Thursday, October 22, 2009

What Happens in Vegas Stays in Honduras

Welcome my friends to poker night in Tegucigalpa where the game is Guaymuras Hold'em and the casino of choice is the Brazilian Embassy. This is a closed game, invitation only, with the exception of one party crasher. The A-list of political power brokers have flown in on their private jets, and everyone is seated around the table kicking back shots of dialogue and negotiation while sizing up the competition. This is one game I wish had stayed in Costa Rica.

Ever since Jose Manuel Zelaya was unceremoniously removed from Honduras, the country has been under unrelenting pressure from all fronts to restore him as president. Why should he be restored? Well, they think he ought to be restored because it was wrong to remove him. Says who? The all knowing, all deciding, all controlling United States of International Community, that’s who. The USIC has decided that individual countries are not capable of governing themselves even (or especially) when they are operating under a pesky document called the constitution and have an active congress and judiciary. The fact that what Honduras did was legally defendable under the laws of this country and that the United States Congressional Research Service stated that “The Supreme Court of Honduras has constitutional and statutory authority to hear cases against the President of the Republic and many other high officers of the State, to adjudicate and enforce judgments, and to request the assistance of the public forces to enforce its rulings.” is of no importance. In fact, Honduras apparently is the only country that has been blessed with a U.S. Ambassador with the legal acuity to grasp the intricate and complicated legal rational as to why the ouster of Zelaya was illegal. Maybe we should have nominated Hugo Lorens to the Supreme Court instead of Sotomayor. It's a shame to permit legal brilliance of this magnitude to vegetate in the obscurity of a small Central American outpost.

But I digress and we need to return to the poker game.

Ever since this match began both Honduras and Zelaya have pursued very distinct playing styles. Honduras' strategy has been: hold your hand close to your chest, check and call. Zelaya, meanwhile, has implemented the more aggressive strategy of bluff and raise; an interesting choice considering that it was his over-the-top behavior that got the ex-prez ejected from the original poker game. It seems that bluffing and raising while keeping cards up your sleeve did not go over well with the Honduran Congress, Supreme Court, and Military, all distinguished players seated at the table.

Since the unfortunate and forceful ejection of the offending individual, Honduras has held the home court advantage. Checking and Calling has forced their opponent to jockey for position and raise the stakes in an attempt to draw attention to himself and maintain support internally and internationally.

To date, Honduras has successfully rebuffed three noteworthy maneuvers by Zelaya orchestrated to maximize media coverage, reaction by pro-Zelaya forces, and sympathy by the USIC: The “Toncontin Air Attack”, the “Nica Border Camp Out”, and the “Brazilian Affair”. Honduras´ response to each of these gambits has been to ride through the initial turmoil and contain the shockwave that each was designed to produce. In poker terms, Honduras has checked.

My assertion from the beginning was that the San Jose Accord negotiations were a charade simply because neither side was interested in negotiating. The same is true for the much fawned over Guaymuras Accord. The interim Honduran government is, with admirable focus, pursuing a singular goal in this poker game: Get to the elections and get this mess passed to the next legitimately elected president without reinstating Zelaya. Every day that passes the country edges ever closer to that realizing that goal. That's why Micheletti & Co. were so willing to burn jet fuel to play poker in San Jose. Talking takes time. Talking gets you closer to Election Day. Zelaya’s surreptitious entrance into Honduras forced all parties to pencil in a new line on the original road map to harmony, but on the bright side, everyone could save those frequent flyer miles and Arias could go back to running Costa Rica instead of auditioning for the Noble Peace Prize.

Zelaya also has only one goal: get reinstated and remain in office indefinitely. However, each check and call of the Honduran government has forced Mel to up the ante with ever more spectacular and risky plays. And the failure of each ploy has required him to double down in subsequent gambits in the form of personal physical exposure. And who can blame him. It was unreasonable to expect indefinite pro-Zelaya support within the country while he continued to prance around the international stage. It was time for Mel to go all-in.

While the Brazilian Showdown might provide the high drama that the media loves to feed on, nothing has changed from a strategic standpoint. Hold'em is Hold’em whether it’s San Jose or Guaymuras. There are no substantive negotiations taking place, at least not the type that the USIC are deluding themselves will evolve, for the simple reason that Honduras is willing to agree to almost anything accept reinstating Zelaya and Zelaya is willing to agree to almost anything as long as he is reinstated. Honduras calls, Zelaya raises.

But Mel is running out of chips. While Zelaya remained outside the borders of Honduras, he could feint and jab, keeping his opponents endeavoring to anticipate his next move. Now that he has confined himself to an identifiable geographic point, and Honduras has successfully contained him, there is nothing more to bet with. The next spectacular, attention-grabbing event will have to come from someone other than Zelaya himself.

And so it goes every day. Virulent blow-the-system-up crowds come to press the issue with the police. Raise the bet. Police run them off with tear gas. Call. Zelaya screams, Hugo winks, and Lorens tries to slide cards under the table. Honduras calls. Insulza runs a bluff, huff huff, you better you better fold. Honduras checks. Surround, contain, but don't force it even when the temptation to relegate this guy to bumper sticker status is, at times I´m sure, overwhelming. No elevation to the martyrdom idol position of Che Guevara, my friends. Just check, check, call.

Keep hanging on to that winning hand, Honduras. Election Day is on the way.