Roger Noriega, 07.06.09, 03:11 PM EDT
As the OAS stumbles, give diplomacy a chance.
On Sunday, July 5, Honduran authorities rejected the ultimatum issued by the Organization of American States (OAS) to reinstate ousted president Manuel Zelaya. Shortly after, the defiant government was suspended from the regional body. This impasse does not reflect a failure of diplomacy, but exposes a lack of it.
In the past week, most objective observers conceded that Zelaya's aggression against Honduran Congress and Courts coupled with his willful violations of the Honduran constitution spawned this crisis. An international chorus questions the legality of Zelaya's ouster. Since I am unschooled in Honduran law, I am forced to rely on the unanimous decisions of the independent Supreme Court blessing Zelaya's replacement.
Common sense is useful here too: If a traffic cop roughs up a drunk driver at the scene of an injury accident, I doubt anyone would argue the importance of getting the drunk back behind the wheel as the best way to chastise the policeman.
The international community is so fixated on the car wreck that they have failed to notice that Hondurans have put their own legal house in order. Although the duty fell to the military to enforce a court order against Zelaya, no soldier ever held power. The duly constituted Congress--about half of whose members are from Zelaya's own Liberal Party--reviewed Zelaya's crimes and voted almost unanimously to remove him from office. Respecting the constitutional order of succession, the Congress elected its own president, Liberal Roberto Micheletti, as Zelaya's replacement. Micheletti has pledged to turn over power next January to a successor chosen in this November's regularly scheduled elections--a pledge that the democratic paragon Zelaya was unwilling to make.
While Honduran authorities have opened an inquiry into Zelaya's treatment, the Supreme Court has held its position that the military acted properly. Zelaya has been indicted on many crimes--including treason--and some of his associates with ties to corruption and drug trafficking are finally facing justice.
Hondurans are convinced that Chavez's puppetry at the OAS abetted Zelaya's illegal campaign for re-election and is now driving the rush to judgment and calls for Zelaya's return. Chavez's media outlets are whipping up internal mobs, and he has even threatened military action against Honduras to back up his demands. Astonishingly, neither the U.S. nor the OAS has called upon the Venezuelan bully to temper his rhetoric. In any case, his comments have merely served to stiffen Honduran resistance to Zelaya's return.
The credibility of the OAS and of its Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, is shot. The organization's refusal over the last few months to review Zelaya's provocative actions is a failure to use the graduated approach dictated by the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which was designed precisely to defuse crises. By contrast, its zealous rush to judgment after Zelaya's ouster bypassed the process of study and reflection called for under the Democratic Charter.
But Honduras is hardly an isolated example of the OAS's abject failure. For months, it has ignored Chavez's aggressive maneuvers to deny Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma the ability to assume the office he won last November; this weekend, Ledezma began a hunger strike in the OAS office in Venezuela to dramatize the group's hypocrisy. Insulza and the OAS have done nothing to confront the stealing of dozens of mayoral races in Nicaragua (including in the capital city of Managua) last fall. And the OAS has turned a blind eye to the aggressive measures deployed by Chavez himself as well as his allies in Bolivia and Ecuador running roughshod over government institutions, media critics and political opponents.
Insulza's unyielding defense of Zelaya and his lethargy where political rights are being trampled in a half a dozen other countries have only one thing in common: That's the way Chavez wants it.
With the OAS's leadership so thoroughly disgraced, individual governments must step forward to forge a diplomatic approach to protect the rights and freedoms of all Hondurans. A "Friends of Honduras" group could support a national dialogue or help accompany a review of Zelaya's alleged crimes and subsequent ouster. Presidential elections held in November or earlier could be monitored by the U.N. or by other independent observers. Individual nations must be counseled to cease their threats against Honduras and to stop meddling in its internal affairs.
Canada's foreign minister, Peter Kent, has been willing to speak good sense in this case, and his country is one of the few in the region that has the independence and heft to do what is right for Honduran democracy and not necessarily what Hugo Chavez dictates.
Roger Noriega was a senior official in the administration of President George W. Bush from 2001-2005. He is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and founder of Vision Americas LLC, which advocates for U.S. and foreign clients.