How the events unfold in Honduras will reshape the role of the Organization of American States in Inter-American affairs within the next couple of years. In the last year, the Organization’s Permanent Council, General Assembly and its Secretary General remained rather quiet in the face of rigged elections in Nicaragua, attacks on media outlets in Venezuela, Ecuador, or Peru by their governments, or actions by some branches of government – specially the executive – in the Western Hemisphere to alter the structure of checks and balances in their countries. These actions clearly undermined the rule of law and the principles of (liberal) democracy that the organization and its members agreed to defend and promote.
In Honduras, President Zelaya effectively shrugged off decisions from the Supreme Court and Congress. Both declared the ballot he proposed for June 28 illegal. The ballot would have called for a Constitutional Assembly in the November general elections. Despite the Court’s and Congress’ decision, Zelaya pushed ahead and turned it into a survey through decree. An OAS’s Permanent Council resolution (CP/RES. 952 1699/09) called for all political and social actors to respect the rule of law prior to the events on Sunday June 28. Zelaya’s persistence undermined Honduras’ rule of law. The President’s removal from his country by the military equates a coup even though it has received wide support from Hondurans, the business community, and allegedly took place following the constitutional order Zelaya violated.
OAS’s Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza will visit Honduras before the end of the week, most likely accompanied by an ad hoc committee probably appointed during the General Assembly Special Session. President Zelaya also announced that he will return to the country. The interim government led by Roberto Micheletti affirmed that Isulza is welcome, but Zelaya will be put behind bars if he arrives in Honduras.
Zelaya return to office in the next months seems unlikely as he lacks local support. Only if he fully agrees to abide by the rule of law and Honduras’ constitution he will be able to finish his term. Once Zelaya is back in power or shares it with Micheletti, the OAS and its governing bodies will need to respond with stronger positions and preemptively to face threats to democracy and the rule of law in the Western Hemisphere. That means condemning actions by the governments of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Bolivia, Ecuador, or any other government in the region that undermines democracy, the rule of law, and constitutional order. If the OAS continues to remain silent in the occurrence of these challenges, it will lose the reduced credibility it has among the democratic regimes of the region.