July 1, 2009
By Ray Walser, Ph.D.
On Sunday, the citizens of Honduras woke up with one president
and went to bed with another. Manuel Zelaya was forced out of the
country -- replaced, with full backing from the Congress, the
nation's courts, and its military, with Interim President Robert
Some have denounced this dramatic change as a "coup d'etat" and
an assault on democracy. In truth, it was much more of a last-ditch
effort to protect Honduras' constitutional order and rule
of law from a reckless populist.
Honduras and the United States have a long history of friendly
relations. We signed a free-trade treaty in 2005; Honduras was an
early contributor to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
But relations chilled, and chilled hard, after Zelaya won
election nearly four years ago.
Zelaya sees Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro as
beacons for the future. As president, he tried to steer Honduras
hard left -- but succeeded mainly in boosting corruption and
cronyism. The independent monitors at Transparency International
now give Honduras the same ranking for corruption as Libya and
Honduras is a poor nation, and got worse on Zelaya's watch. But
rather than blame the global downturn or his own failures, Zelaya
sought to rally the masses behind him by fingering the nation's
elites as behind the nation's woes.
He sought vindication by ordering a national referendum that, he
said, could alter the constitution and allow him to run for
re-election. And when every free, democratic institution from the
Electoral Tribunal to the Supreme Court said no to his proposal,
Zelaya pushed ahead anyway.
Last week, he called the military on the carpet, demanding it
support his referendum. Gen. Romeo Vasquez, the head of the armed
forces, considered this an illegal order, and refused to play ball
-- so Zelaya fired him. (He accepted the defense minister's
The next day, the Supreme Court ruled the firing unjustified.
Zelaya refused to obey its decision. The court, he declared, worked
only for the rich and caused problems for "democracy."
At every step, Zelaya's chief international backer, Hugo Chavez,
cheered him on.
He'd set Sunday as the day of his contra-constitutional
referendum. Instead, the Congress, the courts and the military
stepped in and pulled the plug on Zelaya's maneuverings.
They sent him packing on a plane to Costa Rica. Then, in a
deliberate, bipartisan manner, they selected a civilian president
to serve through scheduled elections in November.
This was no coup, but a desperate act to protect the nation's
constitution and its institutions from presidential excess and a
descent into misrule Chavez-style.
Chavez, of course, is outraged, vowing to do everything short of
landing Venezuelan marines in Honduras to restore Zelaya. If his
ally doesn't recover power, "el Loco" will lose face at home and
throughout the region. Sources report Venezuelan agitators and
operatives are already on the ground in the Honduran capitol of
Tegucigalpa and elsewhere. Trouble can be expected.
Utopians in Washington believe that the Organization of American
States, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, the European Union and the State
Department will be able to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
Let Zelaya back in power, they urge; defend
This simply ignores the fact that restoring Zelaya would
undercut every free institution in the nation -- green-lighting
every extra-legal move he might take in the name of the people.
Washington realists recognize this fact and fear a return
engagement. If Zelaya achieves his ambition and returns to power,
he could condemn Honduras to years of vendetta politics and
populism of the worst sort -- delivering a weakened nation into the
eager embrace of Hugo Chavez & Co.
Letting a friendly country fall into the Chavez camp does no one
any good. The new government of Honduras wants to preserve peace
and the constitutional order. Warts and all, it deserves the
Walser, Ph.D., is Senior Policy Analyst for Latin America
in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies,
a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies at Heritage.
First Appeared in the New York Post
On Sunday, the citizens of Honduras woke up with one president and went to bed with another. Manuel Zelaya was forced out of the country -- replaced, with full backing from the Congress, the nation's courts, and its military, with Interim President Robert Micheletti.
Ray Walser, Ph.D.
Senior Policy Analyst
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