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The Honduran Counter-Coup

The nation of Honduras has a constitution with a democratically-elected set of officials. But they also had a strong arm despot running the country, Mel Zelaya, who was just going to basically rip Honduras’ democracy to shreds. The country moved in to stop in him from doing it. Barack Obama, however, sides with Mel Zelaya who aspired to be another Hugo Chavez socialist. — Ed.

At first blush, the news from Honduras sounds like a sad return to LatinAmerica’s past: A democratically elected president has been exiled bythe military. But make no mistake: The Honduran soldiers who escortedPres. Manuel Zelaya from his home on Sunday were acting to protect theircountry’s democracy, not to trample it. Moreover, they had the fullsupport of the Honduran Supreme Court, which had rejected Zelaya’s bidto hold a referendum on “constitutional reform.”

The proposedreferendum, illegal without an act of Congress, aimed to launch a“constituent assembly” that would draft an entirely new constitution.Zelaya’s ultimate goal was to extend or abolish presidential termlimits, mimicking the example of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez andother Latin American populists. Hondurans rightly feared that such amaneuver would set their country on the path to Chávez-styleauthoritarianism. When the Supreme Court rebuffed him, Zelaya defiedits ruling and sought to proceed with the referendum anyway. Along witha large group of followers, he ransacked a military post and seizedmillions of referendum ballots.

Officials across Latin America have condemned his exile, as has the Obama administration. Chávez is apoplectic. No surprise there: Under Zelaya, Honduras became a member of the Venezuelan-led “Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas,” a trade bloc established to counter U.S. influence in the region. Immediately after being flown to Costa Rica, Zelaya headed to Managua, where he was warmly received by a leftist coterie that included Chávez and Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega.

Thus far, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed serious concerns about Zelaya’s exile but neglected the events that preceded it. (“Meddling” in Honduras is apparently more acceptable than meddling in Iran.) Yesterday she declared that the political turmoil in Honduras had “evolved into a coup.” But we must remember that the military acted to preserve democratic institutions rather than to squash them. “It’s important that we stand for the rule of law,” Clinton said. But the armed forces were standing for the rule of law when they arrested Zelaya, who had shown brazen disregard for the Honduran constitution. Not only did the president defy a Supreme Court ruling, he also fired the top Honduran military official, Gen. Romeo Vásquez, for refusing to help carry out his referendum. This was a blatant attempt to hijack Honduran politics.

By contrast, the Honduran Supreme Court, Congress, and military have all worked to safeguard the constitution. The Congress issued a decree charging Zelaya with endangering both the rule of law and the broader “governability” of Honduras, and it voted (per the constitution) to replace with him congressional leader Roberto Micheletti. The new Honduran president says that presidential and parliamentary elections will go ahead as planned in November.

Despite its fidelity to constitutional procedures, Honduras has come under intense fire from abroad and may be forced to reinstall Zelaya as president. That would be a deplorable outcome. Zelaya’s exile was not about trashing the constitutional order; it was about defending that order. Why should Honduras be compelled to restore a president who showed utter contempt for the democratic process, and whose removal was backed by the judiciary and confirmed by the legislature?

Unfortunately, the reality is that if Honduras does not return Zelaya to the presidency the rest of Latin America may treat it like a pariah. In the event that Zelaya’s return is unavoidable, which it may be, he should be forced to publicly state his commitment to the current Honduran constitution and disavow his illegal referendum. As the negotiations proceed, President Obama and Secretary Clinton should tone down their criticism of Zelaya’s ouster. Honduran officials have maintained the integrity of their democratic institutions while resisting a naked assault on them. They should not be condemned.



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