On Sunday the Honduran military ousted President Manuel Zelaya hours before the country was to vote on his referendum to extend presidential term limits. President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton were quick to speak, but slow to draw conclusions.
Clinton’s carefully chosen words condemn the coup, but offer no specific support for President Zelaya, “As we move forward, all parties have a responsibility to address the underlying problems that led to yesterday’s events in a way that enhances democracy and the rule of law in Honduras. To that end, we will continue working with the OAS and other partners to construct a process of dialogue and engagement that will promote the restoration of democratic order, address the serious problems of political polarization in Honduras, restore confidence in their institutions of government, and ensure that Honduras moves successfully towards its scheduled presidential elections in November of this year.”
I always side with democracy. But in the immediate aftermath of this coup it’s difficult to say exactly which side is democratic. President Zelaya’s would be referendum was explicitly against the Honduran constitution, yet he insisted on moving ahead with the vote against the wishes of the nation’s Supreme Court, Congress, and military. Perhaps his power grab was buoyed by the success of his friend Hugo Chavez’ February referendum to end presidential term limits in Venezuela. Zelaya was certainly acting undemocratic, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to contain an overreaching leader; forcing him out of the country at gunpoint is certainly the wrong way. This is a tough call to make; one illegal act countered by another. The Obama administration must walk a fine line, their democracy agenda could be prematurely formed by their reaction to Honduras’ coup. For now they are taking the collaborative (and perhaps safest) route by vowing to work with the Organization of American States rather than take the lead.
The concern for Latin America, expressed by Obama and Chavez alike, is that this coup signals a return to military influenced politics which the region has worked so hard to free itself of. As President Lula de Silva of Brazil stated in a radio address this afternoon, “We in Latin America can no longer accept someone trying to resolve his problem through the means of a coup.”
— Faith Smith