No to Honduras, Yes to Cuba?

Brazil, the United States and the Organization of American States each deserve a gold medal for their terrible handling of Sunday’s presidential election in Honduras.

Let’s examine how the principal international actors behaved during the crisis that erupted from the April 28th civil coup against President Manuel Zelaya, the first case of its type in Latin America in almost two decades.

The gold medal for political hypocrisy should go to Brazil. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva leads the group of countries that has not recognized the results of the Honduran elections, won by Porfirio Lobo, a leftist turned businessman.

Lulu da Silva correctly states that to recognize the election of Lobo would set a bad precedent for Latin America because it would legitimize elections called by a non-democratic government.

The problem with this argument is that the majority of democracies in Latin America emerged from elections called by governments that originated from coups. For example, the victory of Chilean President Patricio Aylwin in the 1989 national elections was organized by the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Besides, the recent Honduran elections were not designed by the de facto regime of outgoing president Roberto Micheletti because they were planned before the coup.

What makes the Brazilian position an evident demonstration of political hypocrisy is that just days before requesting that the world not recognize the election of Lobo in Honduras, Lula da Silva gave a splendid reception for Iranian strongman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, offering the international recognition he needed so much.

On top of ignoring UN warnings about its nuclear program and affirming repeatedly that he wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, Ahmadinejad has just proclaimed himself the winner of an extremely doubtful and questionable election.

Worse yet, Ahmadinejad’s regime has condemned many opponents to death. This is something that has not occurred under the outgoing de facto government of Honduras.

What’s more, how can Lula da Silva push to maintain sanctions against Honduras while at the same time requesting that the world lift the sanctions against Cuba? Apparently Brazil wants to maintain the suspension of Honduras from the Organization of American States, even though it recently lead the vote to lift Cuba’s almost five decade long suspension from the same organization.

It’s a curious position, considering that the Cuban government has not had free elections or opposition parties in 50 years. This is certainly not something that can be said of the de facto Honduran government.

It’s certain that Brazil can see itself as obligated to take a more active defense of Zelaya’s position, since the deposed president is currently staying at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. However, Brazil’s position on the Honduran crisis has been a joke.

The gold medal for indecision should go to the United States.

Initially, the government of President Barack Obama united with Brazil and other Latin American countries in denouncing the coup, the elimination of anti-narcotic assistance and the establishment of the Micheletti government. Then, the State Department said that it recognized the results of Sunday’s elections, claiming that it would help to reestablish full democracy in the country.

However, more recently, they partially retracted this statement, suggesting that Honduras had to form a united national government before the transfer of power in order for Washington to lift its sanctions. If you’re confused, don’t worry, so am I.

It’s certain that the crisis in Honduras unfolded while the post of the head of Latin American Affairs in the State Department was vacant. Republicans delayed the nomination of Arturo Valenzuela until his confirmation last month. All in all, the U.S. position has been, at the very least, confusing.

The Organization of American States deserves a gold medal for partiality. Instead of condemning the coup and criticizing Zelaya for not obeying the Supreme Court’s verdict in the first days of the crisis, the OAS just made a case for Zelaya. This hinders the group of 34 countries intervening as impartial intermediaries in the crisis.

What should the international actors have done? Contrary to what conservatives in Congress say, they should impose sanctions against Honduras. No coup should go without sanctions.

However, there should be a distinction between political sanctions and economic sanctions. It is unfair to make the Honduran president-elect responsible for a coup in which he did not participate. What’s more, it doesn’t make sense to impose economic sanctions against Honduras while seeking the lifting of measures against Cuba.

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