As Honduras moves on, U.S. must give full support

Marco Vicenzino Contributor
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With Porfirio Lobo assuming the presidency of Honduras, its citizens formally turn the page on the political crisis triggered by Manuel Zelaya’s removal from office in June 2009. It is time for the international community to do the same. Honduras’ fragile economy and its citizens have paid a high price in recent months. They must be given a chance at a new beginning.

President Obama must seize the initiative and provide full support to Honduras, which has traditionally been a firm U.S. ally. Furthermore, he must pro-actively encourage others nations to extend diplomatic recognition to Honduras’ new government, restore international aid and lift all sanctions.

The formal resolution to the status of former President Zelaya has been largely addressed. He has been given safe passage to the Dominican Republic whose President Leonel Fernandez brokered the deal. Furthermore, Mr. Lobo was given a popular mandate by Hondurans in a free and fair election on November 29th. He won 55% of the vote and his opponent conceded the same day and promised full assistance in rebuilding national unity. 50% of eligible voters showed up at the polls. This was 5% less than the 2005 presidential election but consistent with a decline in voter participation since 1997.

On the foreign policy front, Mr. Lobo’s priority has been US support, which he has. Although officially condemning Mr. Zelaya’s removal from power, the U.S. provided Honduras with a sufficient diplomatic lifeline and never recalled its ambassador throughout the crisis, unlike most other countries. Mr. Zelaya’s intransigence and reckless behavior in the months following his exit from power provided the U.S. with the necessary pretext to achieve a desirable outcome to the crisis – avoiding the re-instatement of Zelaya and waiting for the election of a new president. With mounting difficulties around the world, Honduras was becoming an unneeded diplomatic headache for US foreign policy. Zelaya’s departure is a welcomed relief. President Obama must now go beyond American economic support and diplomatic recognition and pro-actively encourage other countries to provide the same, particularly at international forums such as the Organization of American States.

Mr. Lobo’s challenges have been underscored by the absence of most foreign representatives at his inauguration. The lack of diplomatic recognition from other important states, particularly in Europe and Latin America, creates complications which Honduras cannot afford. Brazil’s growing economic and diplomatic influence, in the Americas and internationally, continues to shape the course of events, particularly as its embassy in the Honduran capital sheltered Zelaya since September 2009. Brazil’s President Lula must recognize the new government and encourage other reluctant states to do so. His example will provide others with the pretext to follow suit, particularly throughout Americas.

With a deteriorating economy after months of sanctions and suspended aid, ordinary Hondurans have suffered enough. This struggling Central American nation of eight million desperately needs and deserves a break. External interference in Honduras’ internal affairs, principally by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and his regional acolytes, must cease. This greatly contributed to the tragic series of events leading to Zelaya’s exit from power and the ensuing seven-month crisis. The intricacies of exactly what happened must be dealt with by Hondurans, principally through their courts and elected officials. If outside assistance is requested, it should be provided. Otherwise, Hondurans must be given a fair opportunity to determine their future by pursuing national reconciliation and resolving internal challenges within their own democratic framework.

Marco Vicenzino is director of the Global Strategy Project in Washington, D.C. He provides global political risk analysis for corporations and regular commentary on foreign affairs for publications/media outlets worldwide. He can be reached at msv@globalsp.org.