Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Zelaya, Honduras, and History

This post is a bit off-topic for this blog, but please bear with me.

Jose Manuel Zelaya was president of Honduras until a military coup ousted him recently. Honduras has a new president now, selected by the Honduran Congress. Roberto Micheletti has been sworn in as the provisional president of Honduras.

I haven't been following the Zelaya administration at all closely, but I gather that

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wants Zelaya back in power. No surprises there, Chavez and Zelaya are on the same page, politically.

The United Nations unanimously resolved that they want Zelaya running Honduras. The resolution isn't so surprising to me, but the unanimity seems a little out of character for the U.N.

American President Barack Obama said:
"... President Obama on Monday called the turmoil in Honduras a step backward from the 'enormous progress of the last 20 years in establishing democratic traditions in Latin America.'

" 'We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras,' Obama said...." (CNN)
For a leader who has been accused of allowing tons of cocaine to go through Honduras on its way to America, Mr. Zelaya is quite popular. Granted, that cocaine accusation was made by the people who ousted him.

The cocaine charge isn't as wild as it may sound. Mr. Zelaya apparently asked the United States to legalize cocaine last year - apparently to reduce the murder rate in Honduras. (La Prensa - my Spanish isn't all that good, so I may have missed something.)

Jose Manuel Zelaya Liked Being President

What may actually have triggered Zelaya's ouster was his enthusiasm for being president. The Honduran constitution includes term limits for the president. Zelaya was elected in 2006, for a four-year term. Under the present constitution, in 2010 Honduras would elect a new president.

Zelaya didn't like that, and tried to push a new and (by his standards) improved constitution through. (Latin American Herald Tribune)

The Honduran congress rejected Zelaya's constitution, and placed limits on executive power in Honduras. (Daily Focus blog, A.Q.) Somewhere after that, the coup happened and Congress selected a provisional president, Roberto Micheletti.

Why the Enthusiasm for Zelaya?

It's hardly surprising that the leader of a small country who likes being in charge, and wants America to legalize cocaine has some support. Some might see him as an underdog, either upholding the position of Honduras as a transshipment point for drugs, or protecting his people from American drug crimes. Others might simply think that anyone who wants to legalize cocaine is groovy.

But when Chavez, Obama, and the entire United Nations want Zelaya back in power, there almost has to be something else going on.

Setting the lizard people and other conspiracy theories aside, I think there may be a fairly reasonable - if perhaps misguided - motive behind support for Zelaya.

The key, I think, are in four phrases used by President Obama:
  • Step backward
  • Enormous progress
  • Democratic traditions
  • Latin America
I remember the days when a comedian could refer to some Latin American country as a place where they change their government about as often as they change their underwear. Even then, that was an exaggeration, but Latin American countries had earned the reputation for lively politics: whose debates were often conducted with machine guns.

That was then. There really has, I think, been a change in the political climate of Latin America. Those news items of a former presidente committing suicide (officially) as another junta's troops move in aren't routine any more.

World leaders tend to be at least as old as I am. Maybe they remember the 'good old days,' too. They may believe that it's better to have a groovy president with a taste for power running Honduras, than return to the days of juntas and coups.

This is Not a Political Blog

This is another post where I have to point out that this is not a political blog. I don't want President Obama to succeed because he's a democrat, or fail because he's not a Republican, or Libertarian, or whatever.

If you've been following this blog, you know that I had lively apprehensions about what sort of president Barack Obama the candidate would be. He's proven to be much more practical than I'd feared: as I've written quite often, "it's different, when you're in charge."

That's not to say that I am for Barack Obama. I'm not against him, either. What I am for is the American way of running a country: which includes a degree of freedom which is, in my view, both precious and rare.

A phrase which dropped out of favor during one of my terms in college is "rule of law." From the time that a Babylonian ruler had laws literally carved in stone and put on public display to this hour, I think societies have fared better when there were laws that were both reasonable and enforced.

Taking that view, I must concede that Zilaya's ouster may, in fact, have been illegal. In which case he should, by law, be reinstated as president.

However, if his ouster was illegal, and if he becomes the Honduran president again, I think it would be well for his current supporters to keep an eye on him. From an American point of view, laws apply to those in authority as well as those who are not.

Which brings up the perennial scandals in office, which I think demonstrate not so much the shortcomings of law as the imperfections of humanity.

Vaguely related posts: News and views:


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I do not think that the information available in the US at this time is at all accurate. I am an American living in Honduras right now, and if you ask anyone down here you will find that what the Honduran military did was the best possible solution to a dangerous situation, and the support from Obama and Chavez as well as others is only endangering this nation more. Zelaya wanted to hold a vote to allow people to run for presidency for more than one consecutive term (which they cannot do here) fearing that he was trying to become a dictator the freedom loving people of honduras supported the decision of their congress when they ruled that the they would not hold the vote as it goes against their constitution. Zelaya wanted to hold the vote anyways and had Chavez print the ballots. The Honduran military got Zelaya out of the country before he was able to hold the illegal vote and in doing so prevented many violent protests. The support that Obama is showing for Zelaya makes me and all of the honduran people i have spoken with sick.


Brian H. Gill said...


Thanks for the comment - and an 'inside' look at part of the Honduras situation.

Support for Obama's position is by no means universal: despite the high level of approval he's got, some commentators have wondered why he's supporting Zeleya.

I'm not at all sure that Zeleya would be good for Honduras, myself.

He sounds like the sort of national leader who would make America's Ulysses S. Grant look like a choir boy.

One purpose of this post was to discuss a rational explanation for the behavior of Obama, Chavez, and the United Nations in relation to Honduras and Zelaya.

I could be wrong, but I strongly suspect that a big factor in this remarkable show of support is the deep-seated, emotional disinclination people who remember the recent history of Latin America may have to the idea of a return to the days of banana republics and generalissimos.

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