Honduras Is An Opportunity

And the United States shouldn't squander it.

For a successful foreign policy, it is not just essential that a nation have clear objectives, but that it can differentiate between crisis and opportunity and manage both. That ability seems to be absent so far in U.S. President Barack Obama's administration, at least regarding its policies toward Latin America. This is particularly obvious when Obama's foreign policy is contrasted with his predecessor Ronald Reagan's. A brief review of the U.S. interventions in Grenada in 1983 and in Honduras in 2009 illustrates the point.

The U.S. actions in Grenada and Honduras are separated by a quarter century and 1,500 miles; they have shared and contrasting characteristics. The United States did not initiate the events that led to the Grenada invasion in 1983, as it did not instigate the removal of the President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in 2009. In the former, a U.S. president utilized a real crisis to liberate a country and to signal to the world that he would fight for freedom elsewhere. In the latter, another administration demonstrated that it cannot differentiate between the friends and the enemies of freedom.

Twenty-six years ago this week, on October 25, 1983, Reagan made the dangerous and at the time loudly criticized decision to invade Grenada. This marked the first contraction of the Soviet empire in more than 50 years, and helped spur the fall of the Berlin Wall six years later and the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War two years after that. Seldom in history has such enormous consequence resulted from an unacknowledged event.

Grenada was the high-water mark of the Soviet empire's expansion. In 1979, during the irresolute presidency of Jimmy Carter, Grenada fell into the hands of Maurice Bishop, a Marxist "revolutionary" who -- supported by Fidel Castro, the Soviet Union, East Germany, Libya, and other enemies of the United States -- imposed a dictatorial regime and turned the country into a base for communist expansion in the Caribbean.

Among other hostile moves, Bishop allowed Cuba to build an airbase large enough to accommodate Mig fighters and other military planes. Moreover, Bishop and his allies transformed Grenada into a base for political subversion of the Caribbean. When rival Marxist revolutionaries assassinated Bishop in 1983, the island descended into fratricidal violence. The lives of 800 foreign medical students, mostly American, were in danger. Against the wishes of some of his advisors, who preferred diplomacy, Reagan decided in 36 hours to invade and to remove the Marxist regime.

The invasion was deeply unpopular in the "international community," which denounced the move in a United Nations vote, 122 to 9. Only some neighboring nations in the Caribbean basin supported the United States. Even Reagan's closest ally, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, bitterly protested. Uniformly, U.S. and European media lambasted the White House. Many in Congress angrily condemned the invasion at first, only to support it later (it could be said they were against it before they were for it) when evidence of communist deceit became overwhelming. For example, U.S. soldiers discovered ammunition caches in boxes labeled "Cuban Economic Office, Grenada," demonstrating the danger the island country posed.

With Grenada's liberation, however, Reagan signaled that he was serious about combating Soviet aggression. Grenada was the first major use of U.S. military force since Vietnam; the first successful rollback of a communist state and thus the repudiation of the "Breshnev Doctrine," named after the former Soviet leader who held that no "socialist" state would be allowed to revert to capitalism; and the first military defeat of Castro's army, which at the time was running amok in Africa and supporting terrorists in Latin America.

A quarter century later, in Honduras in 2009, a corrupt and demagogic president distanced his country from the United States and joined ALBA, the anti-American alliance created by Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro. Zelaya attempted to subvert his country's laws in order to stay in power. But the institutions of democracy foiled him: The Honduran Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Zelaya had violated the Constitution and ordered his arrest. The president of the Congress, Roberto Micheletti, a member of Zelaya's own party, replaced him, a move the elected legislature nearly unanimously ratified. All told, every institution of civil authority and civil society supported Zelaya's legal removal. As with Grenada, the "international community" objected -- in this case, on the grounds that the ouster was really a coup. Inexplicably, the United States joined along in the pro-Zelaya baying.

Simply put, Zelaya's removal was not a crisis; it was an opportunity. Hondurans had simultaneously re-established the rule of law that Zelaya attempted to fracture and broke with the anti-U.S. Chávez and Castro alliance. This was a legal, autonomous, and liberating action by Honduras's political institutions. The United States had no right to intervene against the pro-democracy Hondurans, even if a terrible mistake provided an excuse.

In the chaos caused by Zelaya's arrest, some Army officers put him on an airplane out of the country. This was a violation of Honduran law; the Army has acknowledged it and has attempted to justify it by claiming that leaving Zelaya in the country would lead to violence. Zelaya's many calls since his removal for his countrymen to replace him by force do justify the Army's fears, if not the act of deportation itself. He should have been detained and made to answer to the many crimes with which he has been charged.

But the deportation of Zelaya is no excuse for the Obama administration to join with the hemisphere's leftist despots, even with the cover of international organizations, in calling for the illegal restoration of the ousted leader. To repeat, Hondurans ousted Zelaya legally, in accordance with their constitution. The United States did not have to cut off aid and impose sanctions on one of the poorest nations in Latin America for having rid itself of an autocrat determined to turn Honduras into an undemocratic, hostile state.

Reagan was bold and agile enough to use the unexpected events on Grenada to change the course of history. Grenada was a crisis that Reagan turned into an opportunity. Honduras was an opportunity that Obama turned into a crisis. It is not too late to change course in Honduras and take advantage of an unexpected opportunity.

Alex Wong/Getty Images


Free-Range Markets

In poor countries, hunting endangered species may be the best way to save them.

In August, the height of the dry season, Zambia's South Luangwa National Park is so crowded with animals that wildlife enthusiasts often must stop their jeeps to let massive herds cross their path. In a single morning, the safari I was on drove amid thousands of buffalo, past vast plains packed with impala and zebra, and within feet of elephants. Such displays of abundant African fauna are becoming increasingly rare. In most developing countries, wildlife stocks have plummeted in recent decades, the consequence of poaching, urbanization, and poverty. Across Africa, black rhinoceros populations have fallen from roughly 100,000 in the 1960s to fewer than 5,000 today. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that at present rates of extinction, as much as 20 percent of the world's species will vanish within 30 years.

But while species are perishing in most developing nations, animal populations have grown in some southern African countries, such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Most of these countries possess no greater financial resources, more favorable weather patterns, or lower population growth rates than other poor states. They have succeeded in protecting animal populations not by regulating animal habitats but by embracing free-market environmentalism, a theory of conservation that has become popular in rich nations over the past two decades -- but which actually holds more promise for the developing world.

Free-market environmentalists posit that humans are inherently self-interested and that a government's role is to safeguard private property rights, rather than directly protect natural resources. When private citizens are given rights to environmental resources, the market sets prices for game. Endangered species will become more valuable to own, watch, or kill, leading people to conserve them more wisely.

Yet until recently, most developing nations embraced centralized, protection-oriented conservation strategies. When the British took over parts of Africa in the late 1800s, they established national parks and removed indigenous populations from their lands to protect animals. Other colonial powers created similar reserves, and most developing countries have kept these policies since independence.

In wealthier countries, governments can afford to halt poaching and to pay park rangers decent wages, and people are generally more willing to trade some individual economic gratification for the benefit of society. But few poor nations can afford to protect their wildlife. A 1995 study estimated it would cost Kenya $200 per square kilometer of elephant habitat to protect those animals adequately, an impossible sum for the government in Nairobi. Unsurprisingly, the amount of game in Kenya has fallen by nearly 50 percent during the past two decades. Corruption and poverty, exacerbated by HIV/AIDS, further complicate wildlife management in poor countries. Desperate, hungry people cannot afford to discriminate between endangered and common species. In the Congo River Basin, locals consume nearly 5 million tons of animal meat each year.

Most important, state control of wildlife devalues animals in the eyes of local people, who derive no benefit from the creatures. One study of Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve showed that local residents received less than 10 percent of the park's tourism revenues. Because locals earn so little by keeping game alive for tourists, they instead sell poachers information about where to find the animals.

Developing countries should treat wildlife as a renewable resource. Zimbabwe exemplifies that possibility. Due to its pariah status, Zimbabwe has been insulated from pressure by Western donor states and international organizations to avoid conservation strategies that involve hunting. When faced with widespread poaching that began decimating animal populations, Zimbabwe launched the Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) in the 1980s. Under CAMPIRE, the government gave small communities rights to land and animal resources -- buffalo, elephants, and other game -- in their areas. Communities could exercise these rights either by selling hunters a license to kill game or by showing tourists the mammals. The new income, the government theorized, would increase the value of the wildlife to the local residents, thus reducing the incentive to assist poachers.

The residents began to recognize this long-term income potential. They made collective decisions on how much game could be sustainably hunted. They marketed their wildlife to safari guides, raising the price of game (hunting licenses now command up to $20,000 for each animal killed). Since the advent of CAMPFIRE, animal populations have recovered. For example, Zimbabwe's elephant numbers have more than doubled during the past 20 years, although recent political turmoil and the decline of the rule of law have contributed to some wildlife destruction.

Other southern African countries have implemented programs like campfire, with similar results. South Africa's white rhinoceros population rose from roughly 200 in the early 1970s to about 11,000 today, after the implementation of market-oriented strategies. In the Luangwa region, the percentage of village revenues devoted to wildlife management increased more than 10-fold between 1997 and 2000.

Despite such dramatic successes, mainstream environmental groups in wealthy nations worry that if they openly support free-market conservation, they will be branded animal killers. For years, the WWF did not inform its members that it funded programs in Africa that involved hunting. Western animal preservation organizations, including Defenders of Wildlife and the International Wildlife Coalition, have protested programs that treat large mammals as sustainable resources.

Even advocates of free-market environmentalism are not focusing on the developing world. Though some scholars, including New York University economist William Easterly, advocate applying market-based incentives to foreign aid, no major think tank puts market solutions for environmental problems at the top of its agenda. The U.S. Congress's loudest environmental voices -- including members who promote free-market solutions in the United States -- have ignored the potential of such environmentalism abroad. Unless mainstream environmental groups, free-marketers in the United States and Europe, and developing nations have the courage to embrace the market, scenes like that in South Luangwa could become harder and harder to find.