Honduras and the United States: What’s Wrong With This Picture?

As this is being written, Manuel Zelaya, the ousted and exiled ex-president of Honduras, is holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, having been smuggled there on Sept. 21. His followers acted like the anti-capitalist protesters who haunt G-20 meetings, smashing windows, spraying graffiti, attacking police cars, and suchlike.

Here is how we got to this point: Zelaya was elected president of Honduras in 2005. His administration has been plagued by charges of corruption, with the impartial group, Transparency International, ranking Honduras under Zelaya as corrupt as Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Libya.

In 2008, Zelaya joined the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas, the anti-American political and economic bloc of Latin American countries led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who has succeeded Fidel Castro in becoming the leading leftist autocrat in Latin America. Zelaya has received financial aid from Chavez, and has been alleged to be involved in the illicit drug trade.

On March 28 of this year, Zelaya initiated steps to alter the Honduran constitution. He wanted to change the provision stipulating that presidents are limited to one term. Article 239 of that constitution explicitly states that a president who takes any steps to tamper with that provision forfeits the office. This may seem jarring to North Americans, but if one is familiar with Latin American history, which has been plagued by the caudillo syndrome (a “strong man” installing himself as leader for life), one can see why a freedom-loving people would institute such a safeguard.

Venezuela’s Chavez publicly endorsed Zelaya’s bid to revise the Honduran constitution. Chavez has a long record of intervening in the domestic affairs of Latin American neighbors, granting millions of petrodollars and sending “community organizers” to perform on-the-ground legwork. He has helped install leftist allies into the presidencies of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, and clearly had Honduras in his sights.

Zelaya was warned by Honduras’ supreme court to cease stirring up mobs in support of his bid to prolong his presidency. He refused. On June 28, the court—backed by both political parties (including Zelaya’s), the congress, the Catholic Church, and the business sector—removed Zelaya from office. In a desire to avoid violent clashes with Zelaya’s allies (anti-Zelaya crowds of Hondurans had already begun public protests), the court asked the military to fly Zelaya to Costa Rica. The military complied. Then the constitutional successor, Roberto Micheletti, was sworn in as president. From day one, Micheletti has promised to yield to his constitutional successor, who will be elected in November.

Also from day one, Chavez has worked to return Zelaya to power. On the day of Zelaya’s expulsion, Chavez immediately called on the Honduran military to mutiny, contacted Zelaya allies in Honduras to fight, and vowed to depose Micheletti. In short, Chavez showed himself to be an enemy of the Honduran constitution, the rule of law, and the aspirations of the Honduran people to live in freedom instead of under a strong man.

And where does the Obama administration stand on this?

On the day Zelaya was deposed, the White House and State Department demanded Zelaya’s return, declaring him to be the legal president. An August report by the Congressional Research Service concluded that Zelaya’s removal was entirely legal; nevertheless, in September, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton terminated U.S. aid to Honduras. She declared all those Hondurans who participated in the constitutional process to depose Zelaya to be persona non grata in the United States. Furthermore, the Obama administration vows not to recognize the winner of Honduras’ November presidential election.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Is it honorable for the Obama administration to break its promise not to interfere with sovereign matters?

Is it consistent with American values to support a law violator, repudiate constitutional government, and subvert a country’s institutional safeguards against would-be despots?

Is it in our country’s interest to ally ourselves with Hugo Chavez, and indeed, to increase his pernicious influence by actively supporting one of his antidemocratic campaigns?

Just as jihadist terrorists accelerated their aggressions against American interests before 9/11, when they concluded that we didn’t have the backbone to resist them, do we want to send a message to Latin America that Chavez is its future and we no longer care if our Latin American friends lose their liberty?

We ought to be worried by the fact that Zelaya has chosen the Brazilian embassy as his base of operations, because it signals that Brazil’s president, Lula da Silva, has abandoned his prudent, pragmatic policy of not wanting to offend either Chavez to his left or the United States to his right. Lula must now feel constrained to appease Chavez’ antidemocratic ambitions, because clearly, if the United States is not willing to stand up against him, how may Brazil risk getting on the wrong side of Chavez?

Does President Obama really want to drive Brazil, the largest and wealthiest South American country, closer to Venezuela?

Do the American people want their government to take the side of antidemocratic bullies against the freedom-loving people of Honduras?

Everything is wrong with this picture. Our Honduras policy is unconscionable.