What has happened in Honduras bears an uncanny resemblance to the September 30th 1991 military coup that overthrew Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, who was subsequently restored to power in 1994 on order of then-U.S president Bill Clinton. Unceremoniously removed from power by Honduras’ military, the deposed Manuel Zelaya has since vowed to return to his country as president. Unfortunately, the outcome may be different because Zelaya faces time constraint, something Aristide did not have to contend with. In September of 1991, Aristide had 53 months remaining in his mandate while the Honduran president’s term expires in 7 months. With that in mind, the coup organizers, in a calculated move, may be playing the politic of “fait accompli”, which would allow Zelaya to finish his presidential mandate outside of the country, while they systematically dismantle his legacy.
As with Haiti, Honduras shares the distinction of being among the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere and the prevailing political, economic, and social conditions are basically the same. As with Haiti’s Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991 and 2004, generic allegations of consorting with kidnappers, violation of the country’s constitution, autocratic tendency, and drug dealing are the central charges leveled against Manuel Zelaya. As with Haiti, Honduras’ oligarchy’s interests coalesce with those of the international community and take precedence over the Honduran people’s needs and aspirations. As in Haiti, Honduras’ oligarchy considers itself the guardian of democratic ideals, thus divinely obligated to thwart the diabolical designs of an autocratic populist. Enforcing this illogical precept justifies the means by which Zelaya was ousted.
Naturally, accusations and counter-accusations would fly. As weeks and months passed, fictional or palpable evidence against Zelaya would surface and the international support, he currently enjoys, evaporate. Appropriately, diplomacy, the ancient but potent stimulant for political demagoguery is taking its slow course and allowing the de facto regime to consolidate its hold on power. Washington, the only power capable of bringing an expeditious end to the crisis, is advocating mediation, which basically confers legitimacy to the illegal enterprise. Therefore, despite the public condemnations of the coup coming from Washington, the OAS, and the U.N General Assembly, the deposed Honduran president is likely to spend the remaining months of his term in exile.
An unpromising sign of the inevitability of this outcome is the designation of Costa Rica’s president, Oscar Arias, as mediator in the conflict. “You can call it a negotiation or simply a talk, a conversation, a dialogue but I want the two parties to sit around the table and discuss the issues” said Arias, who won a Nobel Prize in 1987 for helping end the civil wars that threatened to engulf the entire Central America region in the 1980’s. Not surprisingly, Arias is emphasizing “the issues” rather than “the issue”, which should be the unconditional reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya as president. The idea that the coup organizers can win legitimacy by destroying constitutional rule in Honduras is repulsive and nullifies the notion that democracy can help alleviate social, political and economic problems in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries.
As the unfortunate events that happened in Haiti in 1991 and 2004 demonstrated, nullifying legitimate elections under the fallacious pretext of saving democracy has become the preferred method to preserving the Hemisphere’s discriminatory centuries-old systems. As the boycott of the April and June senatorial elections in Haiti established, the resilient but astute Haitian masses are slowly catching up with the subterfuge. If democratically elected presidents can be arbitrarily removed from power on the whims of a few, they surmised, why participate in elections that could be nullified at any moment.
One thing is certain: the strong-arm tactics of the Hemisphere’s oligarchies work. In 2002, Chavez was briefly ousted but reinstated with the help of loyalists from the Venezuelan army. Removed from power by French and US forces in 2004, Aristide remains under order not to set foot in the Western Hemisphere. Now it is Manuel Zelaya’s turn. Could Evo Morales of Bolivia, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua be next? All these leaders have one thing in common: they dared institute political reforms meant to curb or neutralize the power of the oligarchies in their respective countries, a political sin by any means.
The arrogance of the coup organizers is such that even the president of the United States is not immune to their recriminations. The regime’s foreign minister Enrique Ortez Colindres, in a racially-charged statement admonishing Obama to stay clear of Honduras’ affairs, condescendingly called the U.S president “this little black man who has no idea where Tegucigalpa is”. Obama’s transgression: his stated desire to see the return of constitutional rule in Honduras, which somewhat challenges the country’s oligarchy’s “inalienable right to govern” by any means necessary.
Therefore, Mr. Zelaya’s July 5th attempt at returning to power was like a scene out of a Hollywood movie: entertaining and unreal. Although the regime has vowed to arrest the deposed Honduran president on criminal charges and constitutional violations, the authorities prevented the plane carrying Zelaya and the current president of U.N General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockman from landing in the Tegucigalpa airport. Do not expect any sequel. The economic sanctions imposed after the coup would gradually disappear under the rationale “the Honduran people do not deserve to be punished for the actions of their quarreling politicians”, and normalcy, as defined by the oligarchy, return.