Honduras suspends constitutional rights

The interim government of Honduras has attempted to ignore Manuel Zelaya as much as possible while he sits in the Brazilian embassy, which was a smart idea.  Unfortunately, Roberto Micheletti ran out of patience last night and suspended civil liberties, which will give new impetus to Zelaya’s supporters and further isolate Honduras:

The de facto government that took power here three months ago suspended constitutional civil liberties late Sunday in an attempt to keep the supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya off the streets Monday.

Zelaya, holed up at the Brazilian Embassy with about 70 supporters and journalists after his clandestine return to Honduras a week ago, called on his supporters on Monday to launch “a final offensive.”

It’s not clear whether Zelaya meant this as a show of support or an effort to cause the de facto government of President Roberto Micheletti to buckle and allow Zelaya to return to power.

The decree could allow the government to shut down pro-Zelaya radio and TV stations and arrest his supporters at will. Sunday night’s decree indicates a hardening line by the Micheletti government, which refused to allow four diplomats earlier in the day to enter Honduras. They were from the Washington, D.C.-based Organization of American States and had come to Honduras to organize an upcoming OAS mission.

Until now, the only mistake Honduras made was to exile Zelaya instead of trying him for his crimes.  The fact that Honduras had operated normally, allowing full constitutional protections for its citizens while Zelaya blathered about the “coup” presented an embarrassing situation for the US.  They tried to treat Micheletti as a man bent on seizing power, when Micheletti replaced the real culprit in this crisis.

This changes that situation.  At best, it puts Micheletti on the same level as Zelaya, as least temporarily.  It certainly gives the Obama administration another argument for its full-throated support of Zelaya over the last few weeks.  It will make it more difficult for Honduras’ defenders in Congress to argue against that White House policy now.  Given that American pressure or a lack of it could make the difference in Honduras, that may be a very costly suspension of civil liberties for the Micheletti government.