End the Honduras standoff

Ya basta. Enough is enough. The de facto leaders of Honduras have already made the point they’d hoped to make when they deposed President Manuel Zelaya in a civilian-military coup last June: that he had broken the law by seeking to alter the constitution to extend his rule. What’s more, with the passage of time, the interim government led by Roberto Micheletti has ensured that even if Zelaya were to return to serve the remaining months of his term, he would not be able to make such a change.

So exactly what is to be gained by continuing to deny the international community’s demand for Zelaya’s “controlled return” to office -- with limited powers -- ahead of the Nov. 29 presidential election? Nothing. On the contrary, Micheletti risks dragging the impoverished country into a prolonged period of instability and further economic decline if the constitutional crisis is not resolved before the vote.

From the beginning, Micheletti and company have argued that Zelaya’s removal was lawful, and they have paid nearly half a million dollars to public relations experts to argue that case. The United States, the Organization of American States and the European Union beg to differ; they argue that however the ouster may have begun, once the military rousted Zelaya from bed and expelled him from the country, it was a coup that had to be reversed. First Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and then the OAS tried to broker negotiations to that end. So far, to no avail.

U.S. Republicans who oppose Zelaya’s return have given the Micheletti camp false hope that it can hold out without cost. Zelaya hasn’t helped himself with the elites worried about his leftist politics by sneaking back into Honduras to take refuge in the Brazilian Embassy and calling his supporters to the streets. Micheletti, meanwhile, had a televised hissy fit this week in front of OAS diplomats who failed to see things his way.


It’s hard to know how much of Micheletti’s obstinacy is a macho will to win and how much reflects a genuine fear that, once back, Zelaya would find a way to stay in power. That’s unlikely. One safeguard, U.S. officials say, is a constitutional requirement that control over the military pass to the Supreme Electoral Council a month before elections; Zelaya, therefore, couldn’t call out the army. Another is that neither presidential candidate is a Zelaya ally, so he couldn’t rule by proxy after leaving office in January.

U.S. and OAS officials must do everything in their power to persuade the Micheletti camp to relent and allow Zelaya’s return. And they must convince Zelaya that there would be zero tolerance for any attempt to stay in power.