Hondurans Pull Off a 'Coup' Against Chavez

When the Honduran National Congress voted 111 to 14 against the reinstatement of ex-President Manuel Zelaya, the Obama administration expressed disappointment.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, said the U.S. was “disappointed” as it had hoped Honduran lawmakers would reinstate Mr Zelaya.


However, he acknowledged that the decision had been reached in a transparent manner through Congress.

This may not be the place to suggest an analogy, but the nationally (and via the internet) internationally televised process at the Honduran National Congress seems, to me, to have been a hell of a lot more transparent than what is currently happening in the Congress of the United States — cap and trade, “stimulus,” Obamacare and the rest of the sorry mess, where the Congresscritters can’t even find the resolve to read what they are voting on.

To express disappointment at the decision of the Honduran National Congress is rather like expressing disappointment over the lack of snow in Washington, D.C., on July 4. Of course the National Congress voted against Zelaya’s reinstatement. It was consistent with its vote in June and with the October 30 Honduras accord — something Zelaya apparently recognized soon after agreeing to the accord, which he then declared void.

Whatever fantasies may have been entertained by Zelaya and others, the action was also consistent with the results of the November 29 national elections, with a popular turnout of approximately sixty-one percent — substantially greater than the turnout for the 2005 Honduran elections. Nor does Honduras’ 2009 election compare unfavorably with the 2008 U.S. elections, where “61.6% of the nation’s eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots. That’s the highest turnout rate since 1968.”

In Honduras, no threats of boycotts or violence against those exercising the franchise were seen. As in the United States, the runner-up conceded gracefully. U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens, who until recently had supported Zelaya against the “coup,” praised the “normalcy and calm with which elections are being developed” and “lauded the housekeeping of the electoral process.”


The usual suspects continue to complain that the election was unfair and that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal was grossly wrong in stating that sixty-one percent of the eligible voters voted. However, the “resistance” has thrown in the towel, stating that it now intends to focus on the elections which are to take place in 2014. President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica has asked President-elect Porfirio Lobo “to consider granting Zelaya amnesty. Arias did not disclose Lobo’s response.” In the meantime, the resistance will probably continue to try to get the Honduran constitution amended, but it is far from clear what exactly they want from that process.

Interim President Roberto Micheletti wrote a letter to the people of Honduras immediately following the elections. A translation into English is available here. It is very much worth reading. The only point of very minor disagreement which occurs to me is this:

And of course, no one more than Hondurans will savor tonight the exquisite flavor of dignity, of liberty, of the right to defend their national honor at the ballot box.

I suspect that many around the world in free countries, and those who wish they lived in free countries, share my vicarious savoring and are as proud of Honduras as I am.

In these circumstances, the Obama administration should be joyful rather than disappointed. The rule of law and the constitutional processes of Honduras won. A free people decided their course independently of the desires of highly repressive regimes such as Venezuela and sanity prevailed.


After throwing major monkey wrenches into the Honduran process from shortly after the ouster of Zelaya in June until finally coming to its senses in late October, it is now high time for the Obama administration to get off its fake Styrofoam pedestal of misguided self-righteousness and make a real effort to undo the mess it helped to create. Although an apology would also be in order, that won’t happen; there is no way to claim that it was Bush’s fault.

The United States should restore cooperation with the Honduran military in drug interdiction — obviously useful to the United States, since that’s where the drugs are going. The United States should restore the economic assistance freely dispensed until shortly after June 28. It should also show a bit of concern about what’s going on in Venezuela, where Hugo Chávez continues to make a pig’s breakfast of everything and finds it so much fun that he wants to export his ways. Since tiny and impoverished Honduras had the requisite courage to resist, maybe other countries will do so as well. That would help — not hurt — the United States.

As Chávez said soon after the June 28 “coup,” “this is a coup against Venezuela! … It must not be permitted.” He added that he would do whatever it takes to teach the coup leaders a lesson. Chávez was not far wrong when he claimed that what happened in Honduras was a “coup” against Venezuela, and he certainly did everything he could to make it go away. It didn’t.


What will happen to Zelaya? I don’t know. His massive ego has been bruised (he may have to buy a smaller hat). His followers who had been camped in the Brazilian Embassy are leaving, and unless President-elect Lobo takes pity on him following his inauguration on January 27, he will either remain indefinitely as the decreasingly welcome and increasingly uncomfortable guest in a suite at the Brazilian Embassy, obtain asylum in some friendly country such as Venezuela or Nicaragua, or face trial in Honduras for numerous crimes.

Asylum in some other country would, in my view, be the best of those three options, preferably in some country sufficiently distant from Honduras that he can’t continue to be a nuisance. Lobo may want to try to reconcile Honduras, perhaps by granting a presidential pardon. I don’t know whether that would be within his power under the Honduran constitution, which gives him “the power to grant pardons and commute sentences according to law.”

An attorney in Honduras will have to answer that question should it arise. Were Lobo to grant a pardon, it might well be viewed as a slap in the face to the Hondurans who elected him. Thus far, he has shown no sense of urgency in dealing with the matter. By rejecting the demands of Zelaya and his “resistance” colleagues that the Hondurans boycott the elections, the voters sent a clear message that they want Zelaya nowhere close to the centers of power.

What will the “international community” do? With the support, albeit lukewarm, of the United States, and the recognition of her democratic elections by Panamá, Colombia, Costa Rica, Japan, and Germany and others likely to follow, what the OAS and its current guiding light, el Presidente Chávez, may try to do probably makes little difference. However, Brazil, a greater economic power in the region than Venezuela, may reconsider its options and decide that Chávez has served his purpose as Brazil’s useful idiot.


On Wednesday, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim both reiterated that the government’s position is to deny the legitimacy of the Honduran electoral process and not recognize the elected president, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo.

However, they both immediately stated that they need time to evaluate the facts in Honduras and reposition their stance.

Local observers said the Brazilian foreign ministry’s strategy is to wait for changes in Honduras’ domestic politics to make its decision.

They added that the Brazilian diplomats are waiting for further cues from the Organization of American States (OAS) and other countries in the region.

The Brazilian officials also said the government may reconsider its decision if the Honduran authorities show respect for democratic principles, which they called a process of “democratic baptism.”

They said the Brazilian representatives won’t make a hurried decision because the Brazilian government is likely to announce a possible change of position after analyzing the changing domestic situation and political developments in Honduras.

If Brazil is waiting for a change in the OAS position, it may (or may not) mean that there is at least a possibility of such change, and in any event that Brazil is slowly coming to recognize that Venezuela needs Brazil more than Brazil needs Venezuela.

Honduras came out as the clear winner and Chávez et al lost — badly. If, as I think and hope may turn out to be the case, this serves as a catalyst for the diminution of Chávez’s standing in Central America, and it develops that what happened in Honduras on and after June 28 was indeed a successful “coup” against Chávez, so much the better.



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