HONDURAS: Brazil Ups the Ante

  • by Mario Osava (rio de janeiro)
  • Monday, September 28, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

The reference by Brazilian political scientist Clovis Brigagão, director of the Candido Mendes University Centre for American Studies in Rio de Janeiro, was to Venezuela's firebrand President Chávez.

But however the crisis in Honduras turns out, Brazil has stepped up its profile as a leader on the international stage, said the analyst: 'It has stopped being the friendly behind-the-scenes conciliator and has decidedly joined the leadership game.'

The government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has finally shown 'it's leader's face' and 'will win many points' if Zelaya's presence in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa forces negotiations with the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti and Honduras returns to the rule of law. But there is also a risk of disaster, if violent clashes and further deaths occur, he said.

On Jun. 28, Zelaya was removed from his home by the military at gunpoint and put on a plane for Costa Rica, after he tried to organise a non-binding referendum asking voters if they wanted to rewrite the constitution — an initiative that was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

He snuck back into Honduras on Sept. 21 and took shelter in the Brazilian embassy in the capital. Although Micheletti and Zelaya met last week with the four leading presidential candidates to run in the Nov. 29 elections, paving the way for talks, the process apparently stalled over the weekend.

The de facto government gave Brazil 10 days to declare whether Zelaya had been given asylum, warning that it would shut down the embassy if it did not comply. But Lula responded that his government does not recognise Micheletti's ultimatum.

On Sunday, the de facto regime suspended key civil liberties, banning protests for 45 days, making it easier for the police and army to arrest people without a warrant, and allowing authorities to shut down media outlets on the argument that they were inciting rebellion. Two stations — Radio Globo and TV Channel 36, which frequently broadcast interviews with Zelaya and his supporters - were raided and closed down on Sunday.

The de facto authorities also denied entry to an Organisation of American States (OAS) delegation that had come to Honduras to mediate a solution to the crisis.

Brazil's 'robust action' in Honduras is not the only sign that the country's foreign policy has shifted gears. South America's giant also 'showed its teeth' with the purchase of French military equipment and the more than 50 percent increase in its defence budget for 2010, to 7.2 billion dollars, said Brigagão. The strategic alliance with France, forged during President Nicolas Sarkozy's Sept. 7 visit to Brasilia, will elevate the international status of both nations, he said.

Diplomacy and defence, which were previously not connected in Brazilian foreign policy, 'have begun to converge,' said the analyst.

With respect to Zelaya's surreptitious return to Honduras and his sheltering in the Brazilian embassy, Brigagão believes it was an 'internationally coordinated action,' although he did not assert that things had been previously worked out with Brazilian authorities. He did point out, however, that the ousted Honduran president visited Brasilia on Aug. 12.

For his part, former Brazilian ambassador João Clemente Baena Soares told IPS that 'I don't believe previous conversations had taken place.'

Baena, who was secretary general of the OAS from 1984 to 1994, said the Lula administration was doing a good job handling a 'truly unusual situation.'

Zelaya's presence in the Brazilian embassy has generated a great deal of speculation and contradictory opinions, he said. But it was well known that the ousted leader intended to return to Tegucigalpa one way or another, and his choice of refuge once he managed to do so was only logical, since Brazil 'is a balanced country,' and alternatives like Venezuela or the United States presented 'obvious inconveniences.'

'There was nothing Machiavellian about this,' said Baena.

In past decades, de facto governments in Latin America were often formally recognised by the rest of the region if they had effective control over the national territory, he said. The principles of self-determination and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries were often used to justify support for regimes installed by means of coups.

That changed after the Inter-American Democratic Charter was adopted by the OAS in 2001 and as a result of democracy clauses included in international agreements and adopted by regional blocs, like the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) and European Union, said Baena.

'The idea of preserving democracy is taking root throughout the international community, accompanied by strong reactions against any violation of the rules of democracy,' he said. In the case of Honduras, 'no state has recognised the de facto government' of Micheletti — not even the United States, which always used to do so, he underscored.

The United States has even threatened that it will not recognise the results of the elections scheduled for Nov. 29 (Zelaya's term is to end in January). Last week, the United Nations froze its technical support for the elections.

Brazil's protection of Zelaya is justified because he is the only president of Honduras formally recognised by this country, said Baena. For the sake of coherence, the Lula administration cannot negotiate with the Micheletti regime, and has thus ruled out a role as mediator, said Baena, who is a member of the Inter-American Juridical Committee, an OAS advisory body.

'The only way out of this is a negotiated solution,' he said, referring to the situation created by the presence of two presidents in one country, one of whom has the support of the entire international community while the other controls the levers of power in the country.

'They won't invade the embassy,' Baena said.

But the compound has been completely surrounded by troops since Zelaya appeared there last week; water, power and telephone services to the embassy have been cut off; and the authorities have allegedly used noise blasts and non-lethal gas bombs against Zelaya's supporters in the embassy.

At a special meeting on Honduras last Friday, the U.N. Security Council condemned 'acts of intimidation' at the Brazilian embassy as a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and called on the de facto government to stop 'harassing' the embassy, in response to a request and complaints by Brazil. However, it did not discuss the political crisis itself.

Because he has not formally requested asylum, Zelaya has 'sui generis status' in the embassy. But Brazil has every right to grant him 'legal protection' because its diplomatic representation has a 'sovereign' right to take in anyone, Luciana Diniz, academic coordinator at the Centre on International Law in Belo Horizonte, told IPS.

If the embassy allows access to journalists or friends who want to interview or meet with Zelaya, no meddling in internal affairs is taking place, but both meddling and infringement of international conventions are occurring when the de facto government restricts services as well as the entry and exit of people at the embassy, she said.

Brazil is not only acting based on a question of democratic principles, but also out of an interest in ensuring political stability in neighbouring countries, because a signal that the Jun. 28 coup was tolerated would set a negative precedent in the region, said Tullo Vigevani, a political science professor at the São Paulo State University.

The coup in Honduras broke the rules of the democratic system, despite the claims by its defenders that Zelaya violated the constitution and was legally removed by Congress and the Supreme Court, said Vigevani, who emphasised that the Micheletti regime did not follow the constitutional procedures for impeachment.

The most likely solution would be negotiations facilitated by a multilateral body like the OAS, because Brazil has to avoid granting de facto recognition to the Micheletti regime, said the expert on international relations.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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