Honduran coup tests Obama in Latin America

July 7, 2009


Deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya got his strongest endorsement yet from President Barack Obama on Tuesday as the exiled leftist leader returned to Washington to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
The United States has joined Latin America in unanimously condemning the military coup in the banana-producing country that ran Zelaya out of town in his pajamas ten days ago.
But Washington has been reluctant to slap sanctions on Honduras and cut off U.S. aid. Instead it is cautiously looking for a negotiated and peaceful resolution to a crisis that looks like a win-win situation for the United States’ main adversary in the hemisphere, Venezuela’s leftist leader Hugo Chavez.
Zelaya, a wealthy rancher who turned left in office and signed on to Chavez’s growing anti-U.S. coalition, is hardly the best poster boy for democracy. His moves to follow Chavez’s example and extend presidential term limits in Honduras sparked the political crisis in which the Honduran Supreme Court, with the backing of Congress, ordered the army to oust the president.
After years of U.S. neglect of Latin America during the Bush administration, Obama is trying to improve relations with the region and cannot afford to be on the wrong side of a crisis that many Latin Americans see as a flashback to a dark era of military dictatorships supported by the United States in the 1960s and 1970s.


The Pentagon suspended military cooperation with Honduras last week, even though it maintains a U.S. base in the Central American country that served as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” in the 1980s when the United States was supplying the Contra war against Nicaragua’s Sandinistas.
Experts on Latin America warn that the close relationship with the Honduran military could lead the United States to do what it had done for decades during the Cold War: side with the elites.
“The battle between Zelaya and his opponents pits a reformist president supported by labor unions and social organizations against a mafia-like, drug-ridden, corrupt political elite who is accustomed to choosing not only the Supreme Court and the Congress, but also the president,” said Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.
Dan Erikson, of the Inter-American Dialogue, believes Chavez is well-positioned to benefit from any outcome.
“If Zelaya is restored, then another Chavez ally remains in power. If the coup is not reversed, then Chavez has a new issue with which to rally anti-American sentiments in the region. The bottom line is that Chavez is engaged in trying to exploit the Honduran coup to maximum advantage,” Erikson said.
The hemisphere has still not figured out how to contain a new breed of power-grabbing populist leaders like Chavez who have risen through the ballot box, Erikson said.
But whatever their authoritarian tendencies might be, there is broad consensus today –unlike in decades past– that military coups against democratically elected governments are totally unacceptable.



Reuters photos by Luis Galdamez (Zelaya at San Salvador airport on July 5); Daniel LeClair (soldiers stop a woman), and Henry Romero ( Zelaya supporter protesting after soldiers fire tear gas at Tegucigalpa airport, where troops blocked the runway on July 5 to prevent the ousted president from landing).


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It is worth noting that Zelaya was planning to close the largest US military base in Honduras, Soto Cano, using money from ALBA. This is a reason that the United States is not working very hard to reinstate President Zelaya unconditionally.

Posted by Hannah Pallmeyer | Report as abusive

It might be nice if someone thought about what was best for the Hondouran people for a change. The article mentions Obama and Chavez, but it completely ignores Hondouras.

Posted by Michael Nolan | Report as abusive

The implication from Mark Weisbrot that the previous Honduras adminstration of Ricardo Maduro was mafia-like, drug-ridden, corrupt political elite and that Zelaya is a squeaky clean reformist is about as far from the truth as one can get.

Posted by Charles | Report as abusive

What is the basis of the gratuitous “After years of U.S. neglect of Latin America during the Bush administration, Obama is trying to improve relations. . .” What is your agenda Mr. Boadle? Further, Zelaya was moving to illegally change the Honduran Constitution. To characterize the actions of the Honduran Supreme Court as illegal is unjustified.

Posted by buzz | Report as abusive

Mr. Boadle, I am not sure I understand the situation in Honduras and I was wondering if you could perhaps clear some things up.1. How is this a military coup if the military was ordered by the Honduran Supreme Court to remove Zelaya after he (Zelaya) ordered the Honduran military to do enforce an action that Honduras’ Supreme Court, attorney general, top electoral body, and human-rights ombudsman claimed was illegal and unconstitutional?2. How does the situation resemble a dictatorship when the speaker of parliament, an elected official and the lawful successor to the president as per the national constitution, is sworn in as president?3. How is the behavior of Zelaya, who wished to amend the Honduran constitution to extend his term and maintain his own power, not similar to that of a tyrant?Such are the questions…-Vic Sage

Posted by Vic Sage | Report as abusive

I cannot understand why Pres Obama will interfere the hondurans situation but its the will of some inteligent people there. Basically they are firing against another recruitment by Chavez and his Bolivariano Socialist regime of the XX1 century. We need to stop from spreading to the other countries especially Paraguay.

Posted by Sara Arbetman | Report as abusive

“…that military coups against democratically elected governments are totally unacceptable.”So, it is a “military coup” when the President attempts to overrule the Supreme Court, Constitution, Human Right comission, electoral board, and the military of his own country, in order to extend his own power?Chavez printed the (illegal) “referendum ballots” for his fellow leftist pal to (illegally) distribute to the citizenry (via his mob of supporters). Was the rest of the country supposed to wait for him to control the media and outlaw other political parties? Or maybe wait for a “strongly worded message” from the UN?It is a travesty for any representative of the U.S. to even consider lending this wanna-be dictator an ounce of credibility, and yet here Clinton is meeting with him to try to figure out how to get him back in power and SANCTION a functioning democracy for doing exactly what it was supposed to do to preserve its integrity.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

The US response has been embarrassing. Zelaya was trying to subvert the constitution of Honduras. President Obama apparently would prefer to align himself with Chavez and his leftist thugs. This will gain us no friends and shows incredible weakness on the part of the US President.

Posted by BobK | Report as abusive

Interestingly, the Honduran Constitution of 1982 does provide for loss of citizenship for those who “incite, promote or aid in the continuation or re-election of the President” http://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions  /Honduras/hond05.html (article 42):ARTICULO 42.- La calidad de ciudadano se pierde:5. Por incitar, promover o apoyar el continuismo o la reelección del Presidente de la República; y,Further, Article 239 indicates that anyone who has held the office of chief executive cannot be president or vice president and anyone who proposes reform to that prohibition can be barred from holding public office for ten years:ARTICULO 239.- El ciudadano que haya desempeñado la titularidad del Poder Ejecutivo no podrá ser Presidente o Vicepresidente de la República.El que quebrante esta disposición o proponga su reforma, así como aquellos que lo apoyen directa o indirectamente, cesarán de inmediato en el desempeño de sus respectivos cargos y quedarán inhabilitados por diez (10) años para el ejercicio de toda función pública.My educated guess on that provision is that it is aimed move at banning past military dictators from pursuing the office than it is a stricture contra re-election, per se.Additionally, Article 374 bars any amendments regarding the length of the presidential term (amongst other things:ARTICULO 374.- No podrán reformarse, en ningún caso, el artículo anterior, el presente artículo, los artículos constitucionales que se refieren a la forma de gobierno, al territorio nacional, al período presidencial, a la prohibición para ser nuevamente Presidente de la República, el ciudadano que lo haya desempeñado bajo cualquier título y el referente a quienes no pueden ser Presidentes de la República por el período subsiguiente.As such, it is pretty clear why the Supreme Court of Justice ruled against Zelaya’s plebiscite proposal in the first place. It also means that if the vote had been allowed to happen it would have had no legal standing.

Posted by brain food | Report as abusive

While many of the above comments provide some strong points, a coup is still a coup. The military still ousted a democratically elected leader. It would have made more sense for him to be arrested rather than ousted from the country. The Honduran Constitution does not allow for impeachment (which is a severe flaw I might add). The execution of this was incorrect and the U.S. does need to voice the fact that coups are illegal and an illegitimate way of dealing with a ruler. That being said, Zalaya was breaking the law. The U.S. needs to also make it clear that such attempts to establish a “dictatorship” is just as unacceptable as having a coup (even if it is supported by other branches of the government).

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

As a lawyer, I find the argument that Zelaya should have been arrested by police, not the military, for his concededly rampant abuses of power and constitutional violations, truly bizarre.Article 272 of the Honduran Constitution expressly gives the role of enforcing constitutional term limits to the army. Zelaya violates those limits in Article 239 and elsewhere, and his removal was legal, not a coup.Even in the U.S.A., the army and national guard sometimes enforce court orders. For example, in Little Rock in 1957, U.S. troops enforced a court order desegregating the Little Rock public schools, when the Arkansas Governor refused to comply. State national guards have also been called out to enforce court orders against union violence.Equally bizarre is the claim by Mark Weisbrodt that “The battle between Zelaya and his opponents pits a reformist president supported by labor unions and social organizations against a mafia-like, drug-ridden, corrupt political elite who is accustomed to choosing not only the Supreme Court and the Congress, but also the president.”Zelaya is one of the worst members of Honduras’s rancid oligarchy, much more corrupt than his replacement, and much more corrupt than his immediate precedecessor. There’s nothing “reformist” about him, unless “reform” means arbitrary power.

Posted by Hans Bader | Report as abusive

I am suprised Honduras has not started an impeachment process assuming there is a reason for one.The photo of the “gang of left” , says it all, chavez, ortega, corea- they are hardly the poster boys for democracy.When is the US going to stop funding these groups via oil revenue.

Posted by thomas | Report as abusive

Come on, Reuters…quoting Mark Weisbrot? Wow. Weisbrot is so far up Hugo Chavez’s backside he hasn’t seen daylight for years.http://www.discoverthenetworks.org  /groupProfile.asp?grpid=7226http://www. cepr.net/documents/publications/venezuel a-2009-02.pdf

Posted by Scott Forbus | Report as abusive

It is a sad day for many Americans when our President shows so much support for Dictators in the making. On the other side of things Iranians are challenging what is obviously some degree of election fraud yet Obama will barely give token support to them. The free world may be slipping away from us. Democrats have introduced a bill in which Americans can be labeled terrorists if they are anti-abortion or percieved as a “right wing extremist”. Internment camps are in the planning stages now. Yes many of you will say “that is not possible”. They said the same thing in Nazi Germany. America appears to many Americans to be on the edge of a socialist abbys. God help us if we are right.

Posted by Clay | Report as abusive

This article is yet another confirmation of why internet based news is replacing the biased, unresponsive and monocultural main stream media such as Reuters. The article quotes the usual assortment of lefties and authoritarians and is clearly a puff piece for Zelaya. The media will continue calling the ouster of Zelaya a military coup for years despite the overwhelming evidence that the drivers of his removal from office were the countries civilian elected officials. The media are nothing if not stubbornly counter-factual when they want to be.That being said, I am embarrassed by the behavior of Obama and Hillary. At least George Bush acted consistently with his views. The current heroes of the media are acting like a couple of egoistic nihilists. Wanting to have better relations with Latin America doesn’t trump adherence to the laws and norms of civilization. You may want to have better relations with your neighbor,but you neighbor is caught raping a seven year old girl it is expected that you would condemn the behavior no matter who else spoke out for it. Obama has the best military in the world to defend him and he is acting like a timid, cornered, victim. I fear that the US is in for a period of decline resulting from self inflicted wounds applied by unprincipled, geopolitically naive, and managerially ignorant politician leaders.

Posted by Joe l Dubow | Report as abusive

This should really make people question Obama’s competency. The last thing this country needs is another Chavez. The guy was trying to subvert his countries constitution in order to become presidente for life. The only thing that I can imagine is that Obama was thinking to try the same thing at the end of his second term.

Posted by peterg | Report as abusive

Oh yes, there are “good and bad” democracies, and “good and bad” dictatorships in this world, the only thing that REALLY counts, is: “whether you are WITH US, or AGAINST US” the rest is just bla,bla,bla.

Posted by Gus | Report as abusive

[…] <img class="attachmeRead more at http://blogs.reuters.com/frontrow/2009/0 7/07/honduran-coup-tests-obama-in-latin- america/ […]

Posted by Honduran coup&#8230;. Honduran Officials Begin Talks on Country&#8217;s&#8230;. | Australia News | Report as abusive

While the activity in Honduras might violate USA law if it happened in the USA, it may be legal in Honduras…http://www.realclearworld.com/b log/2009/06/was_it_a_legal_coup_in_hondu ra.htmlFind out what the Honduras Constitution says..Find out what the Courts in Honduras have said…Then make an informed opinion rather than just be prejudiced…

Posted by Counsel | Report as abusive

Bottom line is that it appears the “ouster” was legal and required…Seehttp://lagringasblogicito.bl ogspot.com/(Not my blog…)

Posted by Counsel | Report as abusive

Joe l Dubow :Consider the alternative: that Obama, Hillary et al. ARE acting consistently with their views. And the views of the majority of the media and the majority of congress. But NOT the views of the majority of the country. The corrupt media, after all, seated most of those radicals.

Posted by Bob | Report as abusive

The removal of Zelaya is a great example of Democracy making a correction to prevent a dictatorship like the one that currently exists in Venezuela from taking place. The institutions of government represented by their own congress, the supreme court and their own people supported his ouster and in the process preserved Democracy for the next generation.

Posted by D&#8217;Elite | Report as abusive

[…] light of the situation. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) today defended Honduran President Manuel Zelaya’s recent removal from office by the Honduran military. In the course of defending the military coup, DeMint attacked President […]

Posted by OpinionEditorial &#8212; Blog &#8212; Jim DeMint: Looking Closely at His Honduras Visit | Report as abusive