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Honduras Gets Messier
But there is a clear exit strategy: elections

Friday, September 25, 2009

THE LAST time we addressed the political crisis in Honduras, a tiny Central American country that has become the focal point of a big regional power struggle, we pointed out that the leaders of a de facto government were playing into the hands of their enemies. Roberto Micheletti, the head of that regime, says that he is determined to prevent ousted president Manuel Zelaya from aping the assault on democratic order pioneered by Mr. Zelaya's mentor, Venezuelan President Hugo Ch?vez. Yet, by refusing to accept an international mediator's plan that would have paved the way for elections and ensured Mr. Zelaya's political retirement, Mr. Micheletti -- egged on by a handful of allies in Washington -- gave the Ch?vez camp an opening.

The result was this week's Venezuelan-engineered secret return by Mr. Zelaya to the country and his appearance in the Brazilian Embassy, from where he has sought to foment the populist revolution that he has wanted all along. Fortunately, he is failing miserably so far. After a couple of days of street demonstrations, Tegucigalpa was getting back to normal Thursday, and Mr. Zelaya was reduced to making hysterical accusations about being bombarded with radiation and toxic gases by "Israeli mercenaries."

Such behavior ought to deter any responsible member of the Organization of American States -- starting with Brazil -- from supporting anything more than a token return by Mr. Zelaya to office. The Obama administration has backed such a restoration (as have we) so as to void Mr. Zelaya's illegal removal from the country by the army in June and thus uphold the larger principle of respect for democratic order in the region. Now the United States ought to make clear that any further attempt by Mr. Zelaya or his supporters to cause public disorder or violence will mean the reversal of the U.S. position -- leaving him as a permanent ward of those in the Brazilian government who cooperated with his caper.

The only good way out of the Honduran crisis is to go forward with the presidential election scheduled for Nov. 29 and to do so in a way that will allow Hondurans to freely express themselves and governments around the region to accept the results. At the moment, no government is willing to sanction a vote overseen by Mr. Micheletti's administration, and the United Nations has withdrawn its support for the process. If his aim is really to save democracy in his country Mr. Micheletti must act quickly to legitimize the election. The simplest way to do that is to accept the plan put forward months ago by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias -- though any formula that leads to an internationally recognized vote will do. Without a path to elections, the domestic conflict will only intensify -- and that, again, will only help Mr. Zelaya and Mr. Ch?vez.

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