Monday, April 5, 2010

Recognition or Probation?

A recent email asked us which countries have officially recognized the Lobo Sosa government. Our reply to this correspondent, a fellow academic, was disappointing for his purposes, but encouraged us to consider a post; because the answer is, it depends. Depends on what "recognition" means; depends on who's identifying "recognition"; and depends on what is being recognized.

Honduran Secretary of State Mario Canahuati claims that the total is up to 50 countries. He had been previously quoted as saying Honduras had "succeeded in re-establishing relations with 29 countries of the 39 which which we have relations of diplomatic representation". Clearly, even he is using shifting criteria for what "recognition" means.

So let's start with the easy things first. Honduras is still, as of this writing, outside the OAS. Of course, the OAS feels this is a result of their expulsion of Honduras; but wait, remember: Micheletti claimed that Honduras withdrew from OAS before it was expelled.

As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained in her road trip throughout Latin America, the US recognizes the November election as legitimate (despite the lack of any independent international observers) and thus the Lobo Sosa government has US recognition. And she wonders what some Latin American countries are waiting for. Except that as of this writing, the US has not in fact accepted the credentials of a proposed ambassador to Washington. According to La Tribuna on March 21, the current candidate is Jorge Ramón Hernández Alcerro, who some sources say was selected from a short list of five candidates proposed to the US, after Roberto Flores Bermúdez, who notoriously aligned himself with the regime of Roberto Micheletti, was not given US approval. And of course, the US laid down a set of conditions for Lobo Sosa to fulfill for recognition, including the farce of a "reconciliation government" and the (apparently permanently stalled) "truth commission", so even US recognition has been complicated. Most significantly, it has meant letting aid money flow again.

International lending agencies have in fact led the way in "recognizing" the Lobo Sosa administration, opening the purse strings for the kinds of loans that are critical for a government facing a treasury exhausted by the policy of Roberto Micheletti. Among those back in Honduras are the IMF, BID, World Bank, and the BCIE. Some countries that have agreed to restart financial assistance have been counted as "recognizing" Honduras, but not all of these have sent diplomats back to Tegucigalpa, or those diplomats have not tendered their credentials to the Lobo Sosa government.

Here's the crux of the matter: international diplomacy is not an on/off switch. Diplomatic protocol provides an exquisite variety of ways to establish relations, even with what are considered rogue states. On January 26, when Lobo Sosa was inaugurated, only the presidents of Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Taiwan attended, and only the US, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama, and Peru were counted as fully recognizing Lobo Sosa's government. As of April 5, Honduran Foreign Minister Mario Canahuati reported approval of the Honduran ambassador to Costa Rica, and expected approval this week of those to Panama, Colombia, Spain, Guatemala, and El Salvador, out of a dozen nominations reportedly proposed by March 21.

The spectrum of available diplomatic approaches provides the international community, even the booster-ish US, with options to apply pressure on the Lobo Sosa administration. Some of that pressure can be seen as directed to whitewashing the coup and its aftermath. And some may be less cynical than that-- but the more serious the pressure, the less likely we will see it reflected in news media.

So. Who's recognized the Lobo Sosa government fully, by which I mean, sent a new ambassador, sent back the ambassador they had withdrawn, or either accepted the credentials of the Honduran ambassador or indicated that they will?

Shortly after the November elections, Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica and Peru were the first Latin American nations to indicate they would do so. They were joined in early 2010 by El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic, in an openly reported quid pro quo for safe conduct out of Honduras for former president Zelaya.

Mexico's position appears a little ambiguous, despite my best attempts to confirm reports that they have also recognized Lobo Sosa. Taiwan and Israel never actually clearly withdrew recognition from the Micheletti de facto regime, and both countries are said to be actively supporting the new Honduran government. And while Canada followed the US lead in supporting Lobo Sosa's advocacy for normalization, to the disgust of progressives in our northern neighbor, its official website on relations with Honduras as of March 4 said Canada was just "moving to normalize relations with the new, elected government of President Pepe Lobo".

Adamantly resisting are, as expected, the ALBA nations (most important being Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela). The largest South American nations-- Brazil and Argentina-- were rather polite but firm in resisting Secretary of State Clinton's coaxing to come on board. Speaking more diplomatically than Clinton, Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim noted that a coup is hard to forgive and forget.

On February 21, Mario Canahuati counted ten countries that were resisting re-establishing diplomatic missions with Honduras, including Brazil, Uruguay, México, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Chile. While Uruguay has been recorded consistently as not recognizing Lobo Sosa's government, Chile was briefly counted by the Honduran press as recognizing Lobo Sosa by virtue of Lobo Sosa's plans to attend the inauguration of its new president, plans he had to cancel after Honduras charge d'affaires in Chile communicated that he was not, in fact, invited to Pinera's inauguration.

France and Spain were noted as returning recalled ambassadors to Honduras in early March, yet coverage on April 2 of Spain's advocacy of including Honduras in EU discussions of an economic agreement with the Central American nations quoted Spanish minister of Foreign Affairs Miguel Ángel Moratinos as saying that Spain "has decided that its ambassador should return to Tegucigalpa" as a first action toward the normalization of diplomatic ties.

On March 24, El Heraldo reported on seven ambassadors presenting credentials to the Lobo Sosa government, from Finland, Germany, Israel, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and India. Several will serve at the same time as ambassadors for other Central American countries. Other coverage cites Canahuati as listing Italy among those recognizing the Lobo Sosa government.

Meanwhile, Honduras has yet to confirm its ambassador to the United Nations, although the Zelaya appointee, Jorge Arturo Reina, was happy to announce that he would be staying on (prematurely, and perhaps inaccurately, as he is also reported to be Lobo Sosa's delegate to represent Honduras to the ALBA countries). Honduran press counted the UN as "tacitly" recognizing the Lobo Sosa government as of February 1, by including it in documents.On April 1, Mario Canahuati attended a meeting about aid to Haiti at the UN, credited as having recognized Lobo Sosa as of February 3.

So perhaps the best way to think about all this is that the Lobo Sosa administration is on global probation.

Skepticism about the new administration will not be easily erased as long as it continues to incorporate supporters of the coup d'Etat in prominent posts. The fact remains that Lobo Sosa never has disclaimed the Micheletti regime, or the coup itself. There are countries more scrupulous than the US that, while accepting that electoral politics is never completely clean, balk at affirming an election conducted under transparently repressive conditions.

Instead of thinking of this as a recognition tally, what should concern us more is how the nations skeptical of Honduras will exercise whatever influence they have on the new regime. By so quickly accepting the new government as entirely legitimate, and refusing to even acknowledge the existence of a broad popular movement for constitutional reform, the US has given up the potential to encourage new directions. Worse, it seems committed to policies of co-optation and token representation of other voices that ignore the wider community mobilizing for a new Honduras.

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