Honduran former President Manuel Zelaya speaks upon his arrival in Tegucigalpa… (Rodrigo Arangua, AFP/Getty…)
Nearly two years after former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a military coup, he returned home Saturday. His arrival clears the way for the Organization of American States to reinstate Honduras, which had been expelled from the group, during a special session Wednesday.
Zelaya's return and Wednesday's expected OAS vote mean Honduras will no longer be a pariah in the hemisphere, which rightfully condemned the coup. But it would be a mistake to conclude that the crisis in that country is over. Violence and economic and political isolation persist.
Zelaya was forced into exile on June 28, 2009, after he pushed forward with efforts to revamp the country's constitution despite Supreme Court opposition. After his predawn ouster (during which he was hauled off to the airport in his pajamas), abuses and attacks against journalists, human rights groups and political activists increased, according to Human Rights Watch. Ten journalists have been killed since 2010, two of them shot last month. The government has failed to provide adequate resources to investigate those and other human rights crimes.
Moreover, overall public safety remains elusive. Honduras is among the three most violent countries in the world, excluding nations at war, according to the United Nations Development Program. Much of that violence is fueled by transnational gangs and organized crime, including Mexican drug cartels that now operate in the country.
Zelaya's return is important because it demonstrates the region's intolerance for military coups, which were once common in Latin America. But much more is required.
For starters, the Obama administration, which played too weak a role during the constitutional crisis, now has a chance to help Honduras move forward. The White House condemned the coup and in 2009 cut off nearly $33 million in aid, including $11 million in security assistance, but it has failed to call on Honduran leaders to crack down on human rights abuses. And it played no role in negotiating Zelaya's return. Colombia and Venezuela brokered the agreement in a rare show of diplomatic unity.
The U.S. should restore assistance to Honduras, a desperately poor country. But it should also press Honduran leaders to respect human rights and to crack down on the targeted killings.