Will New Report Pave the Way for Honduras’ Reincorporation into the OAS?

Following several weeks of meetings and internal deliberations, a special “high-level commission” has presented the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) with a long-awaited report on Honduras.  Mandated by a June 8 resolution agreed to at the OAS ministerial meeting in Lima, Peru, the report presents an analysis of the current situation in Honduras and a series of recommendations on how to address the enduring political crisis and the attacks that target media and activists associated with the political opposition.

Honduras’ membership in the OAS was suspended following the military coup that illegally removed the government of President Manuel Zelaya from power on June 28th of last year.  A number of member countries — including most of South America’s governments — are still opposed to the lifting of the suspension and the implicit objective of this new report is to chart a course for Honduras’ full reincorporation into the hemispheric body.

More than an accurate description of the situation on the ground in Honduras, the report provides a fascinating snapshot of the political tug-of-war still taking place between key Honduran and regional actors.

The “high-level commission” that oversaw the drafting of the report was made up of OAS representatives from a range of countries that included supporters of Honduras’ immediate reincorporation to the OAS — such as the U.S. and the right-leaning governments of Canada, Peru, Panama, and Costa Rica — and a few left-leaning countries, like Ecuador, Argentina, and Nicaragua, that take the position that the Honduran government needs to do more to restore democracy and address human rights violations.

The diverging positions of the commissioners are reflected in the text of the report.  On the one hand, several passages in the “Background” section suggest that President Porfirio Lobo, elected in controversial elections held under the coup regime late last year, has made significant efforts to repair the damage done by the coup with measures such as the creation of a so-called “Unity Government” and the Creation of a Truth Commission made up of “national and international personalities of prestige and proven track record,” according to the authors.  This section of the report also highlights the Honduran Congress’ decision to review an alleged case of corruption perpetrated under the coup regime of Roberto Micheletti and appears to belittle the widespread accusations of ongoing human rights violations and repression of the opposition (it states that “some sectors insist” that the violations are still occurring despite the fact that major human rights organizations, including the OAS’ own Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Human Rights Watch, express the same concern in recent reports).

However, the final “Conclusions and Recommendations” section of the report is less favorable to the Lobo government.  In contrast with the “background” section, it explicitly recognizes the gravity of the human rights situation with a call for the “cessation of impunity for human rights violations” and the “adoption of measures to put an end to threats and harassments against human rights defenders, journalists . . . and members of the National Popular Resistance Front” (NPRF) as well as “measures issued to protect the lives and bodily integrity of numerous persons who are at risk.”  Perhaps most significantly, it questions the Lobo government’s justifications for maintaining some of the criminal charges against President Zelaya — and thereby preventing him from returning without the risk of immediate prosecution — and states that “the Commission considers it useful to put an end, in accordance with Honduran law, to the legal actions initiated against” the former president and his associates.

As a press release issued by Zelaya’s representative, Roberto Pastor, indicates, the report’s recommendations were the object of an intense negotiation directly involving representatives of the Lobo government and of President Zelaya, who continues to receive the strong backing of many South American countries.  Zelaya, in turn, has been very receptive to the demands made by the National Popular Resistance Front (NPRF), a broad-based coalition of social movements which emerged in opposition to the coup and which is today the primary opposition force in Honduras (although it isn’t officially a political organization).

Zelaya and his representatives met with OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza and — according to Pastor — reached agreement on a series of core demands.  However, only some of these were taken into account in some form in the final recommendations.  To better illustrate, the following table compares the negotiated demands with the recommendations that ended up in the report:

Zelaya’s Demands (Source: Honduras Culture and Politics) Report Recommendations
Arranging for the end of the judicial prosecution of ex-President Zelaya and his collaborators “the Commission considers it useful to put an end, in accordance with Honduran law, to the legal actions initiated against former President Zelaya and his associates”
Committing the present government to strengthen the Human Rights Prosecutor “Effective support for the work of the Office of the Special Attorney for Human Rights”
Proposing international accompaniment in the fight against impunity No corresponding recommendation.
Enlarging the Truth Commission formed by the government, with a representative to be proposed by the opposition No corresponding recommendation.  (As indicated in the report, Lobo’s representative adamantly rejected the idea of revisiting the decree that created the Truth Commission).
Convening a broad National Dialogue, with genuine representation of the opposition and with an open agenda to study the right to the Constitutional Assembly process “The Commission takes note of the favorable disposition of President Lobo to convene a national dialogue among all the political sectors. . . .”  No mention of an “open agenda.”  (The Lobo government has stated previously that the issue of a possible Constitutional Assembly is not on the agenda).

It is doubtful that either Zelaya and the NPRF or Lobo and his political base will consider these recommendations acceptable (as yet there has been no public reaction from any of these actors).  The NPRF may have the satisfaction of at last being recognized by the OAS as a significant Honduran actor — indeed it is the first time that references to the group appear in an OAS document — but the report makes no mention of its long-standing demand for a referendum on whether to convoke a constitutional assembly; nor does it take into account its demand for representation within the Truth Commission, whose Honduran members are all associated with Lobo’s National Party.  Zelaya’s foremost demand — the suspension of all criminal charges lodged against him and members of his government in the wake of the coup — is fully taken into account, but he is very unlikely to approve the rest of the report if it is met with heavy criticism from the FNRP.  Furthermore, there is as yet no serious indication that those currently in power in Honduras are prepared to suspend all of the charges against him and clear the way for his return to Honduran politics.

The biggest question of course is whether this report will succeed in its objective, i.e., pave the way for Honduras’ reincorporation into the OAS in the near future.  With its enumeration of Lobo’s “positive achievements” in the “background” and “analysis” sections, the report was designed to convince a few of the fence-sitting countries to immediately assume a position of support for Honduras’ reincorporation.  This is indeed what has occurred in the cases of the right-wing governments of Chile and Mexico, both of which had in fact been widely expected to support Honduras’ return much earlier.  It is not clear, however, that, if Lobo does go on to implement the report’s recommendations, this will be sufficient to change the minds of South American countries like Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Venezuela, whose foreign policies are much more independent of Washington.  Ten days previous to the release of the report, Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa reiterated his opposition to Honduras’ reincorporation, arguing that those responsible for the coup should be sanctioned.

Although, in principle, Honduras can be reaccepted into the organization following a positive vote of 2/3 of member countries, decisions of this nature are traditionally made by consensus and it is highly unlikely that Insulza will risk further polarizing the OAS with a vote that is contested by a significant bloc of countries.  In all likelihood — and despite the best efforts of Insulza and the State Department — Honduras will not be readmitted any time soon to the hemispheric organization.  South America’s refusal to bend to Washington’s will is a distinct sign of the times and will hopefully serve as a lesson to any coup plotters in the region: that military coups can no longer be as easily whitewashed and forgotten as was so frequently the case in the 20th century.

Alexander Main is an international relations analyst at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.  This article was first published in the CEPR blog on 3 August 2010 under a Creative Commons license.

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