Honduras: Manuel Zelaya’s ouster

Was the military ouster of President Zelaya a coup, or an act to save democracy from a Hugo Chavez protégé?

What happened

The Honduran military arrested leftist President Manuel Zelaya Sunday and flew him into exile in Costa Rica, in Central America’s first military coup since the Cold War. The Honduran Supreme Court said it had approved Zelaya’s ouster, because he was illegally moving ahead with a nonbinding referendum on a constitutional assembly. Congress named its leader, Roberto Micheletti, interim president. (Reuters)

What the commentators said

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How is this a military coup? said Mary Anastasia O’Grady in The Wall Street Journal. Zelaya was unquestionably acting “above the law,” defying high court orders to scrap the unconstitutional referendum, and firing the army chief. “Honduran patriots” should resist every outside effort to restore Zelaya to power, especially from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Zelaya’s “good friend” and guide in consolidating power and destroying Honduran democracy.

That’s crazy—this is a textbook “bloodless coup,” said Larisa Alexandrovna in At-Largely. The politics in Honduras are “complex,” and Zelaya is “both a bad guy and a good guy,” but when the military intervenes to remove a sitting president, that’s a coup, not a victory for democracy. If Zelaya was violating the Constitution, the solution is to impeach him, not overthrow him.

That’s a “rare” point of agreement among Western Hemisphere nations off all ideological stripes, said Simon Romero in The New York Times. But after condemning the coup, the Americas split into two camps: regular democracies and “so-called participatory” democracies under the sway of Venezuela. Zelaya wanted to move Honduras into the latter camp, leading to “colder” ties with the U.S.

If the point was to keep Zelaya from becoming another Chavez, it will backfire, said Timothy Padgett in Time. The Honduran military just turned “an otherwise middling president” into a “political martyr,” just like Venezuela’s right-wing did with Chavez in 2002. Zelaya’s enemies had reasonable fears, but by ousting him with force, they just made themselves look like the “oligarch lackeys” he accused them of being.

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