Saturday, September 26, 2009

Manuel Zelaya's strange prison

By Carlos Alberto Montaner
Madrid - Politics is full of surprises. Roberto Micheletti, the president of Honduras appointed by the parliament of his country, wanted former president Manuel Zelaya incarcerated in Tegucigalpa as the judges and prosecutors initiate the judicial process against him for violation of the Constitution, corruption and misappropriation of public funds. Curiously, Hugo Chávez, Lula da Silva and Daniel Ortega have made the arrest possible.

It is true that Zelaya is not in a Honduran jail, just holed up in the Brazilian embassy in the capital, but this is much more convenient for Micheletti's government. It is difficult for a zelayista commando to violate the Brazilian embassy to set Zelaya free, since he went there by his own free will, and, after all, the responsibility for the physical integrity of Zelaya now runs on behalf of Brazil. The Honduran police just have to patrol the outside of the building and control the entrances and exits. At some point Mr. Zelaya may decide to submit to the justice of his country, or perhaps choose to spend a long time in asylum.

Meanwhile, President Micheletti wrote quite firmly in the Washington Post that he intends to go ahead with the planned elections on 29 November. Panama, shortly before the most recent incident, said that if the upcoming elections are honest and transparent it will recognize the new government. That's the sensible thing. Fortunately, President Ricardo Martinelli is a courageous statesman who does not mind swimming against the tide if he feels it is morally justifiable.

The elections, besides being a mechanism of legitimation of authority, is a ceremony to bury the past and begin a different and more hopeful phase.  Pluralistic and free consultations in Spain, Portugal and Chile were used to restart those countries after long dictatorships. The same happened in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. It would have been foolish to ignore the new democratic governments claiming that the elections were conducted by outlaw and transient regimes.

The OAS fell into a trap that Mr. Chavez set by declaring that it would not recognize the president elected in upcoming Honduran elections. Does Mr Insulza want to precipitate the country into a violent conflict to crown a winner soaked in blood? Candidates for the forthcoming elections had been elected freely and peacefully in open primaries before the ouster of Zelaya. They were not imposed by anything or anyone and represent the entire political spectrum of the country. Since the restorative efforts by President Oscar Arias have failed, what a better option exists than to promote an electoral process that can restore political normalcy to the country?

The U.S. State Department has not acted reasonably. To whom could it have occurred in that madhouse that it is a good strategy to try to discredit a priori the democratic solution to the crisis that exists in Honduras? How do they plan to impose Zelaya against the will of the other institutions of the country, against the advice of almost all political parties, opposition by Christian churches, and rejection by the productive establishment? Is the U.S. willing to create a kind of protectorate in Honduras and send twenty thousand soldiers to reinstate the Zelaya government against the wishes of the majority of Hondurans and the dictates of the Supreme Court, but with the blessing of Hugo Chávez? How can the United States today be bent on destabilizing one of the poorest nations on the continent and one of the few societies that truly sympathizes with its powerful neighbor - so much as to send troops to the war in Iraq - in a hemisphere increasingly dominated by anti-Americanism?

Following the recognition announced by Panama other countries will probably do the same. For Panama's leaders it is clear that what is best for America is a continent of stable nations governed by democratically elected governments that are not under the evil influence of Chavez. That will be the beginning of a gradual normalization of international relations for Honduras.

In any case, one of the first decisions new government will have to make is what to do with Mr Zelaya. Give him amnesty, give him a pass to leave the country, or leave him in permanent asylum in the Brazilian embassy? The former Cuban president Manuel Urrutia - the first appointed by the revolution after the fall of Batista - spent more than two years held at the embassies of Venezuela and Mexico in Havana until Castro awarded him a pass. The Peruvian Haya de la Torre spent five at the Embassy of Colombia in Lima. It's a matter of firmness.

[Article in Spanish]

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