Peaceful turning of the page

With Porfirio Lobo assuming the presidency of Honduras on Wednesday, its citizens formally turn the page on the political crisis triggered by former President Manuel Zelaya’s removal from office in June 2009. It is time for the international community to do the same. It must extend diplomatic recognition to Honduras’ new government, restore international aid and lift all sanctions. Honduras’ fragile economy and its citizens have paid a high price in recent months. They must be given a chance at a new beginning and effectively move on.

The formal resolution to Mr. Zelaya’s status has been largely addressed. He will be given amnesty and safe passage to the Dominican Republic, whose President Leonel Fernandez brokered the deal. Furthermore, Mr. Lobo was given a popular mandate by Hondurans in a free and fair election on Nov. 29. He won 55 percent of the vote, and his opponent conceded the same day and promised full assistance in rebuilding national unity. Fifty percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls This was 5 percent less than in the 2005 presidential election but consistent with a decline in voter participation since 1997.

On the foreign policy front, Mr. Lobo’s priority has been to gain U.S. support, which he has done. Although officially condemning Mr. Zelaya’s removal from power, the United States provided Honduras with a sufficient diplomatic lifeline and, unlike most other countries, never recalled its ambassador throughout the crisis. Mr. Zelaya’s intransigence and reckless behavior in the months following his exit from power provided the United States with the necessary pretext to achieve a desirable outcome to the crisis – avoiding the reinstatement of Mr. Zelaya and waiting for the election of a new president. With mounting difficulties around the world, Honduras was becoming an unneeded diplomatic headache for U.S. foreign policy. Mr. Zelaya’s departure is a welcome relief. President Obama must now go beyond American economic support and diplomatic recognition and actively encourage other countries to provide the same, particularly at international forums such as the Organization of American States.

Mr. Lobo’s challenges were underscored by the absence of most foreign representatives at his inauguration. The lack of diplomatic recognition from other important states, particularly in Europe and Latin America, creates complications Honduras cannot afford. Brazil’s growing economic and diplomatic influence, in the Americas and internationally, continues to shape the course of events, particularly as its embassy in the Honduran capital has sheltered Mr. Zelaya since September. Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva must recognize the new government and encourage other reluctant states to do so. His example would provide others with the pretext to follow suit, particularly throughout the Americas.

With a deteriorating economy after months of sanctions and suspended aid, ordinary Hondurans have suffered enough. This struggling Central American nation of 8 million desperately needs and deserves a break. External interference in Honduras’ internal affairs, principally by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and his regional acolytes, must cease. This greatly contributed to the tragic series of events leading to Mr. Zelaya’s exit from power and the ensuing seven-month crisis. The intricacies of exactly what happened must be dealt with by Hondurans, principally through their courts and elected officials. If outside assistance is requested, it should be provided. Otherwise, Hondurans must be given a fair opportunity to determine their future by pursuing national reconciliation and resolving internal challenges within their own democratic framework.

Marco Vicenzino, director of the Global Strategy Project in Washington.