Wimping out in Honduras?

Remember when I expressed my regret that my only sources of information on what’s happening in Honduras (or anywhere else in Latin America, for that matter) were columnists with axes to grind?

Well, there was a fairly complete update on the situation on the WSJ’s news pages today, which I appreciated. For instance, I learned for the first time that the military had forced ex-President (or is he really “ex-“?; that’s sort of what the argument’s about) Manuel Zelaya was forced to leave the country “in his pajamas.” Not that that’s important; I just enjoyed learning it.

More to the point, I thought I got a better appreciation of the Obama administration’s position on the situation, in this paragraph:

Resolving the crisis would be welcome not only in Central America but in Washington, too. The U.S. has put pressure on the interim government to allow the democratically elected Mr. Zelaya to return, even though the leftist is a fierce critic of Washington and a close ally of Venezuela’s populist Hugo Chávez.

That fact, of course, is what Jim DeMint and other conservative critics can’t get over — the fact that the administration is siding with this rather obnoxious ally of someone who is so inimical and destructive toward our national interests. But in that paragraph, I could sort of appreciate that we were trying to be fair and impartial, backing the guy even though he hangs with folks who aren’t our friends.

You know, sort of the way I’ve bent over backward to accommodate and be “fair” and nonjudgmental toward some of the bullies who have run off nice people on my blog. And I wrung my hands and fretted over the implications of cracking down. I hesitated to just ban someone because of past behavior — after all, in this country, doesn’t a person always have the opportunity, nay, the right, to redeem himself?

Oddly, it was one of our more “liberal” Democrats on the blog who, in sidebars, would whisper to me of how I needed to toughen up, stopping being squishy and tolerant, be the king, and cry “off with their heads.” I’m not going to name this person, in the interests of protecting the guilty, but the advice took the form of such admonitions as: “Stop trying to look like a good guy. You are a good guy.”

Which, it occurs to me, may be where Obama’s got it wrong, and DeMint’s got it right, on Honduras. Aside from the fact that the best assessment we have in hand does not support (clearly, anyway) that Zelaya was ousted in an extralegal manner, what principles are we standing up for here? At the very best, it’s a tossup whether Zelaya has a legitimate claim. So in such a situation, why would we not stand up for our nation’s legitimate interests, and more importantly, ideals (which the Chavezistas in the hemisphere scorn), without hesitation or apology?

In short, are we wimping out in the interests of being fair to all concerned, and in the process so blinding ourselves to reality that we don’t even see that it’s NOT fair to all concerned, that this guy actually doesn’t even (necessarily) have any of the rules on his side?

21 thoughts on “Wimping out in Honduras?

  1. Bart

    It has bothered me from day one about our government’s response to what appears to be a Honduran constitutional response to Zelaya’s actions in regards to the upcoming elections.

    If the information is correct, the Supreme Court of Honduras unanimously voted to vacate Zelaya from the presidency and have him removed from the country by the military.

    The White House is calling the actions of the Honduran Supreme Court a “coup” and are demanding Zeyala be returned to his office. Aid has been cut off, visas revoked, and public denounciation of the court justices.

    The reaction by the administration is puzzling. It does give cause to wonder why such harsh actions against a rather small South American country, poor and dependent upon America for a large portion of their economy. If were a matter of being fair, perhaps the best approach would be to encourage dialogue and resolution without taking a heavy-handed position by revoking visas and cutting off aid. Or, just mind our own business and let Honduras take care of theirs.

  2. Brad Warthen

    Bart, you’re thinking like I’m thinking. I think.

    And Kathryn, about Zelaya being ousted in his jammies… I had to smile because I’ve been close to another such situation.

    I lived in Ecuador when a military junta threw out the president. It was when I was just a kid, but from what I remember, the pres had embarrassed the country once too often with his drinking. One story had him trying to urinate in punchbowl at a reception for the Chilean ambassador but hey, I wasn’t there. As I recall, they just let him get another snootful and pass out, and put him on a plane to Panama or someplace. When he woke up, he had been deposed and exiled.

    Hey, it’s kinder and gentler than setting up a guillotine…

  3. bud

    Let’s couch this issue into 3 separate components. First, was it correct for Zelaya to be ousted. I think not. He was elected by the people and was apparently ousted simply because he was a populist trying to improve the plight of the working class in his country. So what if he was cozy with Chavez and other so-called communists. What upset his political opponents was his threat to the big-business power brokers and that was the cause of the coup, not anything of evil intent. That’s probably what got DeMint so stirred up. Anything that threatens big business power brokers has to be bad in the eyes of the myopic conservative Repubulicans.

    The other issue is more fundamental. What the heck are we doing interfering with the internal affairs of Hounduras? Here’s where Obama is wrong. He should keep his hands off this situation and declare American neutrality. Let them work it out. We wasted thousands of live and trillions of dollars in Iraq for absolutely no good for the USA. And we’re doing pretty much the same in Afghanistan so why get involved in the affairs of yet another country?

    Finally, even though I don’t agree with Obama, assuming he takes an active role in this mess, DeMint certainly has no business sticking his big-business nose in this. That’s bordering on treason. This is not the place for a GOP senator to get involved. And he’s on the wrong side of what is right to boot.

  4. Eduardo

    Interestingly enough, even though he was exiled in his PJ’s (unofficial reports -gossip- state, however, that he was in the company of a lady -using the term loosely- so he probably wasn’t wearing even that), he had enough time to carry his credit card and pile up over $50,000 on it within five days. Bear in mind that minimum wage in Honduras is $289 (per month), so you can understand how this expense can be considered offensive.

  5. Randy E

    Brad, at best removing him from office and expatriating him was legally questionable. Here are points from the article.

    1. Expatriating him is ILLEGAL.
    2. There was liberty in applying the word “disapprove” to REMOVE him from office or even to censure him.
    3. The article then follows with discussion of a trial. Why is there need of a trial if the constitution allows for PUNISHMENT, e.g. removing him from office, to be carried out?
    4. The military was executing an arrest WARRANT, not penal action.

    It appears that there was legal use of force to arrest him but certainly little support in carrying out removal. I’m confused as to how you interpret this article to support the penal action.

    DeMint and others like Eduardo above seem to base this striking reaction of the military on “offensiveness” as Educardo puts it. That’s hardly constitutional justification and an example of how some conservatives will overlook their supposed conservatism to support big government action.

  6. Karen McLeod

    My concern is that frequently in the past we have supported regimes that have been unpopular with the people of that country with the long term result that the country finally ended (often after civil war) with a government that permanently opposed us. If Mr. Obama is arguing from a legal standpoint, I’d suggest that he is at least in support of their law, rather than (necessarily) Mr. Zelaya. If he’s truly taking sides–well, that is probably a mistake, as no one likes another country messing with their governance (supplying forces to fight on what ends up being the winning side is another thing, but will that side be the permanent winner?) If Mr. Zelaya has populist approval, but not the approval of the ruling elite, then it’s doesn’t do our country’s image any good to support an oligarchy or a dictatorship, which we have done all too often.

  7. Brad Warthen

    As to the point of whether ousting him was extralegal — read the US government repost I linked above on the words “the best assassment we have in hand.” While ambiguous in places, it does not support the idea that deposing Zelaya was illegal.

    DeMint and O’Grady cite that report. DeMint says he’s been told there’s another report that supports the administration’s view, but it hasn’t been released.

    So we’re left without strong evidence in support of this being a “coup.”

    Y bienvenido, Eduardo…

  8. Eduardo

    @Randy you couldn’t have missed my point harder if the point was in a different direction.

    I was just pointing out that he certainly had time to get dressed, but chose not to for maximum dramatic effect. And that he is an immoral demagogue.

    He had to be removed. There is no question about it. I can’t help but feel that your opinions are based on your own country’s legal standards. About that: don´t. The only laws that matter are Honduran laws, the only ones entitled to draw conclusions and interpret those laws are Honduran authorities, so store your hubris.

    Z’s destitution was statutory. He promoted multiple terms for presidency (video in Spanish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEKQZdUudHY), interestingly enough, by those very actions he forfeits his citizenship.

    Honduran Law doesn’t allow for an impeachment process per se, there is no room for the trying of a president (for political crimes without his removal), the only recourse when dealing with a rogue public official, short of small metal objects finding their way into their more vital areas, is immediate destitution.

    I would’ve preferred he be tried for his common crimes, but he has this nasty habit of drawing mobs whenever he feels he is being thwarted (well before he was removed), can you imagine the consequences of a mob invading a penal center, a military installation? I shudder at the possibilities.

    Honduran Penal Code article 24 specifically alludes to a “State of Necessity” which frees from penal responsibility any citizen that through his actions breaks a law to safeguard him/herself or others, this article allows for the statement that his expatriation was at least *arguably* legal, which isn’t to say I agree with how it was handled, again I merely think that the actions taken by the Honduran authorities are defensible.

  9. Randy E

    Eduardo, I cited specifics from the report so this is not a matter of my American bias. That report specifically identifies the expatriation as being out of bounds. Perhaps you can read this report and comment on it.

    You also continue to cite his immoral behavior. That is besides the point as this is a legal issue.

    Finally, he was arrested per a warrant. Removing him from office is penal action. What is the basis for going beyond executing a warrant?

  10. kbfenner

    “does not support the idea that deposing Z was illegal.”

    that in and of itself is so full of weasel words, as we said in law school, as to be wholly ambiguous.

    I don’t know what the basis of Honduran Law is–probably not common law as I was trained in, but isn’t the necessity concept of “safeguarding self or others” usually interpreted to mean from imminent physical harm–as in very proximate danger? Not in some theoretical, “applies to the population at large” way, or even “might happen in the future,” but some swift certain danger…

  11. Libb

    What I find most interesting in this situation is the involvement of Lanny Davis, a high powered lawyer/lobbyist who defended Bill Clinton in his impeachment case and is still a close ally to the Clintons. I’ve read several articles by Robert Lovato who writes for New American Media, the largest ethnic news organization in the US.

    The following is from a report Mr Lovato wrote for the American Prospect, an online magazine:

    “Robert White, a former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, now president of the Washington-based Center for International Policy, an independent think-tank in Washington, discussed the case with

    “If you want to understand who the real power behind the [Honduran] coup is,” White told Lovato, “you need to find out who’s paying Lanny Davis.”

    Davis was White House counsel to President Clinton from 1996-1998, and worked with Hillary Clinton on her unsuccessful presidential bid. He has been making the rounds in Congress, promoting the idea that the Honduran coup was justified and playing down widespread reports of repression and curbs on the news media.

    Lovato also interviewed Davis:

    “My clients represent the CEAL, the [Honduras Chapter of] Business Council of Latin America,” Davis said when reached at his office last Thursday. “I do not represent the government and do not talk to President [Roberto] Micheletti. My main contacts are Camilo Atala and Jorge Canahuati. I’m proud to represent businessmen who are committed to the rule of law.” Atala, Canahuati, and other families that own the corporate interests represented by Davis and the CEAL are at the top of an economic pyramid in which 62 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank.”

    White and those who oppose Micheletti and the coup said that the underlying problem is that a small class of businessmen in Honduras don’t recognize or care about that larger context — the vast majority of Hondurans are abjectly poor and have suffered while an oligarchic minority has thrived.

    Coups, White told Lovato, “happen because very wealthy people want them and help to make them happen, people who are used to seeing the country as a money machine and suddenly see social legislation on behalf of the poor as a threat to their interests. The average wage of a worker in free trade zones is 77 cents per hour.”

    Makes me wonder if the President and his Sec of State are on the same side of this issue.

  12. Eduardo

    Didn’t I say I disagree with how the whole thing was handled? I just meant that the position is defensible.
    I’m a 28-yr-old full-blooded Honduran, and let me tell you, this whole thing reflects a lot of flaws common to all of us, to the point that several people have -in conversation- described what was done as “A la Hondureña” (The Honduran way) followed by a sigh or two and shaking of the head.
    NO! I don’t consider this a legal argument. You just have to live here to get it, it’s a bit hard to put into words.
    The man should’ve been held for trial for common crimes, but his penchant to draw mobs (to intimidate the supreme court into assigning some of his people into positions and to invade a military base to “liberate” materials confiscated by order of the HONDURAN Supreme Court) is well known so the incorrect decision was taken.

    My points are (were, will forever be):

    A) Zelaya HAD to be removed. Too many crimes (theft, promoting re-elections, etc.), too much potential for harm (I’ve had a front row seat to all of his antics).
    B) His removal was handled, to put it kindly, POORLY.
    C) The whole thing has turned into a [urinating] contest. And the people being trickled upon are, well, us. The common people.
    D) The rest of the world should BUTT out. Have your opinions, express your opinions, but DO NOT impose your opinions. This is a Honduran matter, let Honduras resolve it.

  13. Randy E

    Eduardo, if the military there starting slaughtering innocent people (as we’ve seen in the former Yugoslavia or the Sudan) everyone outside the country should butt out?

  14. Brad Warthen

    Eduardo, did you grow up there, or in this country? Your creative facility with English (“so store your hubris,” and “short of small metal objects finding their way into their more vital areas”) makes you sound like a native speaker.

    Of course, some folks who don’t start off speaking English master it to a greater extent than those of us who had a head start — Conrad, Nabokov. If you’re one of those, congratulations. I’m impressed.

  15. Eduardo

    @Randy: From one extreme to another. Probably not. In that case, no. But I take everything that comes from the news with a grain of salt. If as many people as reported have been killed in the streets of Honduras, I’d be tripping over corpses on my way to the supermarket.

    @Brad: Born and raised in Honduras, but I’m an avid reader. I’m also a teacher, lately specializing in preparing high-school graduates for SAT and TOEFL. Practice makes perfect.

  16. Randy E

    Eduardo, “no” as in no you wouldn’t want an outside government to intervene if there was mass killings of innocents?

    My point is that some intervention is warranted so the point then is where to draw the line. It’s not like Obama is W – invading a country because the leader is a “bad” guy.

  17. Eduardo

    @Randy: ¬_¬ Yes, Randy. I want mass killings on the streets by the military (they have the best weapons, automatic weapons FTW!) with no accountability. I also want governments with no checks *or* balances. I particularly enjoy clumsy attempts at twisting my words. Woohoo Fascism (of course, given my opinions about Zelaya, I must be a right-wing nut-job, seriously, what about all the good things Hitler did?). We must establish an intellectual elite to control all aspects of the lives of lesser people. ¬_¬

    It seems I have to explicit in my opinions lest those with an opinion vaguely opposed to mine take offense at implied meaning.

    In cases where the population of a is clearly in imminent danger with little hope of the local authorities being able to do anything about it, yes, some intervention may (note the use of may) be warranted, but for a glorified [phallus]-waving contest, hardly.

    No. I don’t believe there are mass killings going on in Honduras. I don’t believe that the CURRENT situation in my country requires outside intervention (save for anybody granting that clown, Zelaya, political asylum). Don’t get me wrong, I sincerely grieve for the few fellow Hondurans that have lost their lives and, while there is plenty of blame to go around, I place most of it squarely on Zelaya. He summons mobs. Not peaceful demonstrators. I can assert to the fact as a witness, not as somebody who follows news closely.

    Let me ask this: Must a government bow down to mobs? Look up ochlocracy before giving an answer.


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