Regional Diplomacy on the Honduras Crisis

Council on Foreign Relations - September 29, 2009

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The de facto leader of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, declared a state of emergency on Monday, the latest in the political crisis that began with the ousting of President Manuel Zelaya in June. Some analysts have said the United States is sending mixed messages on Honduras. Yet, Shannon O’Neil, CFR fellow for Latin American Studies, says that Washington is trying to follow through on President Barack Obama’s statement (PDF) at the Summit of the Americas in April that the United States was no longer going to make unilateral decisions — that it was going to be up to the region to work together through multilateral institutions. She says Washington is trying to implement this philosophy in the Honduras situation by seeking a regional approach for the crisis, but this has caused some concern because the region is used to U.S. leadership.
Thus far, former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias has mediated the situation, and the Organization of American States (OAS) has taken the lead in managing the crisis. O’Neil notes, however, that “it’s very difficult to get things done through them.” Because the OAS has been “quite ineffective,” she says that other regional organizations such as Unasur — a group of Latin American countries formed in 2008 that is meant to address political, trade, and security issues — might start to take a more prominent role in regional issues.
O’Neil suggests that Brazil is now “taking ownership” of the Honduras political stalemate. It has taken a strong position on the need for Zelaya to be reinstated, which has “changed the nature of the conflict and the potential solution,” she says. Finally, she says it’s unclear whether the stalemate will end before elections in Honduras, currently scheduled for November 29, but “in the end, time is on the side of the de facto government.”