The constitution of Honduras does not allow for a presidential re-election. No problem, said Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez to his protégée, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. Chavez easily convinced Zelaya he should promote a referendum on this topic and went on to help him prepare the logistics fo the event. After all, Chavez told Zelaya, this had worked extremely well for him in Venezuela a few months ago while the governments of the hemisphere kept respectfully silent.
But the constitution of Honduras is explicit. It defines as a crime any attempt at changing its stipulation on no re-election.
Therefore, when Zelaya put his plans in motion the Supreme Court issued a judicial order to stop the referendum and ordered the army to prevent it. In parallel the National Congress of Honduras, including members of the government party, declared Zelaya’s pretension unconstitutional. Zelaya responded by dismissing the military chief and by pushing forward with his plans. In answer, the Supreme Court ordered the military chief reinstalled in his position since he was only following their orders.
Sunday June 28, President Zelaya tried to put the referendum in place and the Army, acting on orders by the Supreme Court, stopped the event. President Zelaya was placed in a plane, unharmed, and sent to neighboring Costa Rica. The same day the Honduran National Congress decided, with the votes of the members of the government party, to unseat him as president. The reason? President Zelaya had tried to place himself above the laws of the country. By trying to pave the way for his re-election he had attempted a coup.
The immediate reaction of the governments of the hemisphere meeting at the Organization of American States has been “politically correct”. All members, including the U.S., asked for the “immediate return of President Zelaya to his position” and condemned the “military coup”. This is, of course, the same organization that a few weeks ago begged the dictatorial government of Cuba to return to its fold, the same organization that has closed its eyes to the numerous violations of the Venezuelan constitution by Hugo Chavez and to his obvious alignment with the terrorist Colombian guerrillas. It does not matter to these governments, including the U.S. government, that President Zelaya acted outside the constitution, that the Supreme Court of Honduras ordered him to stop an illegal event, that the National Congress of Honduras decided almost unanimously to oust him from the presidency and that the Honduran army was following orders from the Supreme Court. In the eyes of this organization an elected president, apparently, can do what he wants and get away with it.
It is true that Central American republics have often been subjected in the past to numerous armed coups led by gorillas, as we call dictators in Latin America. But this time was different. The Honduran army was acting within the law and had been ordered by the Supreme Court to preserve the constitution and true democracy in the country.
This time the true gorillas were meeting in Washington DC, in the offices of that Trojan horse of authoritarian extremism, OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, in order to pay lip service to the Democratic Inter American Charter, the very same charter they have soiled by courting Castro’s Cuba and tolerating Hugo Chavez’s systematic insults to democracy.
And this time the U.S. went along. President Obama has just asserted that the weekend outing of Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya was a “not legal” coup and that “he remains the democratically elected president”. Apart from the fact that no coup is ever legal and that no one disputes the fact that Zelaya was elected democratically, President Obama neglects the fact that Zelaya was not ousted by a coup but by the National Congress and the Supreme Court of Honduras, acting together as legitimate institutions of the country. This is what independent powers in a democratic country do to a president that attempts to be above the law. In the light of this President Obama’s unfortunate assertion it now seems clear that lovers of democracy in Latin America will face an uphill battle, surrounded by governments that prefer to discard principles in favor of pragmatism.