Thursday, December 03, 2009

They Call the Wind Zelaya

If you haven't been paying attention to Honduras lately, the Times of London has an update:

MPs in Honduras have voted overwhelmingly against reinstating President Manuel Zelaya, shrugging off international pressure four months after a coup that has isolated one of the poorest countries in the Americas.

As the vote continued, more than two-thirds of members of Congress had voted not to return the deposed president to power for the remainder of his term, which ends on January 27, as Washington and many Latin American governments had urged.

Honduran media put the ongoing vote at 98-12, well in excess of the simple majority needed in the 128-member, single-chamber Congress for the vote against restoring Mr Zelaya to succeed.
So what does President Obama's man in Tegucigalpa have to say?

Mr Zelaya, who listened to the proceedings from the Brazilian Embassy, where he has been given sanctuary since he returned to the country, had said he would not return for a token two months even if asked.
Well, good. It would mean that Zelaya seems to have accepted his fate, right? Not so fast:

He urged other governments not to restore ties with the incoming administration of Porfirio Lobo, who won Sunday's presidential election.
So, here's the question: what would that accomplish? Even if Zelaya had been restored to power months ago, he'd still have had to leave and there would have been a new government in place. The U.S. government does not dispute the legitimacy of the election that the Hondurans recently undertook. In fact, the political party of both Zelaya and his successor Roberto Micheletti, lost to Lobo's party. If Honduran democracy were in peril, would Micheletti have agreed to abide by the election results?


Bike Bubba said...

Yup, Zelaya was trying to pull a Chavez, and almost did.....It's amazing how Obama has an amazing knack for choosing the wrong party....

Anonymous said...

You continue to frame this as if the President was supporting Zelaya. He wasn’t. He was and is supporting the fragile constitutional process in Honduras (and by extension, throughout Latin America). What worried me, and still does, is that both Micheletti and Zelaya acted against the rule of law and with blatant disregard towards the established democratic institutions of the country. I don’t pretend to think that Zelaya is a political innocent. It has been pretty clear that Zelaya was doing everything he could to ignore the decisions of the Supreme Court, the Congress and his own political party to gain another term. But excusing the coup is saying that the ends justify the means. The Honduran Congress was moving to impeach Zelaya and should have stuck to that course. Instead, they went retro and called the army in to lend a helping hand. If you can’t understand why this was not a welcome development in Latin America in 2009, or why the President and just about every other leader in the Western Hemisphere region worried about the deeper issues of regional institutional stability and democracy, I don’t know what to tell you.

And what has the US done over the last two weeks? It has supported the electoral process, backed the new President-Elect and supported the notion of allowing Zelaya to serve out his last two months in office. In other words, the Obama Administration has done what it has been doing all along: Supporting the established democratic institutions of Honduras. It has been depressing to watch usually keen political observers fall back on facile Cold War.


my name is Amanda said...

What Rich said.

Mr. D said...


I call bullshit. Zelaya was fomenting unrest and potential rebellion throughout the process that was underway at the time he was deposed. The Honduran military moved only at the behest of the Congress and the Supreme Court. Aside from the occasional fight against Zelaya's more thuggish supporters, they have remained in their barracks. And they will remain there after Porfirio Lobo takes over.

You can talk all you want about respecting process, but the problem that the Honduran nation faced was that Zelaya was trying to circumvent the process. And whether Obama's intent was pure or not, by throwing his support behind the would-be caudillo, on an operational level he was giving support to the notion that a would-be caudillo can ignore the other elected representatives of the government and that the government of El Norte would have his back. That's the bottom line here.

And while you're concerned about how Latin Americans feel about coups, I can also assure you that Latin Americans also don't feel great about watching the U.S. government supporting a leader who oppresses them, either. When I lived in Guatemala that summer 30 years ago, I heard plenty about Jacobo Arbenz and what my country had done and the sense that many Guatemalans had about the military junta that controlled the country for nearly 40 years after Arbenz was deposed.

It's not Zelaya's leftism that bothers me. It's his desire to impose a dictatorship on his country. Raul and Fidel's ostensible politics don't mean a hoot in hell any more, if they ever did. They were simply an operational way to take and then keep power. Same thing with Chavez. And the same thing that Morales is attempting in Bolivia, and Ortega and the Sandys are attempting in their return engagement in Nicaragua. If you are a Latin American national who is being repressed, it doesn't matter whether your oppressor is Stroessner or Pinochet or Peron or Castro or Chavez. You're still oppressed.

A caudillo is a caudillo, Rich. The Hondurans recognized this and took action against the would-be caudillo in their midst. And I will promise you this: if Porfirio Lobo tries a similar trick in 4 years time and the Honduran Congress and the Supreme Court take similar action, I'll support that action, too.

Anonymous said...

I have to respectfully disagree and call bullshit back. The notion that Zelaya was engaged in a coup, or some kind of illegal activity doesn’t hold water because there's nothing un-Constitutional about a non-binding referendum asking voters to weigh in on holding a Constitutional Assembly at a future date. Holding that up as un-Constitutional is akin to arguing that the US Congress acted outside of the bounds of their Constitutional authority when they passed a bill calling for state conventions to ratify an amendment abolishing the Prohibition. Whether you agree with Zelaya or not, (and I don’t), he was still explicitly working within the system to modify the Constitution; the Supreme Court just didn't like the changes he wanted to make, and tried to shut down the process before it even started. Additionally, If the Hoduran military was just acting in the best interest of the people, doesn’t it seem a bit counter-intuitive to not see what the people of Honduras thought about Zelaya's proposal?


P.S. Happy Bityhday.

Mr. D said...

So in other words, the Honduran constitution is a suicide pact. Good to know, Rich. And nice job of sidestepping the operational issue, which is what really matters here.

And was calling for a referendum constitutional? How do you know that? The Honduran Supreme Court felt otherwise. Are they not the ones to determine the meaning of their own Constitution? Or do they have to cede that right to well-meaning liberals in El Norte?

A caudillo is a caudillo. The Hondurans, along with everyone else in Latin America, have been watching how Chavez has used "constitutional" means to further his own power. And it's working out really well for the Venezuelan people, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I think that we should let the Hondurans decide what's fair and what isn't.

It's clearly that there is a movement afoot to Socialize South and Latin America. Neo Castro/Chavesistas are everywhere.

There is one small difference. Venezuela is swimming in oil, which allows Chavez to make outlandish promises and fullfill them in the short run. We'll see what happens in the long run.

When one sees what Zelaya was attempting in The Honduras, and compares it to what Chavez has already accomplished in Venezuela, it's clear why the Honduran Congress acted in the manner in which it did.

To say that Zelaya's tactics were "Absouslutely correct" and to say that the Honduran Congress's actions were "absolutely incorrect" without any real knowledge of their constitutuion is both naive and arrogant.

I can't help but wonder what our reaction would have been if any of our presidents tried to do what Zelaya did. I'd sure hope that it would rise above partisan politics (ie it's Ok for Democrats if it was Clinton or Obama, or likewise if it was Bush). That most likely wouldn't or couldn't happen here, but I hope that you get the point

W.B. Picklesworth said...

Really I'm just stunned that Rich is taking the position he is taking. There is clear evidence that Zelaya was bent on using "law" to undermine law and seize power. There are multiple examples in this region of that very thing happening and people being subjected to tyranny. Yet he continues to find fault with what Hondurans did to defend themselves against tyranny.

This is ridiculous. It isn't respect for law because clearly the result of letting Zelaya continue his shenanigans would have been the end of law. The form of law means nothing if there is no spirit behind it.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you guys are right. Why bother with allowing Constitutional precedents to take root when using the military is just so much more effective and easy. Common law is just too slow. It's best to work outside the Constitutional box when it suits your needs.

Zelaya was going to be gone in January and Stevie Wonder could have seen that. He didn't have the backing of the Congress, the courts, the military, the voters, or even his own party. But he was working within the bounds of the Constitution. They should have just let this play out and let the lame duck finish his term. Instead, they trashed the Constitution and established a very bad precedent.

As for the Supreme Court being an impartial arbiter of the Constitution, I think they tipped their hat when they re-instated the General whom Zelaya had fired (which was his Constitutional privilege) and then tapped that same General to run the coup.

I can't believe you guys don't see the problems with this. I am stunned.


Mr. D said...

So the Honduran people are supposed to bow to the whim of the Chicago based Honduran constitutional scholar? Or do they have the right to their own self-determination?

It's the same damned thing, Rich -- by your lights, El Norte will decide. It's their country. Not ours.

And you don't know whether Zelaya would have been out or not. If the process had played out, would Chavez have gotten involved? He's certainly involved in Colombia. The Hondurans had ample reason to look at these developments with a lot less (ahem) detachment than you are. Because it is their country. Not ours.

Anonymous said...

You position this as if the United States and specifically, the Obama Administration, were the only parties external to Honduras that criticized the coup. Every country in the OAS and the European Union denounced the military intervention and called for constitutional succession, not just the Chavez-friendly ones. Many of these leaders lived in Latin America for the last 50 years, and know how difficult it can be to get the military genie back in the bottle.
Also, the comparison to Colombia is a total strawman. Chavez' influence there is not nearly as great as you imply, certainly not anywhere near the level of U.S. involvement and aid, and is largely predicated on both countries contiguous border.


Mr. D said...

No, Rich. I never said that it was only the position of the U.S. You want a strawman argument? You just made one right there.

But you know what? I don't have any control over what other countries think or does. But I do have concerns about my country thinks and does. Especially what it does in this context, and especially given our history in Latin America. And that's why we're having this discussion.

I get your concern about the military in Latin America. It isn't happening in this instance. And you know that.

Bottom line hasn't changed -- its the decision of the Hondurans that matters. Not yours. Not mine. And there's no good reason to change anything that's happened.

And riddle me this: what should Chavez's role in Colombia be? I don't see that he has any role at all.

Bike Bubba said...

Actually, what happened is that Mr. Zelaya tried to call an unconstitutional election, Rich. When the Supreme Court used its lawful authority to deny him this privilege, Zelaya decide to illegally go forward, upon which cause the Supreme Court used its lawful authority to ask the Army to remove Mr. Zelaya from office. This led to the LAWFUL instatement of his successor.

I'm sorry, but just like here, Comrade Obama is standing explicitly AGAINST the law and the Constitution.

Anonymous said...

In a perfect world Chavez and Venezuelas' role internally in Colombia should be nil, but it isn't. Nor is the US, or Brazil or Peru. Because nations and the regimes that run them do have a vested interest in what is going on in neighboring countries. Especially when they share borders. Which brings me back to your statement that "its the decision of the Hondurans that matters. Not yours. Not mine."

I happen to agree with that, and would note that the Hondurans still had a Constitutional method to enact regime change. It is still there today, but is now on very shaky ground. Also, while its the decision of the Hondurans about their leader that matters, every country in that region has a vested interest in maintaining the hard-earned, nascent democratic forms that have taken root in the last decade in Latin America.

There's something to be said for peaceful, democratic regime change. It may not always be pretty, and close to half the people subject to it will necessarily be disappointed, but in the end, its far preferable to the military alternative. Call me an exceptionalist, but I would rather live in the United States than in any other country, regardless of who our current President is. That 220 year string of uninterrupted Presidential successions is something I am tremendously proud of and grateful for. But it wouldn't have happened if the partisan squabbling of Jefferson and Adams had been allowed to overwhelm it. That's my point and I don't think you'll dissuade from it.


Anonymous said...

Bike Bubba,
That isn't correct. Zelaya tried to hold a binding referendum on a Constitutional convention and was legally thwarted by the Supreme Court. He then proposed a non-binding referendum, which was his prerogative, and the Court interceded with the military.

I am not defending Zelaya. He is clearly a grandstanding prick and populist demagogue. But he would have been gone in January if Michiletti, the Court and the military had let this play out. All evidence points to his political demise.


Mr. D said...

I happen to agree with that, and would note that the Hondurans still had a Constitutional method to enact regime change. It is still there today, but is now on very shaky ground.

Yep. It is still there. Had Zelaya been able to pull his power play, it might not have been.

Also, while its the decision of the Hondurans about their leader that matters, every country in that region has a vested interest in maintaining the hard-earned, nascent democratic forms that have taken root in the last decade in Latin America.

Damned right they do. And that's precisely why it's a good thing that the Hondurans acted to stop a would-be caudillo from undermining it. Remember -- the military only acted when it was asked to. It did not take matters into its own hands. The Honduran military has remained under civilian control throughout this whole mess. That is the most important part of the story.

I know I'll never convince you of it, but the Hondurans made the correct decision.