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Tough Challenges Remain for Honduras

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo’s first 100 days in office would be enough to make anyone reconsider the job.

In addition to facing the daunting domestic problems of rising violence, drug trafficking, a slumping economy and a dangerously polarized nation, Lobo has also had to undertake the difficult task of lobbying other countries for recognition of his government.

The left-leaning countries of South America consider the Lobo administration the illegitimate product of a coup, and refuse to let Honduras back into the international community.

Honduras has also found itself under the international microscope in recent weeks for a series of human-rights abuses and macroeconomic problems. Both the Inter- American Human Rights Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sent top level delegations to Honduras this week to meet with the government to assess the situation here.

Further clouding the country’s prospects for a return to normalcy is a new plan by former president Manuel Zelaya to return to Honduras as soon as possible. Last year’s achieve political and social stability. Indeed, after last year’s coup exploded like a bomb, Honduras is now experiencing the grayness of that event’s fallout.


Seeking Legitimacy


One of Lobo’s main tasks since taking

office in January has been to seek international

recognition for his government.

Although Honduras has normalized relations

with the United States, the majority

of the European Union and most of Central America – which together represent more than 80 percent of Honduras’ trading partners – the left-leaning countries of South America, including the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), have refused to recognize Lobo’s government.

While Honduras’ rift with South America and ALBA is not having too much of an economic impact on the country, politically it’s causing problems for the Lobo administration.

Honduras has not yet been allowed to regain its membership in the Organization of American States (OAS) or the Central American Integration System (SICA).

Honduras’s distance from leftist Latin American neighbors is also complicating relations with other regions of the world.

Lobo was forced to skip this week’s EU-Latin American Summit in Spain when the Brazilian-led Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) threatened to boycott the meeting if the Honduran president attended. And during a preliminary meeting on Monday between environmental officials from the EU and Latin America, the UNASUR countries again threatened to boycott until Honduran Environment Minister Rigoberto Cuéllar agreed to leave the room.

“Most South Americans are not going to make it easy for Lobo; what happened in Honduras last June touched a real nerve in much of the region,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a WashingtonD.C. think tank on Latin America.

Shifter said Lobo’s decision to not attend the Madrid summit is a setback for his government, as well as a “minor setback” for the U.S. government, which has been lobbying other countries to allow Honduras back into the international community.

Robert Naiman, policy director for the Washington, D.C.-based activist group Just Foreign Policy, said Lobo’s no-show at the Madrid summit was a “victory for UNASUR” as much as it was a “defeat for the Lobo administration and for the U.S., who want normalization of relations for the Lobo government without making any real concessions to get it.”

Lobo’s cabinet members, however, are putting on a brave face.

“Honduras has practically normalized its international relations,” Foreign Minister Mario Canahuati told The Nica Times this week. Canahuati noted that 53 of the 62 countries with which Honduras had relations before Zelaya’s ouster have since recognized the Lobo government, and 11 of those countries now have ambassadors here.

The real challenge now, the minister said, is getting Hondurans to believe in the Lobo government and their country.

“The only way other countries are going to respect us is if we respect ourselves,” he said.


Seeking Respect


In an attempt to regain the confidence of Hondurans and the international community, the Lobo government earlier this month formed a truth commission to investigate the incidents surrounding the June 28 coup.

Though the commission has been backed by the United States and the OAS, opponents claims it’s little more than a smokescreen.

“The commission lacks the involvement of the victims who have been subject to different human rights violations,” said Bertha Oliva, director of the Honduran Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared (COFADEH), during a May 4 video conference with journalists in Costa Rica. “That’s why we believe it’s necessary to form our own (truth commission), because we know that whatever has authorized that commission is nothing more than a legal monstrosity disguised as the law.”

COFADEH alleges that abuses have continued since the coup, citing as many as 14 assassinations of anti-coup activists since President Lobo’s Jan. 27 inauguration. Others put the number much higher.

According to Oliva, the U.S.-backed truth commission “tries to make us believe that what we’re experiencing is a thing of the past, and we categorically say that it is an issue of the present.”


The World is Watching


President Lobo’s truth commission isn’t the only organization looking into what’s going on here. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) sent a top-level delegation to Tegucigalpa this week as a follow-up to its report from last January, when it put Honduras on the international human rights “black list.”

Though Honduras was suspended from participation in the OAS on July 4, 2009, the IACHR noted that Honduras is still obligated to adhere to the American Convention on Human Rights, which it ratified in 1977.

The Lobo government met with the IACHR delegation and agreed to form a special commission to investigate the killings of seven journalists in recent months (see next week’s special edition on press freedom in Central America).


The Return of Zelaya


Despite political uncertainty in Honduras, Zelaya hopes the conditions will soon exist for his return. Zelaya, who refers to himself as the “Wandering Jew” – based on the legend of the man who was forced to wander the earth until the second coming of Christ – has been living in the Dominican Republic and traveling abroad since Lobo gave him safe passage out of Honduras during his first day as president.

Now Zelaya is again campaigning for his return home. Last week he traveled to Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba to state his case and promote his “Plan for National Reconciliation” – a series of conditions he claims will assure his safe return.

Zelaya, however, faces charges of treason and constitutional violations in Honduras – making any attempt at a homecoming a tricky venture.

Honduras’ National Commissioner for Human Rights, Ramón Custodio, has proposed that an ad-hoc judge be sent to receive Zelaya at the airport in the event he returns.

The specially appointed judge, Custodio suggested, would then decide whether Zelaya should go to jail or be allowed to return home to await his trial.

“Just stop bothering us already,” the outspoken Custodio said in comments directed to Zelaya, according to the daily La Tribuna. “If you want to return to your country, then come. But you have to submit yourself to justice, because here, everyone is equal before the law.”

However, as the coup showed, the law in Honduras is subject to wildly different political interpretations. In a country with a highly politicized judicial system, Zelaya’s chances at a fair trial are doubtful at best.

Tico Times staff member Alex Leff contributed reporting from San José, Costa Rica.


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