Many journalists and policymakers in Latin America (and the United States) still refuse to acknowledge that Zelaya’s removal was lawful. But a 2009 Law Library of Congress study concluded 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.” To be sure, that same study also affirmed that Zelaya’s exile violated Article 102 of the Honduran constitution, and Ramón Custodio, a senior official in the interim Honduran government that took power following Zelaya’s removal, later said that sending him to Costa Rica was an “error.” (We should, however, recall that the Honduran military had a very good reason for shipping Zelaya abroad: The Chávez acolyte had made clear his willingness to use violence to maintain power.)
Back in 2009, the Organization of American States (OAS) responded to Zelaya’s ouster by temporarily suspending Honduras. (The country was readmitted in June of last year.) At the time of this writing, the Washington-based regional body had yet to suspend Paraguay over Lugo’s removal, but there was rampant speculation that it might do so.
Whatever one thinks of the impeachment controversy, it would be utterly hypocritical and morally unserious for the OAS to expel Paraguay after repeatedly turning a blind eye to the obliteration of democracy in Venezuela, not to mention autocratic abuses in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua.
Four years ago, for example, Nicaragua’s ruling Sandinista Party blatantly stole municipal elections (including the mayoral election in Managua), prompting the United States and Europe to freeze economic aid. A year later, the Sandinistas used thuggish and illegal kangaroo-court tactics to abolish presidential term limits, thereby allowing Daniel Ortega to seek reelection. The country’s 2011 election, won by Ortega, was marred by still more Sandinista shenanigans. While the European Union’s chief election observer, Luis Yáñez-Barnuevo, agreed that Ortega was the victor, he was dubious of the Sandinistas’ official victory margin. “I am not saying that they won cleanly and transparently, because we don’t know what would have happened without all these tricks and ruses,” Yáñez-Barnuevo said.
At no point during this relentless assault on democracy was Nicaragua suspended from the OAS. Nor has Venezuela been suspended despite Chávez’s creation of a virtual dictatorship. Nor has Bolivia been suspended despite experiencing more than six years of political persecution and democratic erosion under President Evo Morales. Nor have Argentina and Ecuador been suspended despite their governments’ persistent attacks on press freedom.
By now, the double standard employed by OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza (in office since 2005) is embarrassingly obvious. Regardless of their misdeeds, Chávez and other autocratic leftists have no need to fear punishment from Latin America’s premier multilateral institution.
But the problem goes beyond Insulza. If Latin America’s most powerful nations were truly serious about defending democracy in their own region, the OAS might have taken a real stand against the dictatorial abuses of Chávez & Co. Instead, countries like Brazil have allowed the Venezuelan strongman to undermine democracy both at home and abroad, without raising a peep. Indeed, on the same day last month (June 29) that the South American trade group Mercosur suspended Paraguay from attending its meetings, the group also announced that Venezuela would soon become a permanent member.
A final word about Venezuela and Paraguay: Paraguayan officials have accused Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro of trying to incite a military coup to keep Lugo in office, and they have withdrawn their ambassador from Caracas. For that matter, Venezuela was apparently not the only country that attempted to trigger a pro-Lugo uprising among the Paraguayan armed forces: As Foreign Policy blogger Francisco Toro notes, “Ecuador’s ambassador to Paraguay also tried to instigate a military revolt, qualifying the episode as a full-fledged international conspiracy.”
Just don’t expect the OAS to pay much attention.
(You can read this article in Spanish here.)