In wake of Honduras agreement, DeMint releases hold on Obama nominees

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) released his holds on two State Department nominees Thursday in the wake of the agreement reached last week between the Honduran interim government and ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
 
DeMint, one of the administration’s biggest critics on its handling of the political crisis in the Central American nation, said he released his holds because he received assurances from the administration that the United States will recognize elections to be held later this month in Honduras even if Zelaya is not returned to power.
 

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“I am happy to report the Obama Administration has finally reversed its misguided Honduran policy and will fully recognize the November 29th elections,” DeMint said in a statement. “Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary [of Western Hemisphere Affairs Tom] Shannon have assured me that the U.S. will recognize the outcome of the Honduran elections regardless of whether Manuel Zelaya is reinstated. I take our administration at their word that they will now side with the Honduran people and end their focus on the disgraced Zelaya.”
 
That news will come as a blow to Zelaya. On Wednesday, the ousted president wrote a letter to Clinton asking her to clarify the administration’s position on the forthcoming elections that will pick the next Honduran president. The letter followed remarks made by Shannon on CNN en Espanol that the administration will recognize the Honduran elections even if Zelaya is not returned to power.
 
The agreement reached last week between both sides established a potential path for Zelaya to return to power. As long as the Honduran legislature decides to approve him retaking his seat as president, Zelaya would serve out the remaining months of his term. After the deal was struck, the ousted president told reporters that he expected to be back in power in a matter of weeks.
 
Zelaya was ousted by the Honduran military and exiled to Costa Rica on June 28 because of allegations that he wanted to remove presidential term limits to remain in power, a charge he has denied. Along with other countries and international organizations, the United States persisted in calling for his return to power since Zelaya was democratically elected.
 
That upset Republicans who saw Zelaya as another Latin American strongman in the mold of Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president. In opposition to the administration’s policy, DeMint placed holds on the nominations of Arturo Valenzuela to be Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs and Shannon to be ambassador to Brazil.
 
Business associations in and outside of Honduras also grew more and more uneasy as the crisis lingered on. Honduras is a vital trading partner for the U.S. textile industry.
 
But last week’s agreement has lifted international pressure, including the United States suspending foreign aid to Honduras.
 
“The independence, transparency, and fairness of their elections have never been in doubt,” DeMint said in his statement. “And now, thanks to the Obama Administration’s welcome reversal, the new government sworn into office next January can expect the full support of the United States and I hope the entire international community.”

The administration will most likely face pressure from liberal Democrats and think tanks that focus on Latin American policy to not recognize the elections without Zelaya back in power.

“The U.S. must not discard the fundamental principle of returning President Zelaya to office,” said Sarah Stephens, Center for Democracy in the Americas director. “We need to send a message that the U.S. is credible, that it sticks to its word, and that it honors the constitutional and democratic principles that people across the region have fought so hard to reclaim and uphold.”

This story was updated at 10:30 p.m.