Political Crisis In Honduras Intensifies
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The ousted president of Honduras has been seeking support in Washington. Manuel Zelaya lost power when the military installed a replacement for him. President Obama called for Zelaya's reinstatement and now the Honduran leader wants American help. To get some perspective, we brought in Michael Shifter. He's an analyst with the Inter-American Dialogue, a think-tank based in Washington.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. MICHAEL SHIFTER (Inter-American Dialogue): Thank you.
INSKEEP: What can Zelaya expect, given that he and the United States haven't necessarily gotten along in the past?
Mr. SHIFTER: Well, I think Zelaya is looking for support from the United States, first of all to take a strong stand, which the United States has done, to support democracy. He's the legal, legitimate president of Honduras. And to try to work out a way to get him back in the country. That is what he wants to do. Whether that's going to be possible, we'll have to see.
INSKEEP: There's a mediator that's been appointed to try to work this out.
Mr. SHIFTER: Yes. The current president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace Prize winner 20 years ago, is now playing that role. So we've moved to the phase of negotiation.
INSKEEP: Although given that President Zelaya has been critical of the United States in the past, what is the United States' fundamental interest here?
Mr. SHIFTER: Fundamental interest is the United State - everybody's looking to the United States to see how it's going to react to this coup. It brings back memories in Latin America. And so this was something where there was a line that was crossed, the United States needs to take a stand to restore the legal, legitimate government of Honduras, but at the same time has to worry about also trying to keep the peace and keeping the situation under control, not letting things get out of hand.
INSKEEP: This has got to be a tricky situation for a new American administration because of the history in Latin America. The United States can be accused of subverting democracy, can be accused of interfering in the wrong way, can be accused of supporting democracy, but supporting someone who's opposed to the United States. It's a difficult call for the U.S.
Mr. SHIFTER: It's very difficult. And I think this is going - this is an evolving situation and I think the United States is very mindful of the fact that the U.S. government has lost credibility in the last couple of years. It's trying to repair that damage. At the same time it doesn't want to have a major crisis and things get out of control on the ground in Honduras. So it's very, very tricky, and they're moving in a very cautious manor.
INSKEEP: How awkward is it that the Obama administration is suddenly on the same side as the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, who has also supported the ousted Honduran president?
Mr. SHIFTER: Well, I think it neutralizes Hugo Chavez. I think if the U.S. president had taken a very different position, Chavez would've taken advantage of it. He would've seized the high moral ground and he would've made a strong case for that he's the defender of democratic legitimacy. So I think it was smart of what the Obama administration has done in this sense.
INSKEEP: How much has the Obama administration revealed of what it wants to do in Latin America? It seems probably less clear to most Americans than what they want to do in the Middle East, say.
Mr. SHIFTER: Well, I think that the statement the Obama has made is that they don't want a policy for Latin America. They want a policy with Latin America. They want to defer more to the Organization of American States, to Latin Americans to take the lead. But as we're seeing in this Honduran case, the United States also has to play an active role and also has to come in and be involved.
INSKEEP: And is Latin America expecting the United States to be active and involved in this issue?
Mr. SHIFTER: I think most governments are. They don't want the United States to impose and dictate the solution, but they do want them to help shape a solution and to be supportive.
INSKEEP: Mr. Shifter, thanks very much.
Mr. SHIFTER: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Michael Shifter with the Inter-American Dialogue, which is a think-tank based here in Washington, D.C.
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