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June 29, 2009
Honduran coup tests U.S. take on democracy

Ousted Honduran President José Manuel Zelaya.

What’s your take on democracy? Time to think about it a bit after reading this front-page headline in the New York Times today:

Honduran Army Ousts President Allied to Chavez

The elected president of Honduras, José Manuel Zelaya, was deposed on Sunday by that country’s armed forces, one of the first military coups in Latin America in more than a decade.

Part of the answer lies in our own prejudices and subliminal responses to the words. If Zelaya is an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, should we be happy, unhappy or neutral? And in terms of democratic principles, should the United States be supporting the deposed president or pleased that his absolutist policies have been derailed?

Zelaya won the Honduran presidency in a tight — but fair — election more than three years ago, and, like Chavez, was trying to tinker with rules that bar presidents from serving more than one term. Chavez, who was also elected by a popular majority, has progressively gathered up power, weakening his country’s legislative and judicial branches. Using various populist techniques and the bully pulpit of the presidents, Chavez has won approval for his actions through national referendums.

For his part, Zelaya was trundled off to the airport on Sunday, and declared from Costa Rica, still in his pajamas, that his ouster was illegal: “I am the president of Honduras.”

The United States, governments throughout the hemisphere and Europe have condemned the coup and say they support Zelaya’s return to office. That hasn’t stopped Chavez from decrying “oligarchs” who should be opposed by force.

One last question: Has U.S. policy been steadfast in supporting election results? Answer: No. Consider the case of Guatemala in 1954, when the CIA engineered the overthrow of a democratically-elected government deemed to be leaning the wrong direction; Chile in 1973, when the United States applied economic sanctions, and U.S. officials supported and aided a coup against the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, a Socialist. Or further afield, but more recently, when Hamas won democratic elections in Palestine in 2006, the United States sided with Israel and imposed economic sanctions.

Are there limits to supporting the will of the people? Or is the pragmatic solution in dealing with foreign policy questions more complicated than a knee-jerk ideological response? Consider this, then, a vote for critical thinking.

– Peter Eisner

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Presidencia de la República del Ecuador under a Creative Commons license.

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1 comment


I,became very upset when i,first heard of the ALBA,knowing nothing good can come from something bad,communism does not work,can those poor people who listen to his empty promises for 3 years already ever understand he is just a liar and the truth is not in him.

Peter Eisner is an editorial consultant with Worldfocus and a 30-year veteran of international news. He has been an editor and foreign correspondent at The Washington Post, Newsday and The Associated Press. He co-authored “The Italian Letter,” which details fraudulent intelligence leading up to the Iraq War. He was founder and president of Newscom, an international online news service, and speaks Spanish and Portuguese.

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