Canada's Credibility on line in Americas

Whenever democracy is spoken of or emphasised I am always sceptical about what is up. Often democracy means the replacement of a system in which a ruling oligarchy of the powerful is replaced by a system where the same people rule but with a party system and voting that changed little. Arias was key in negotiating such a changeover in Latin America and that is why he is both a recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize and also a good ally of the U.S. It helps as well that he is an ardent free trader and champion of the sort of neoliberal economic policies that Washington loves.
The military in Honduras are led by the same people who were trained in the School of the Americas and helped the contras in Nicaragua.
Canada will be content to follow the lead of the U.S. Although keeping a somewhat low profile, the U.S. is behind the Arias talks and indeed probably helped write the negotiating terms. So far the coup leaders are not very co-operative but of late the military have said they would support an Arias type solution. This may be a sign of an incipient deal with the coup hardliners finally giving a little. Why they have waited so long I can't fathom since Zelaya will return as a lame duck president for a few months with reduced powers and there would be amnesty for the coup leaders. Things would go back to what they were pre-Zelaya and opposition forces will be repressed away from the news media who will busy with the latest murder or celebrity death!

Canada's credibility on line in Americas
Peter Mckenna. The Chronicle Herald.

The military-backed government in Honduras, after ousting democratically elected President Jose Manuel Zelaya in late June, has defiantly thumbed its nose at the hemispheric community of states ? essentially buying time until the scheduled November presidential elections.

The Conservative government of Stephen Harper ? which has made hemispheric affairs a centerpiece of its foreign policy universe ? has trumpeted democracy promotion as one of its major tenets. But has its fine words actually translated into tangible deeds?

As a leading member of the inter-American community, Canada has been noticeably timid and even obstructionist on the current Honduran crisis. It should quickly change policy gears and aggressively promote the restoration of the Zelaya government.

Since joining the OAS as a full-fledged member state in 1990, Canada has consistently and vigorously sought to strengthen democratic pluralism in the region. Through its active involvement in the initial Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (UPD), the 1991 OAS Resolution 1080 on representative democracy and the Organization's Inter-American Democratic Charter, Canada has been steadfast in its support for promoting and consolidating democracy in the Americas.

It has done so because brutal military ousters were commonplace in the region throughout much of the 1960s and 1970s. More recently, there have been golpes de estado (military coups) in Haiti in 1990, Guatemala in 1993 and Paraguay in 1996. In each case, the OAS was seized by the crisis and quickly moved to act ? with varying degrees of success.

Obviously, this recent irregular disruption of constitutional power will be a major challenge not only for the OAS, but also for Canada's new policy thrust toward the Americas. Neither the region's principal political institution, nor the Canadian government, can afford to fail this time around.

As Argentine President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has warned: this whole unseemly episode has reminded her of "the worst years in Latin America's history." Indeed, military governments in Latin America were among the worst of the worst in terms of unspeakable brutality, leaving in their wake hundreds of thousands of butchered innocents. No one wants to see a return to this chaotic and murderous period.

But instead of making its voice heard loudly and clearly in defence of democracy, Canada has remained strangely reticent. It has been less than enthusiastic about Zelaya's return to power, opposes the imposition of sanctions (urging countries to merely "review their relations" with Honduras), and prefers to negotiate with the "interim," though illegal, government of Robert Micheletti.

Peter Kent, Canada's Minister of State for the Americas, has said that Ottawa needs to "maintain diplomatic initiatives," without explaining what exactly these initiatives would entail.

As per the original Charter of the OAS and the OAS Democratic Charter itself, the Canadian government must be prepared to impose punitive and purposeful sanctions (as both Washington and the EU are in the process of doing) against the unconstitutional regime in Tegucigalpa. It simply cannot permit a military-backed government to stand in Honduras. To be sure, a fainthearted response would send out the wrong message to the armed forces in the region ? that is, that military institutions now have free rein to intervene and disrupt the democratic process without fear of internal or external reprisal.

In addition, the Harper government should consider using its "good offices" to mediate a peaceful and appropriate end to this hemispheric crisis. We could start by utilizing our able officials at the OAS in Washington, our friendly diplomatic contacts in Central America or by dispatching our Foreign Minister, Lawrence Cannon, to the country itself (much like former foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy did when he practised his own brand of nimble diplomacy to defuse a crisis in Peru in 2000.)

If need be, and as a last resort, Ottawa policy-makers should not discount the option of using military force ? especially since it now looks as if the Honduran army is not going to back away from consolidating its own governmental structure. That means that deploying military assets might be the only way to dislodge them from fortifying an unconstitutional regime.

We should not forget that Canada deployed three naval vessels around Haiti ? ostensibly to enforce an OAS and UN sanctions package ? in the early 1990s. While we were reluctant to be part of a first wave of military units to forcibly remove the military from Port-au-Prince, we did agree to be part of a second clean-up phase. And as it turned out, Canada was one of the leading countries in a subsequent peacekeeping operation in Haiti.

Simply put, Canada should not shy away from using military means to restore the Zelaya government. But it should do so, of course, by working in concert with other OAS member states.

By remaining on the sidelines, Canada actually runs the risk of seeing the OAS coming apart at the seams ? as Latin American states grow increasingly frustrated at the lack of meaningful action by anglo member countries.

Make no mistake: Canada's credibility in the Americas is on the line here. It must make its presence felt and ensure the sustainability of the OAS itself. For as the Nobel Peace Prize-winning President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, has cautioned himself: "This is a lamentable step back, not just for Honduran democracy but for Central American democracy and throughout the hemisphere."

Peter McKenna is an associate professor in the department of political studies at the University of Prince Edward Island and is presently working on a book about Canada and the Americas.
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