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Column 102813 Brewer

Monday, October 28, 2013

National Elections and the Zelaya Dilemma in Honduras

By Jerry Brewer

On November 24 of this year, Hondurans will go to the polls in general elections to select a new president to replace outgoing President Porfirio Lobo Sosa. The new president will take office on January 27, 2014 to serve a four year term.

This election may be one of the most important presidential elections in decades within this hemisphere.

Honduras is suffering, and it has a murder rate nearly ten times above the world average. As well, the civilian National Police agency is struggling with a massive undertaking as authorities attempt to clean and rid the ranks of abusive and corrupt officers.

A possible major complication for the healing process of the Honduran nation comes in the form of one man and his wife, the former president of Honduras, José Manuel Zelaya Rosales (61), and his wife Xiomara Castro de Zelaya (54).  Xiomara Zelaya, who has never held elected office, is a presidential candidate in this year's election.

The controversial Manuel Zelaya served as president from January 27, 2006 until June 28, 2009.

Much of Manuel Zelaya's woes stem from his history - from what has been described as a centrist to one who morphed into a radical leftist. Elected as a conservative, Zelaya shifted to the political left during his presidency, forging an alliance with the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) led by the late President Hugo Chavez, of Venezuela. ALBA was launched in 2004 with two member states, Venezuela and Cuba.

Zelaya was an ardent supporter of his mentor Hugo Chavez, who probably inflicted more lasting structural damage on Venezuela's political institutions, economy and people than any other president in the history of Venezuela. Too, Zelaya embraced Chavez's close leftist alliances with Bolivia's President Evo Morales, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, and Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega.

Manuel Zelaya was removed from office on June 28, 2009.  Zelaya, strongly supported by Chavez, had planned a referendum to change the Honduran Constitution, an action that capped months of tensions over Zelaya's efforts to lift presidential term limits, a move viewed by many in Honduras as unconstitutional. Zelaya was following his mentor Chavez's lead, insofar as the latter, in winning a 2009 Venezuelan referendum to eliminate term limits, had paved his way to rule well into the 21st century.

The Honduran Supreme Court removed Zelaya from office to defend the law against "those who had publicly spoken out and acted against the Constitution's provisions."  And then Zelaya was quickly put on a plane to Costa Rica and flown into exile.

Chavez and leftist President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua were quick to cry foul. Ortega went so far as to position troops on the Honduran border, while Chavez made his usual threats of attack if any Venezuelan or his embassy were assaulted or harmed. Furthermore, Chavez claimed that "the coup had been orchestrated by the United States."

The crisis eventually drew to a close with the inauguration of the newly elected president, Porfirio Lobo, on January 27, 2010.  And Zelaya subsequently went into exile in the Dominican Republic.

Hugo Chavez then rewarded Zelaya with a curious appointment in the Dominican Republic.  Zelaya was named head of a "Political Council" of a Venezuelan energy consortium, Petrocaribe, which allowed Caribbean and Central American nations to buy oil at a discount from Venezuela.

On May 22, 2011 Honduran President Lobo met with Zelaya in Cartagena, Colombia and signed an agreement that allowed Zelaya to return to Honduras from exile. On May 26, Zelaya flew back to Honduras.

Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro, represents the Liberty and Refoundation Party, a leftist group also known as the "Libre Party." Her husband has served as General Coordinator of the party, a political organization that was formed after Zelaya was removed from office in 2009.

A concern for Honduran voters, as well as the U.S., should be whether a Zelaya victory will also create problems for U.S. counternarcotics efforts in the region, as in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Venezuelan drug trafficking into Honduras has long been suspected and verified. It was believed that by "orchestrating the return of Zelaya to Honduras, Chávez's backup plan [is] to sow chaos in Honduras so it is hospitable territory for his partners in the illegal drug trade and a headache for the United States and Mexico."

Ironically, the ranch next to the Zelaya ranch in Olancho, Honduras was purchased around 1986 by Juan Ramón Matta-Ballesteros. Matta, a Honduran drug lord, was one of those captured, tried and imprisoned (in 1988) for the 1985 kidnapping, torture and murder, in Mexico, of DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena. The United States has also estimated that as much as "87 percent of all cocaine smuggling flights departing South America first land in Honduras."

In the impending election, Hondurans will need to decide whether a Zelaya return to power might transform their nation into a socialist state, and bring a renewed radical populist threat to Central America. Plus they must resist a corrupt Hugo Chavez-like massive misuse of the state and political apparatus.

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Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at www.cjiausa.org.

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