Wishing I had another perspective on Honduras

Has anyone run across an objective, reasoned account of recent events in Honduras and the U.S. policy with regard to those events? Or, for that matter, an argument from a liberal or Democratic point of view supporting the Obama administration’s support for ex-President Manuel Zelaya?

The reason that I ask is that, given my background, I’m one of those rare Americans who cares about Latin America. I lived there at an impressionable age, and was particularly impressed by the short-lived Kennedy Administration efforts to at least act like that part of the hemisphere mattered. I haven’t seen anything approaching this level of interest since then. Meanwhile, over the past couple of decades, I’ve watched such nations as China deftly increase their influence in the region, much to the detriment of the legitimate interests of the United States and of the people of those countries.

Unfortunately, it’s not all that easy to keep up, given the almost complete apathy of the U.S. news media. Back when I was at the paper and got The Economist every week, I could sort of keep up — the Brits have always cared far more about all corners of the world than Americans care even about their own backyard — but even though my colleagues kept giving me the Economists that came in after I left (I was the only one in that office who read it, after Mike Fitts had left).

I still subscribe to The Wall Street Journal at home, however. And what that means is that my one regular source of information about Honduras and the rest of the countries below the Rio Grande has been Mary Anastasia O’Grady’s opinion columns. And while they are well-informed, they are written from such a strongly anti-administration point of view that leaves me wondering what it is that I’m not hearing.

Her indictments of Obama administration for perverse blindness are pretty powerful, such as this recent piece that indicts Zelaya for his connections, direct and indirect, to Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and virulent anti-Semitics in his own country. She begins this piece with a quote for one of the leading voices for Zelaya’s return:

Sometimes I ask myself if Hitler wasn’t right when he wanted to finish with that race, through the famous holocaust, because if there are people that are harmful to this country, they are the Jews, the Israelites.

Beyond the sensational stuff, though, I intuit that she may be onto something. I’ve previously noted my great discomfort at Obama’s decision to knuckle under to Big Labor rather than support freer trade with our ally Colombia. In fact, some of you who did not like our endorsement of John McCain castigated me for citing what you considered to be a side issue — although it wasn’t to me. To me, it was a disturbing portent, which would seem to have predicted a tendency to be terribly wrong on Latin America, if Ms. O’Grady is right.

But is she? I’d like to see an independent assessment, or even one from the other end of the political spectrum — if a liberal can get interest in Latin America long enough to provide one. It strikes me as passing strange that, given the recent ugly nativism we’ve seen rising on the Right in this country, that I’d only be hearing from conservatives on internal affairs in Honduras.

So it is that read with interest today a piece on the subject by someone other than Ms. O’Grady, also on the opinion pages of the WSJ. Unfortunately, it was by our own Jim DeMint — a man who has in recent years lost a lot of credibility with me, thanks to his opportunistic appeal to the aforementioned surge in nativism, his siding with our governor on the stimulus, and his execrable remark alluding to the climactic land battle of the Napoleonic Wars.

Setting all that aside, his piece seemed well-reasoned, and persuasive. Sure, members of Congress visiting foreign countries often see what they want to see, or what their hosts want them to see, but I was still impressed that he said of all the people he spoke with in Tegucigalpa, the only person who stuck up for the administration’s position, the only one who called the Honduran government’s removal of the ex-president a “coup,” was our ambassador:

As all strong democracies do after cleansing themselves of usurpers, Honduras has moved on.

The presidential election is on schedule for Nov. 29. Under Honduras’s one-term-limit, Mr. Zelaya could not have sought re-election anyway. Current President Roberto Micheletti—who was installed after Mr. Zelaya’s removal, per the Honduran Constitution—is not on the ballot either. The presidential candidates were nominated in primary elections almost a year ago, and all of them—including Mr. Zelaya’s former vice president—expect the elections to be free, fair and transparent, as has every Honduran election for a generation.

Indeed, the desire to move beyond the Zelaya era was almost universal in our meetings. Almost.

In a day packed with meetings, we met only one person in Honduras who opposed Mr. Zelaya’s ouster, who wishes his return, and who mystifyingly rejects the legitimacy of the November elections: U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens.

Of course, maybe Sen. DeMint was speaking to the wrong sources, just as I worry that maybe I’m reading the wrong sources. But he certainly seems to make a reasonable case.

By the way, both Ms. O’Grady and Sen. DeMint cite a source that sounds pretty legit to me in supporting their views: a senior analyst at the Law Library of Congress. But while you can read that report as supporting their views, it’s also a little more ambivalent than they make it sound, such as in this conclusion:

V. Was the removal of Honduran President Zelaya legal, in accordance with Honduran
constitutional and statutory law?

Available sources indicate that the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional
and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the
Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the
Honduran legal system.
However, removal of President Zelaya from the country by the military is in direct
violation of the Article 102 of the Constitution, and apparently this action is currently under
investigation by the Honduran authorities.50

Anyway, does anyone know of good arguments to the contrary, or is the administration just really, really wrong on this one?

14 thoughts on “Wishing I had another perspective on Honduras

  1. kbfenner

    “So how does that relate to what they specifically have done and what the media generally has done with regard to Honduras?

    KS: Well, in Honduras you’ve got essentially a pretty simple situation. The president – who is not a radical, incidentally, for better or worse, he’s not a Chavez – his big crime in the eyes of the elites that have run Honduras forever…

    GG: He was democratically elected in an election that everybody acknowledges was free and fair, right?

    KS: Yes. There’s no question about his legitimacy. He implemented a minimum wage increase which was desperately needed in this country, and that’s why the political elite, the business elite and the military hate his guts. This has nothing to do with their reverence for democracy. Honduras is, I’m sorry to use this term, but it has always been, or for a long time, it’s been a banana republic. There is no democracy in Honduras. The government has always been controlled by the elites, and this is the first guy who’s sort of broken out of that mold.

    But this is as backward as it gets in Latin America. So you’ve got a legitimately elected president, and he’s overthrown in a military coup, a flat-out military coup, in which he is whisked away from the presidential residence in his pyjamas and overthrown, and this new government is illegally declared, and you see all of this agonized opinion mongering in the United States about, oh, well, you know, the president was trying to prolong his term in office, which really isn’t true. He was seeking to hold a referendum, a non-binding referendum, and he would have been out of power in six months either way, even if he’d won his referendum. This guy was not a radical; he was not a threat to democracy; he was a mild threat to business as usual in Honduras. And he was overthrown in a military coup.

    But you cannot – it’s like the word torture, which the media uses when other people do it, but can’t bring itself to use when American troops are responsible for torture in Iraq and Afghanistan. We just find other ways of describing it. But this is just a flat out military coup against an elected, legitimate president. And to even start talking about, well, both sides are guilty of violations in that context is utterly ridiculous. One guy was elected, and had the legitimacy conferred on him by being democratically elected, and the other side is a bunch of military thugs who overthrew him, and you actually have former death squad leaders who are close to the new government. It’s a joke. There is no, on the one hand this, on the other hand that. And yet, that’s what we’re getting from a lot of the reporting and the opinions pages, the editorials are even worse. They are basically bending over backwards to find ways to justify a military coup. It’s just appalling.”

  2. Brad Warthen

    This might shock everyone, but a “military coup” is not inherently bad thing. I mean, they often are, but not inherently.

    I’ve lived under a junta. Not the world’s greatest thing, but the out-of-control drunkard they overthrew was no bargain, either.

    So saying “military coup” isn’t a complete answer.

    But thanks, Kathryn, for providing another point of view….

  3. Randy E

    I’ve only scanned the post but in listening to reports, this is a no brainer situation. The coup undermined the constitution of Honduras. The Obama administration is supporting the principle of constitutional law vs having empathy for the people involved…wait a minute…didn’t the GOP rail against this in the Sotomayor hearings?

    Bottom line, if DeMint supports the coup, it must be wrong.

  4. bud

    Demint’s obsession with this comes down to the old paranoia about communism. In this case it’s a fear of the “dreaded” Hugo Chavez. When will this obsession with communsim end? We won the cold war folks. Let’s move on. The evidence seems to indicate the old president was evicted unlawfully by force of arms. Whether he was cozy communist dicatators or not should make no difference. Demint is not the authority to make foreign policy decisions. He should be bitch-slapped for this near-treasonous behavior.

  5. Randy E

    Greg, you support the coup? You support a constitution being revoked by any group that musters enough military might? Was Zeyla removed lawfully? I’ll await your justification for this position.

  6. Santee

    The Economist has a much more nuanced take on Honduras than does the WSJ. The tone of Economist commentary on this generally seems sympathetic to the Obama administration’s approach, for example:
    “But many in Latin America saw Mr Zelaya’s arrest in his pyjamas as an unacceptable throwback to the region’s dark past. Barack Obama’s administration is determined not to repeat the diplomatic mistake of its predecessor, which appeared to condone a short-lived coup against Mr Chávez in 2002. No government in the Americas has recognised Mr Micheletti. Most backed a mediation effort by Óscar Arias, Costa Rica’s president, who proposed that Mr Zelaya should be restored but only until the end of his term in January, and with his powers curtailed.”

  7. Greg Flowers

    No, you didn’t read what I said. My position is that it is foolish to discount without examination a position merely because a person with whom you frequently disagree holds it. As in:

    Bottom line, if DeMint supports the coup, it must be wrong.

  8. Randy E

    Gotcha Greg. My point about DeMint was tongue in cheek although I likely disagree vehemently with him on almost everything. He really has gone off the deep end.

Comments are closed.