08/24/2014 03:42 pm ET Updated Oct 24, 2014

Honduras' 'El Carretillazo': Why So Much Fuss Over Such a Little Crime?

One of the most common rebuttals by supporters of former President Manuel Zelaya Rosales to the admission by former Minister of the Presidency Enrique Flores Lanza earlier this month that he had authorized the withdrawal of Lps 50 million ($2.5 million) from the Central Bank of Honduras just days before the coup against Mr. Zelaya on June 28, 2009 is that the amount of money involved is only a pittance compared to the Lps 7 billion ($350 million) allegedly stolen by the former head of the Honduran Social Security Institute (IHSS) in the Lobo administration, Mario Zelaya Rojas. The logic here is plain: "Yeah, we stole some money, but not nearly as much as the Nationalists did."

It's a sorry argument to be sure, but the "our crook is not as bad as your crook" is sadly used all the time in Honduras to deflect criticism. It's as if no one ever heard of the adage often repeated by parents to their children, "Two wrongs don't make a right."

That said, you do have to wonder why so much attention is being paid by the media to this old scandal popularly known as "El Carretillazo", while there is relatively scant coverage of Mario Zelaya and his pilfering of the IHSS. It may just be because no one seems to know where Mario Zelaya is. There are rumors that he is hiding out overseas. There are rumors that he is in Honduras somewhere. And there are rumors that he is dead. It's a mystery. So until the man is found and questioned, or his body is found and examined, there's only so much to report on.

Still, the whole El Carretillazo thing is rather like beating a dead horse. Big deal. So now we all know what we've always known... that Mr. Flores (and by natural extension, his boss Manuel Zelaya) is a liar and a crook. That's one of the main reasons Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in the first place. The man was out of control and he was abusing his power. The looting of the Central Bank to fund his proposed cuarta urna (fourth ballot box) initiative, which had been declared illegal and unconstitutional by the Public Ministry, Attorney General, and Supreme Court is simply now confirmed by Mr. Flores, who was one of Manuel Zelaya's closest and most trusted advisers.

Bada bing, bada boom, case closed. The reason the case should be closed isn't because it's the right thing, but the most practical. In a more perfect world, both Manuel Zelaya and Enrique Flores Lanza should be tried in a court of law for their crimes. The best reason against this is that such trials would destabilize Honduras further. There would be mass protests on the streets, and some people would lose their lives, and there would be lots of property damage. Sometimes the social situation in a country is so tenuous that principles and the law must be sacrificed. Yes, occasionally the ends justify the means. That's life.

Honduras is in no position to be dealing with mobs and riots. The country already went through all that after the coup. Manuel Zelaya's punishment has already been doled out. Okay, he didn't come out too badly scathed in the end, but the Nationalists sure came out far better than they could have ever dreamed. An almost irrelevant political opposition, now thoroughly divided between the Libre Party, the Liberals, and the PAC. Manuel Zelaya has done the Nationalists a huge favor -- one that will pay dividends for many years to come. The Nationalists must figure that punishing him more would be both counterproductive and ungrateful.

Besides, the Cartagena Accord, signed by Manuel Zelaya and President Porfirio Lobo on May 22, 2011, essentially gave a free pass to Mr. Zelaya; it allowed him and members of his government who were in exile outside of Honduras at the time to return home safely without fear of persecution. The agreement allowed Honduras to be reinstated in the Organized of American States (OAS) only two years after it was suspended for the coup. It was a deal of mutual convenience. Granted, it's not clear that the agreement excluded the possibility of prosecution. The first of the five terms of the Cartagena Accord stated: "Guarantee the return to Honduras in security and liberty of Zelaya and all others exiled as a result of the crisis. (Over 200 other exiled leaders of the resistance are also now able to return under the terms of the agreement.)" But the spirit of the agreement suggested that Manuel Zelaya and his people could return to Honduras without fearing any consequences for their actions.

It can be argued that this spirit is being violated by the Supreme Court pursuing its case against after Mr. Flores. Or it can be argued that the wording was broad enough to be able to interpret it in many ways. Mr. Flores may end up being made the scapegoat for the crimes of the Zelaya administration. Or he may be the loose cannon that ends up providing a lot more "hard" information that could be used by the Supreme Court to bring others to trial.