June 29, 2009

A Yellow Card for a Coup d'Etat

YESTERDAY'S golpe del estado in Honduras was a rather strange coup d'etat -- if only because it was executed almost perfectly. Within the space of a day, the Hondurans managed to exile their proto-caudillo, Señor Manuel Zelaya; installed a new leader under the conventions of their Constitution; got the Honduran Supreme Court and Congress to agree the measures were perfectly fine; and agreed that a national unity Government would run things until elections could be held. These elections, mind you, would be the regularly scheduled elections due to be held in five months' time. Even more amazingly, the Hondurans managed to pull the thing off with almost no bloodshed.

It is thus no surprise the American Government, which for the past 50 years has almost universally screwed up handling Latin American affairs, would find this a bad thing. Once again, the foreign policy dunces in Washington are falling into the same trap in which their predecessors were ensnared; and once again, Washington will completely blow a fantastic opportunity to turn things in our direction.

Let us not forget that, back in 2002, we had a perfect opportunity to rid ourselves of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez when a revolt broke out there. What did we do? We did nothing, and said it was a bad thing Chavez -- that stupid, cruel strongman who has since ground his country into the dust -- was removed from power. Two days later, the coup collapsed and we've been stuck with him ever since. One would hope we wouldn't be dumb enough to not capitalize on a similar situation in Honduras. Yet instead of just issuing a polite statement of concern and leaving it at that, we have condemned the action and our ambassador to Honduras has declared the United States will only recognize Sr Zelaya as president.

Great. Wonderful.

It is worth noting just why Sr Zelaya was thrown out. It seems Sr Zelaya did not like the idea he would have to leave the Honduran presidency, and decided he wanted a referendum on whether he could run again for the office. The Honduran Supreme Court forbade him from doing so. The Congress was furious at the idea. The military, which has a large administrative role in Honduran elections, refused to help. Yet Sr Zelaya did not desist. He ordered the military to assist; when it did not, he fired its chief. He then tried to run roughshod over Honduras' institutions to bring the illegal plebiscite about. Honduras, for its part, got sick of it. And I'm sorry, but when the Supreme Court, the Congress and the military all combine to get rid of the President, the checks and balances equation works. For more on this, see Mary Anastasia O'Grady's essay in today's Wall Street Journal.

It is also worth noting how the usual suspects have reacted. The Cuban Government declared the coup "brutal" and "criminal." (That's the pot calling the kettle black). The Nicaraguan Government was similarly displeased, as were the useless and wretched Governments of Bolivia and Ecuador. Last -- but certainly not least -- Colonel Chavez himself has reacted furiously to the news. Apparently, Col Chavez is so upset that he has mobilized the Venezuelan military (yawn) and threatened to bring down the new Government.

It is true the Hondurans have given these Governments some reason to complain. Apparently, some of the Honduran soldiers who engaged in the coup d'etat chastised the Nicaraguan, Cuban and Venezuelan ambassadors in the process of removing Sr Zelaya. Although one could theoretically argue the envoys of those three nations perhaps deserved it on general principle grounds -- being the point men for their countries' machinations -- it is very much poor form to subject diplomats to such physical manhandling. It should not have been done, and was reprehensible. So that's definitely deserving of a yellow card.

But only a yellow card, in my mind. So far, we've not heard of the Honduran military machine-gunning protestors, nor have we heard of them liquidating its political opponents en masse. Even Sr Zelaya was allowed to keep his head. Thus far, at any rate, the military and other Honduran leaders have handled the coup about as well as could be expected. True, that may change, but until it does, one cannot fault them for going overboard. Particularly when the coup plotters do have a considerable measure of public support for their action.

Also, it's worth noting the Hondurans do not especially care what the rest of the world thinks, and have decided the best defense is a good offense. Already the Honduran Congress has been telling the U.S. to -- well, go jump in a lake -- and President Roberto Micheletti has been making the case that the transition was perfectly legal. One would hope the U.S. would eventually see the wisdom of this, and at least offer its private support to the new Government while explaining it must do other things for public consumption.

As a general rule, coups d'etat are not the ideal way to bring about positive change, but in this situation I can't fault the Hondurans for throwing Sr Zelaya out. In recent weeks it became clear he was plotting to usurp the powers held by the nation's institutions and seize them for his own benefit. Removing him from office and exiling him will thus maintain Honduras' democratic traditions, and God willing, save it from going the way of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Accordingly, The Rant hopes President Micheletti will steer Honduras through these rough waters with a calm hand and judicious restraint, and puts the country on a fast track back to normality.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at June 29, 2009 12:55 AM | TrackBack
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