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A coup without friends

Analysis: Unanimous condemnation of Honduran takeover highlights new US stance in the Americas

"We have not committed a coup d'etat, but a constitutional succession," he said.
Whatever the outcome, the episode has created a political opportunity for leaders throughout the hemisphere to burnish their democratic credentials, while providing a fresh sense of mission for the region’s leading multinational bodies, the U.S.-based Organization of American States and the Venezuelan-led alternative pact, ALBA.

That organization was first conceived by Chávez as a rival to the U.S.-backed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), and has expanded to incorporate nine member states including Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Honduras.

For Chávez and other leaders of ALBA, the coup has provided a chance to show that the organization is capable of more than grand speeches and anti-capitalist rhetoric. Within one day of the coup, its member nations convened with Zelaya in an emergency session in Nicaragua, as Chávez, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and others took turns blasting the coup leaders and vowing to restore Zelaya. Often accused by critics of eroding democratic institutions at home, the Honduran coup has allowed those leaders to act as staunch guarantors of democracy in the Americas.

But the coordinated regional response to the crisis is also likely to strengthen the U.S.-based Organization of American States, which leftist leaders in the regional had recently denounced as an outdated instrument of U.S. policy. In the wake of the crisis in Honduras, the OAS also has also played a lead role in supporting Zelaya, who is expected to attend an OAS meeting Wednesday in Washington and convene with U.S. officials.

Whether or not Obama meets with Zelaya on Wednesday, the new U.S. administration is also likely to benefit from the coup episode, providing Obama with an opportunity to show a clean break from the U.S.’s sordid legacy of support for military coups in Latin America.

Though Chavez initially tried to link the Honduran coup plotters to the U.S., the firm support for Zelaya by top U.S. officials was widely noted in Latin America, not least by Zelaya himself, who praised the Obama administration Tuesday, telling reporters “the United States has changed a great deal.” Even Fidel Castro noted in a written statement Monday that the U.S. had backed the ousted Honduran president.

What remains unclear is how far leaders in the hemisphere are willing to go to restore Zelaya to power.

If Zelaya’s opponents succeed in keeping him out of office, they are likely to face near-total diplomatic isolation, in addition to trade sanctions from neighboring countries that have already closed off their borders to trade with Honduras.

If Zelaya returns to office, he will likely enjoy an energized base, as thousands of supporters have taken to the streets in Honduras to protest his removal. Zelaya on Tuesday told reporters that he plans to go back to civilian life when his term expires.

More GlobalPost dispatches about the Honduran coup:

Beating the curfew in Tegucigalpa

The view from Cuba