The New Republic splits from the Obama administration and scolds Barack Obama over his response to the removal of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. Francisco Toro accuses Obama of “fetishizing” the presidency and ignoring the facts on the ground. The military may have conducted a coup, but it did so at the unanimous behest of the legislature and the Honduran Supreme Court — and for good reason (h/t HA reader Desmond L):
Sunday’s coup in Honduras has been portrayed as a throwback to the bad old days when Latin American armies got drafted in as the ultimate umpires of political conflict. But in arresting president Manuel Zelaya in his pajamas and putting him on the first plane out of the country, Honduras’s generals were acting out of fear of a genuine and growing threat to Latin Democracy: the looming prospect of unchecked, hyper-empowered executive power held for life by a single, charismatic individual.
Seen in context, Sunday’s military powerplay was different in important ways from the traditional Latin American putsch. The generals move came at the unanimous–yes unanimous–behest of a congress outraged by Zelaya’s not-particularly-subtle attempts to extend his hold on power indefinitely. It followed a series of clearly unconstitutional moves on Zelaya’s part, including his attempt to unilaterally remove the chief of the army, which, according to Honduras’s Constitution, can only be done by a congressional super-majority.
And congress’s request had been seconded by the nation’s Supreme Court, which is sworn to uphold a constitution that explicitly makes the act of “inciting, promoting or backing the continuation in power or re-election of the President of the Republic” punishable with the loss of Honduran citizenship.
In one sense, this is why the argument over coup/non-coup misses the point. The proper process for removing a head of state can’t include having the army dump him outside the border, which eliminates any due process. That’s a coup, but that doesn’t mean that the Honduras legislature and the courts were wrong to remove Zelaya from power.
A president acting in an unconstitutional manner should no longer have access to that power. The proper role of the legislature is to impeach such an executive. Their unanimous request to the military certainly qualifies as a de facto impeachment, even if the military went too far in expelling Zelaya from Honduras. Criticizing the manner in which Zelaya was removed is certainly reasonable, but not the power of the Honduran legislature to remove him at all. In any liberal democracy, the executive must have its power checked by the courts and the legislature; if not, then the executive turns into Hugo Chavez and eventually Fidel Castro.
Barack Obama gave a knee-jerk reaction without bothering to account for the facts on the ground. Moreover, Obama presumed to know the legality of the Honduran legislature’s action better than the Hondurans, which is yet another example of Yankee arrogance in the region. While Obama continues to waffle and avoid the question of whether he will recognize Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the president of Iran after a baldly rigged election, Obama has quickly intervened to reject the Honduran legislature’s action and insist that the US dictate who the Honduran president should be.
Perhaps Obama will rethink his “interference” in Honduran affairs, as TNR suggests. I wouldn’t hold my breath, however.
Update: The Miami Herald all but calls Obama and Hillary Clinton “johnny-come-latelies” to the defense of democracy in Honduras. Where was their outrage over Zelaya’s actions that led to his removal?