Panel discusses unique situation in Honduras

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Three academic panelists discussed the current state of democracy in Honduras on Monday, examining the country’s internal politics, the international response to the recent coup and the role of the United States in the crisis.

After years of democratic expansion and economic improvement in Latin America, conflict has erupted in Honduras, making international headlines since the Honduran president was exiled from his country three months ago. The event was co-sponsored by the Organization of Latino American Students and the Latin American Studies Department of the Elliott School of International Affairs.

Zelaya, who is currently in Honduras but confined to the Brazilian embassy there, spoke at the Elliott School on Sept. 3.

Peter Meyer, analyst in Latin American Affairs at the Congressional Research Service, spoke about the decree set by the interim government, which put a damper on civil liberties such as freedom of the press.

“The resistance movement is boycotting the elections, while the return of Zelaya to office seems unlikely,” Meyer said. After 26 days, the decree was lifted but two radio stations remain closed.

“It’s important to remember that Honduras is one of the poorest countries of its hemisphere,” said Cynthia McClintock, professor of political science and international affairs and director of the Latin American and hemispheric studies program. “All eyes were turning to see the international response after the coup occurred.”

In other words, the panelists said, Honduras needs aid, which it was been receiving by the Organization of American States and funding by the U.S. government. But on Sept. 3, the State Department decided to cut off funding for Honduras.

McClintock talked briefly of the San José Accord, proposed by the president of Costa Rica Oscar Arias, but rejected by the interim government.

“It seems like a good compromise for the various players in Honduras: a call for the return of Zelaya but with international supervision and a shorter term by two months. Also, it requires amnesty for both sides” she said.

McClintock said that interim president Roberto Micheletti’s opposition to the San José Accord upset the U.S. State Department, influencing the decision of withholding funds for Honduras.

Matthew Bohn, chief of staff at the Millennium Challenge Corporation and a GW alumnus, said the U.S. should revisit their position on withholding aid from Honduras.

“When a crisis like this happens, we must go back and consider whether or not our money will have a long-term impact,” he said. “We must back away and think, is this really helpful? Now is the time to look at this critically.”

“Put yourself in their shoes. They both think they’re acting in the best interest of their country, doing something for la patria,” Bohn said, referring to Micheletti and Zelaya. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Micheletti isn’t clasping on to power. His government approved the elections.”

Uncertainty remains on whether or not the elections on Nov. 29 will be viable.

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