Beware the coup d'état. They often cause more problems than they solve and are never totally peaceful; indeed, they typically trigger bloodshed either during or after the event.
So what should be our view of Sunday's ouster of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya? We should support it.
The automatic response condemning President Zelaya's removal by many political leaders in the region reveals the appalling degree to which they have ceased defending democracy. As Roberto Micheletti, chosen by the Honduran Congress to complete Zelaya's term, observed, "What was done here was a democratic act. Our constitution continues to be relevant, our democracy continues to live."
This was not the usual whitewash coming from the usual coup leader. Interim president Micheletti was president of the Honduran Congress and is a member, as was Zelaya, of the ruling Liberal party. Micheletti, the Congress, and the Supreme Court are all committed to national elections scheduled for November 29. Those who know Roberto Micheletti confirm that he has no intention of staying in power beyond the end of the current presidential term.
As retired career diplomat George Landau - the former U.S. ambassador to Chile, Paraguay, and Venezuela - observes, "This was not a military coup. The military blocked an attempted civilian coup by Manuel Zelaya, as he defied Honduras's Supreme Court, its Congress, and his own political party. Instead of calling for his reinstatement in office, we should congratulate the Honduran government on removing the president peacefully.
"So far, Washington and most of the world have missed what is happening in Tegucigalpa. This was a power play by Hugo Chávez and his ALBA colleagues. ['ALBA' is a leftist bloc led by Venezuela. Zelaya made Honduras a member in 2008.] We are faced with a battle between democracy and leftist autocrats who have manipulated themselves into permanent power in their countries and want to add Honduras to the list."
What happened in Honduras was not a standard coup. The Supreme Court ordered the army to remove Zelaya from office. The Congress, albeit after his detention and exile, voted unanimously for his removal and confirmed his constitutionally mandated successor to fill the remainder of his term in office.
Prior to his exile, Zelaya had insisted on a referendum to allow for his reelection in direct violation of the Honduran constitution. In other words, he set out to perpetuate himself in office. Roger Noriega, a former Bush administration official and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, puts it clearly: "Zelaya brushed aside every other institution of the state in insisting on a referendum that would benefit his selfish interests."
Shredding constitutional prohibitions to presidential reelection has become a popular political ploy in several Latin American countries in recent years. To date, leftist regimes in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela have scrapped constitutional presidential term limits, each time using extralegal ploys to do so. Most recently, Washington's best friend in the region, Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, has sought a constitutional change to extend his presidency for a third term, but so far he is working within the law.
Supporters call such moves vital for their nation's peace and well-being; opponents say they reflect presidential hubris and greed. Call the penchant to scrap presidential term limits what you will: The efforts have clearly negated each and every country's constitution.
In the case of Honduras, President Zelaya stood alone among political, legal, economic, media, and military leaders. Backed by a noisy rabble and funded by Venezuela's ever-meddling autocrat, Hugo Chávez, Zelaya's campaign was seen as a way to reverse the defeat of the pro-Chávez candidate in Panama's recent presidential election.
The ballots for Sunday's suspended referendum were actually prepared in Venezuela. On Saturday, Zelaya made an abortive effort to storm and steal the ballots from the Honduran military base where they were stored.
President Obama's statement that Manuel Zelaya "remains the president of Honduras" is his latest foreign-policy gaffe. So far, the U.S. position, reiterated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is largely the same as that of such governments as Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, and Venezuela - none of them supporters of democracy and the rule of law.
It is unfortunately understandable that the Organization of American States (OAS) should roundly condemn Zelaya's removal from office. Under the leadership of Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, the OAS has moved steadily toward embracing the autocratic Left. In its recent annual meeting, held (perhaps prophetically) in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, Insulza and Zelaya collaborated to end the organization's suspension of Cuba, despite that country's blatant disregard of basic OAS charter support for democracy and human rights.
That United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should stand in support of Zelaya and call for an emergency meeting of the General Assembly underscores once again how feckless the world body has become.
Not one informed Honduran - including members of the media - has opposed Manuel Zelaya's removal from office. While many regretted the need to do so, all said the move was both legal and necessary, a position supported by Honduran attorney general Luis Alberto Rubí, who had threatened to prosecute Zelaya if he actually held some form of referendum.
American John Park, the former Anglican archdeacon of Honduras and a resident of the Central American country for more than 17 years, summarized the situation succinctly: "What has happened can be called democracy in action. It was not a military coup, but just as a U.S. court may order the arrest of a citizen, the Honduran army acted on the orders of the Supreme Court to arrest a citizen who . . . was flouting the law and the constitution."
Manuel Zelaya's attempt to perpetuate himself in power was a naked bid to join the ranks of leftist Latin autocrats. Despite his claims to the contrary, he sought to undermine his country's constitution in a manner made notorious by his mentor and financier Hugo Chávez. Just as cynical and hypocritical has been reaction of "world leaders," most notably senior Obama administration figures.
From Caracas, Roberto Bottome, the founder of Veneconomia - which for 30 years has been the country's leading economic, political, and social analytical group - observed, "The knee-jerkers who have called for Zelaya to be restored as president of Honduras could have taken the time to find out what was really happening. Perhaps, just perhaps, they might have reacted differently once they learned it was Zelaya who was violating his country's law and the constitution while all Honduran institutions, including the Supreme Court and Congress, had acted in strict observance of those laws and that Constitution.
"Zelaya defied the laws and constitution of his country. He was barred by the constitution - and the Courts - from holding a referendum on any subject in the six months prior to an election. Even so, he pressed ahead with his proposal for a referendum on a constitutional convention that would have allowed him to succeed himself as president."
Let's hope that someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or the State Department will recognize that Manuel Zelaya's return to office would be an endorsement of chicanery, not a victory for democracy, and that Zelaya's reinstallation as president would be seen as a major victory for Chávez and his cohorts.
By John R. Thomson
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online