29 June 2009

Crisis in Honduras

The United States may seem to find itself among strange bedfellows in calling for the reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya as president of Honduras, but it can hardly do other than denounce a coup d'etat against a still-legitimate leader. Zelaya appears to be a lame-duck leader, doomed by term-limits to leave office next year. A leftist after the manner of Hugo Chavez, he sought a referendum to do away with the term limit, but the military struck, claiming to act in defense of the nation's constitution, before the vote could take place. Chavez and his allies in the region have rallied around Zelaya, Chavez himself threatening to overthrow the new government. This report suggests that Zelaya has lost the support of most of his own population. If that were so, however, why did the military fear the referendum? If the military didn't back him, how could they fear an incipient dictatorship? Is the American media being sold a bill of goods?

From what I'm learning, Honduras has no mechanism for removing a president comparable to the American impeachment process. Instead, the country's Supreme Court claims that it ordered the army to remove Zelaya in order to prevent what it deemed an unconstitutional referendum. The military is involved in the election process in Honduras, and the top soldier there refused to have the army carry out the referendum, again on constitutional grounds. The constitution forbids changing the rules for presidential terms and elections by referendum. All well and good. So if the army doesn't cooperate the referendum doesn't happen and Zelaya remains a lame duck. This still begs the question of why he had to be removed. If the army didn't support him, then all he could do is appeal to the mob. But we're being told that the people had turned against him, and that only a few hundred people turned out in the capital today to protest the coup. Again, what was the risk in letting him stew until his term expired?

A lively discussion is going on at Wikipedia over whether what's happened should be called a "coup" or not, the issue being whether the Supreme Court has the authority it claims to order the president removed summarily or not. Meanwhile, here is a Honduran blogger who supports the action of the military and the Supreme Court, and here is one who criticizes the "golpe de estado." Reading these, I got some gossip that the military has claimed or will claim that it has evidence that Zelaya meant to "steal" the referendum, though the point of doing so is elusive if the relevant authorities regarded it as "non-binding." I can understand the notion that Zelaya needed to brought to account if he violated the constitution, but the Wikipedia debate shows that it's unclear, at least to English speakers, whether the constitution itself requires some kind of due process before the president is removed. The question remains: why was it absolutely imperative to depose the man immediately? It really does seem like we're getting one side of the story, at least from English-speaking Hondurans. The pro-coup blogger claims that there's no pro-Zelaya commentary to be found in English, which may tell us something about his base of support, but I've found at least one exception to that rule. We are sure to learn more in the coming hours and days, but whether that information clarifies or complicates the picture remains to be seen.


Anonymous said...

Hopefully this won't turn into another case of us sticking our nose into someone else's business.

Samuel Wilson said...

It seems to be a case where everyone wants to get involved, at least rhetorically. The new regime claims it acted with perfect legality, but the Honduran situation raises a question of what the rest of the world should do even if something like this somewhere clearly isn't legal.

Anonymous said...

So why is everyone in such a tizzy over Honduras, but no one gives a rat's tail about Somalia? Is there something special about a tiny little third world nation in Central America? Some unique quality that Somalia doesn't possess? What about North Korea? There's a nation headed by a complete nutcase who threatens nuclear war and no one seems to want to take him to account. Perhaps it's because Honduras is a weak nation with practically no real military, so we see it as an easy victory like Granada and the Falklands?

Samuel Wilson said...

The tizzy in this case is being generated largely by the Latin American left, those who sympathize with Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, etc., and who see Zelaya as an ally. Americans may be in a tizzy, if they're even aware of events outside the haze of mourning for the beloved Gloved One, because they see army guys throwing out a civilian leader and they assume that's bad. I don't think "we" see any easy victory if you mean something military. Hotheads like Chavez might dream of restoring Zelaya by force, but Honduras will probably suffer sanctions at most, and not even that if any superpower decides they can get some advantage from dealing with the new regime.