The new government is doing better abroad than at home
Jul 22nd 2010 | TEGUCIGALPA
IT IS over a year since Honduras’s leftist president, Manuel Zelaya, was bundled out of his home at dawn by the army and exiled to Costa Rica. Yet friendships, business deals and families are still split by rows over the events of June 28th 2009: whether Mr Zelaya’s illegal attempt to rewrite the constitution, seen by many as a bid to hang on to power, justified his removal at gunpoint; and whether his expulsion, backed by Congress and the Supreme Court, was a coup or a “constitutional succession”. Tegucigalpa, the small capital surrounded by empty silver mines, remains scarred by graffiti denouncing the coup’s authors, and their mothers.
The squabbling has been no less furious on the international stage. In response to the coup, Honduras was kicked out of the Organisation of American States (OAS), and lost promised foreign aid worth 6% of GDP. Constitutional order formally returned when Porfirio Lobo, who won a reasonably fair election held under the de facto regime, was inaugurated on January 27th. But Mexico and most South American countries still do not recognise his government. In May Brazil, which housed Mr Zelaya in its Tegucigalpa embassy for 129 days to shield him from arrest, stopped Mr Lobo from attending an EU-Latin America summit by warning that at least ten countries would skip it if he did.
Mr Lobo has tried to mend fences. He formed a unity government with five opposition parties—although it is unified in name only—and set up a truth commission, which will report in 2011. He also got an amnesty passed for Mr Zelaya, who is now in the Dominican Republic. However, since it only covers political crimes, Mr Zelaya could still be tried for corruption.
Abroad, this effort has begun to pay off. Honduras says it has reopened relations with 86 countries, and is expected to borrow $122m from multilateral lenders this year. The Central American Integration System, a regional political block, readmitted Honduras on July 21st, and the OAS could welcome it back by August. Even Brazil is softening: one of its diplomats says he hopes the group readmits Honduras this year. That would allow various UN agencies to resume work in the country.
But making peace at home looks harder. Mr Lobo cannot please everyone. One group of Hondurans thinks Mr Zelaya is still the president, while another wants him jailed. Although a strong “resistance” movement sprouted to oppose the coup, it has stagnated with its leader in exile. And the many leftist politicians who dislike the populist Mr Zelaya hold little power.
That has freed Mr Lobo to placate the right, by putting former military officers in charge of the departments of migration, civil aeronautics and merchant shipping, plus the state telecommunications firm. The army’s return to politics may be one long-lasting effect of the coup. Mr Lobo himself said last month that he had discovered a plot to overthrow him, backed by hard-liners from his own party.
Perhaps the most worrying trend has been an outbreak of violence against reporters. So far this year eight journalists have been killed; another fled after her teenage daughter’s murder. In April Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based watchdog, declared Honduras the world’s most dangerous country for journalists.
Since Honduras already has the planet’s highest murder rate, at 67 per 100,000 people, it is hard to know whether these killings were linked to the victims’ work, and whether they were politically motivated. The government points to street gangs and drug traffickers. Yet it has proven hopeless at solving the crimes. “The state has not conducted any serious investigation and…has not given the human-rights prosecutor the tools needed to conduct the investigation,” says Santiago Canton, the head of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. “Particularly since the coup, impunity has been the rule, not the exception, for human-rights violations.” The government has enlisted help from Colombia, Spain and the United States to crack the cases. It will need their aid to remove the stain on its reputation.