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Honduras’ Political Standing Still on the Mend

BY Marcelo Ballve of New America Media  July 1, 2010 at 10:30 AM EDT

Honduran President Lobo with El Salvador President Funes at summit. Photo: Elmer Martinez/AFP/Getty

A year after the military-backed overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, the new government of that Central American nation is still getting a cold shoulder from some of its neighbors even though it has the backing of the United States.

The left-leaning governments of Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, who were more ideologically aligned with Zelaya, still refuse to recognize the November victory of his successor Porfirio Lobo as president. And G20 members Brazil and Argentina also have withheld recognition of Lobo’s government. That election took place after months of protests in Honduras over Zelaya’s ouster and international calls for him to be reinstated.

The Organization of American States or OAS has suspended Honduras, though it is conducting a review of the country’s status.

Lobo has created a truth commission to investigate the circumstances surrounding Zelaya’s ouster, and has said he will bolster human rights investigations in response to the killings of eight journalists and three political activists, who had been vocal critics of Zelaya’s overthrow, earlier this year.

The continued diplomatic ostracism in the region has frustrated the Lobo government, which made much of its participation in a summit for Central American heads of state held this week in Panama as a sign of its legitimacy.

It was the first time a sitting Honduran government had been invited to participate in a presidential-level Central American summit since the military forcibly removed Zelaya, who is now in exile in the Dominican Republic.

Speaking to reporters at the two-day summit, Honduran Foreign Minister Mario Canahuati said the country’s presence at the meeting was, diplomatically, a “serious advance.”

Lobo himself, speaking Wednesday at the summit’s closing ceremony, appealed to Central American solidarity to shore up his regional base of support.

“Nothing should divide Central America, it should be unified,” he said.

Most of Central America already was on Lobo’s side, except Nicaragua, led by Sandinista Daniel Ortega, which still refuses to recognize his government. Ortega’s absence from this week’s summit was a gesture widely interpreted as a rebuff to Lobo.

“Clearly, (Ortega) has an ideological difference that will be difficult to overcome,” said Ray Walser of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Lobo’s end-of-summit appeal for unity, seen as a call to bring Nicaragua on board, would help provide a unified front to South American nations still withholding recognition.

The South American countries’ resistance to Lobo’s government remains a major obstacle, said Christopher Sabatini, senior director for policy at the New York-based Council of the Americas. The countries could block Honduras’ reintegration to the OAS when it comes up for a vote, he said.

The Central American summit was only an initial test of Lobo’s efforts on the diplomatic stage, said Sabatini. “It’s a step, but it’s a very small step.”

But Walser minimized the importance of the remaining opposition to Lobo’s government in the hemisphere. Honduras already has its most important diplomatic relationships in order — with main trading partners Guatemala, El Salvador and the United States supporting Lobo — and can bide its time with the rest, he said.

The United States, which issued a strong condemnation of Zelaya’s ouster, later endorsed the presidential election results and has backed Lobo.

“The first step is what are your key relationships?” said Walser. “Those seem to be more or less back in place.”