Smart Diplomacy: Killing Democratic Institutions
November 3, 2009

The latest US “smart” diplomacy celebrated in the press is in fact the cowardly abandonment of Honduran institutions to the tender mercies of her enemies. What would have been an electoral process to strengthen those institutions will now almost certainly weaken them. Consider,

In the absence of this deal, the local institutions were on track to execute a highly credible election, one in which Zelaya’s Liberal Party was heavily trailing the National Party yet was supportive of the process. Micheletti (a Liberal) had only ever stated that he is anxious to stand down as soon as possible, and Elvin Santos (the Liberal candidate) was also supportive of the election despite his weak polling. Power was already transferring to the TSE (electoral tribunal) from the executive, including with respect to the armed forces. These institutions had already stated unequivocally their rejection of Zelaya and his methods, as did popular polling by a large margin.

But with this deal, the US has exposed the individuals in the Congress and Supreme Court to the severest of carrots and sticks. There have been 3 questionable political murders and disappearences of Hondurans in the weeks prior to the deal. We can expect this fact to weigh heavily on the minds of the Honduran representatives. In addition, there have been reports of very large bribes (the major of Tegucigalpa says he has already been offered $15 million to support a “constituyente”) that one must presume come from Venezuelan drug and petro-dollars. By leaving the implication that the Hondurans should vote yes “or else”, the US is declaring open season. Venezuela may use all her carrots and sticks at will. On this playground the US does not have her little brother’s back.

So there are several ways this will go, all of which will weaken Honduran institutions. For starters, the deal is ambiguous in several respects. Without going into detail, it is enough to note that any practical result that is not clear cut will be bad for the credibility of the Honduran government and lead to more conflict, including more “need” for foreign intervention.

Second, a vote in favor of the deal will by necessity undermine the previous decision of the Supreme Court and torpedo the Constitution. It will eliminate the moral high ground enjoyed by Hondurans in defending their sovereignty, and demoralize the public. The assault on Honduran institutions will redouble, not end.

Third, a vote in favor of the deal will by necessity undermine the previous action by the Congress and open the institution and its individuals to prosecution. The truth commission, weighted towards leftists and internationalists, is already in place. Allowing this weighting was an error by Michelletti in an otherwise heroic effort.

Fourth, if Lobo allows his Nationalist delegates to vote for Zelaya’s reinstatement, he will lose a great deal of support. The election will already become a much closer call. If the election is close this will be a very dangerous moment. An unambigous result will open the door for allegations of fraud and in any case will confuse any message that the electorate is trying to send. Zelayista’s will be able to claim moral victory out of any mess.

Fifth, if the Supreme Court recommends No but the Congress votes Yes, both institutions are undermined. A constitutional convention will be called for.

Sixth, if both Supreme Court and Congress vote No, more unsolved murders will occur. The international community will withhold recognition. The US will look bad and presumably will follow through on whatever actions it used to scare the Michelletti team.

In a previous post, we said that the fix was in, and that we expected a deal to reinstate Zelaya with “limited” powers. This limitation would then be challenged continuously and Honduran institutions remain on trial until they were destroyed. No recent developments have changed this view.

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There is a small nation
July 17, 2009

There is a small nation. It stands alone in a rough neighborhood. Although it is more democratic than its neighbors, it is criticized by them and threatened by them. These neighbors are relentless. They are trying to weaken its institutions. They are trying to incorporate the small nation into themselves. They are trying to take it over.

This small nation has relied on the support of a friend, a defender of democracy who is like a big brother protecting a little brother: The United States.

But now the small nation is worried that it may be abandoned by the United States, that it may be sacrificed.

Israel. Taiwan. Honduras.

Is it any wonder that the first two have been the first to recognize the interim government in Honduras?

Rumors: Vennie Offensive Tomorrow
July 16, 2009

Rumors are flying among the expat Venezuelan (anti-Chavez) community and Hondurans that a Venezuelan offensive is in process, possibly for as early as tonite or tomorrow. Details of the rumors include:

1) Venezuelan agents are infilitrating tonite through neighboring countries to prepare for (a) attacking Micheletti and the presidential administration directly and (b) taking principal roads and bridges along with trade union supporters (which demonstrations have already been announced publicly).

2) Payments are being made to military officers to switch sides and to execute a “counter-coup”. Payments are also being made to politicians to switch sides.

3) Violence is to be instigated, and chaos, creating the opportunity for some military units to take over an airport and a border region to facilitate different options for Zelaya’s return to the ground. Such violence also is intended to undermine the legitimacy of the interim regime, which to date has created unexpected local unity of response.

Update: Variations on these email rumors hit the Honduran press  last night.

As discussed in our previous posts, these rumors are consistent with what we would expect given Chavez’s tactical and strategic goals (Chavez Chess, Queening his Pawn, Smoking Gun). First, as a tactical matter right now Zelaya is precariously close to becoming a joke, and his physical presence outside the country only emphasizes his cozy relationship with Chavez. Therefore Chavez must get him back on the ground, and a violent encounter turns him into a serious figure again. It also provides cover for the “international community” to send in more reinforcements; to date, Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan citizens (or agents, if you will) have been sent out of the country in numbers — getting Zelaya back will allow for a reversal of this trend.

Chavez has calculated that the US is sidelined militarily under Obama; it is expected that the barest pretense of legitimacy for his offensive operation will neuter the possibility of defensive aid from Palmerola. Obama’s stance has become an invitation for aggressive behavior.

As we have pointed out in previous posts, Chavez oil revenues are such that it is trivial for him to flood the Honduran economy with bribes. He has already broadcast his intention to turn junior officers to his side, and of course he was a junior coup-ster himself in 1992.

Moreover, apart from his expansionist desires, it is now important to Chavez for defensive reasons that Honduras falls. The counter-example of a small country that can successfully push back is a serious threat both to ALBA and to his domestic flank (Castro has discussed the risk of more regional “coups” against leftists). Chaos is important for these reasons now; it will undercut the “success” of the Honduran push-back against Chavez even if Zelaya is not ultimately reinstated. Chaos also supports his general goal of weakening the American strongpoint in Palmerola. Last, it potentially derails the election process. For all these reasons, he is incentivized to be more aggressive rather than less.

Apart from the rumors, there are other indications that action is pending. Zelaya has publicly hinted that there will be unspecified “activities” by this weekend, and he has stated that insurrection is justified. Chile’s Bachelet has stated fears of a bloodbath. The curfew has been renewed. Costa Rican legislators have called for Micheletti’s arrest (further delegitimizing his status) if he re-visits Costa Rica. Most of all, the clock is working against Chavez and Zelaya as negotiations move forward; they have to reset the game and do it quickly.