive by shootings, and unexplained mass killings.

Inacio Lula de Silva, the Brazilian president may be faced with the question of what to do about the lodger at his embassy in Tegucigalpa.

He has been unequivocal in his support for Zelaya, and his government has made repeated statements about their dissatisfaction with US efforts to restore him to power.

If the deal unravels, one unforeseen victim may be the US aircraft manufacturer, Boeing.

Brazil has been planning to renew its fleet of air force jets, and has been reviewing competing offers from the US, France, and Sweden. It appeared that France had won the bid, for what is a much sought after order in difficult economic times; but after intense US lobbying, the Boeing offer is now being reconsidered.

It will be interesting to see if Lula is sufficiently annoyed enough by perceived US carelessness in Honduras that Brazil will end handing the French the air force contract.

Source: Al Jazeera


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