Smart sanctions” against the de facto Honduran regime are falling into place. On Friday, Washington revoked the diplomatic and tourist visas of Honduran strongman Roberto Micheletti and 17 other top officials; yesterday, the Honduran ambassador was “expelled” from the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva after Latin American countries challenged the legitimacy of the Honduras delegation.
Two weeks ago, deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington. On that day, the State Department announced “the termination of a broad range of assistance to the government of Honduras as a result of the coup d'état that took place on June 28.” It also announced that “we would not be able to support the outcome of the scheduled [November] election.”
The International Monetary Fund, meanwhile, has made it clear that Honduras will not be able to gain access to $150-million (U.S.) in special drawing rights, its share of the $250-billion global economic stimulus package.
These moves mark an important turnaround. U.S. policy had veered from a strong initial condemnation of the coup to a “softer, softer” approach, which seemed to indicate that Washington was prepared to live with Mr. Micheletti.
The regime sensed this and, thinking it had Washington's number, upped the ante. Taking a page from Myanmar's junta, which initially vetoed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's visit after last year's cyclone, the Hondurans at first blocked a visit of a delegation of foreign ministers of the Americas, including Canada's Peter Kent, because it included Organization of American States Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza, whom it accused of “lacking objectivity, impartiality and professionalism.” The uproar in Latin America was such that Mr. Micheletti had to backtrack after a few hours.
The delegation's visit did take place but to no avail. Mr. Micheletti is unwilling to budge, and he does not accept the Arias Plan, a document submitted by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, aimed at ending the crisis in Honduras and restoring Mr. Zelaya to office.
Latin America has come a long way in 20 years. With the single exception of Cuba, democracy has become the norm. The Inter-American Democratic Charter, approved in Lima in 2001, formalized this state of affairs.
Few regions in the world have applied democracy-monitoring mechanisms as extensively as the Americas. On joining the OAS in 1990, Canada took the lead in establishing the democracy-promotion unit. International observers are now standard in most elections. Military coups are a thing of the past.
That is, until June 28, when soldiers took Mr. Zelaya out of his Tegucigalpa home at 5 a.m. and flew him to Costa Rica.
The reason Latin American governments feel so strongly about what happened that day is not because they sympathize with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a Zelaya supporter. The lead in demanding the restoration of democracy in Honduras has been taken by Brazil, Chile and Mexico, all of which have played host to Mr. Zelaya recently. These are the region's leading powers, often at odds with Venezuela. But on this there is unanimity: In Honduras, a line has been crossed. Once you allow coup-makers to set up shop again, anything goes.
Canada chaired the OAS Permanent Council that unanimously suspended Honduran membership; the last country to be suspended was Cuba, in 1962. Mr. Kent, the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas), has opposed sanctions as long as negotiations were on course.
But now the game is up. The de facto regime refuses to play ball and believes it can run the clock to the November presidential election, thus outwitting its adversaries. Canada should join the rest of the Americas and apply sanctions to Honduras. Many countries have withdrawn their ambassadors from Tegucigalpa.
If the inter-American system cannot restore democracy in Honduras, one of the weakest and poorest countries in the region, it cannot do so anywhere. “Smart sanctions” work. It is imperative to stop those who would bring back the dark days of golpes and gorilas .
Jorge Heine is distinguished fellow at The Centre for International Governance Innovation. His latest book (with Andrew F. Cooper) is Which Way Latin America? Hemispheric Politics Meets Globalization.