We’ve always tried to stay away from foreign policy on this blog. ButÂ since the news of the takeover of the government by the military, people have been calling me to get my take. (I have a long relationship with Honduras and with individual Hondurans, and have visited the country more than a dozen times in the last few years.) Here’s what I know–from phone calls,Â blogs,Â and news accounts:
Honduras is a relatively young democracy. After years of unstable governments, Honduras adopted a Constitution 27 years ago. Since then, the Honduran government has been, for Central America, relatively stable.
President Manuel (Mel) Zelaya is nearing the end of his term. The Honduran Constitution specifies that the Presidency is a single-term office. But it was widely believed (both in Honduras and around the region) that Zelaya was going to try to alter the Constitution so he could run for a second term. In elections for local offices, scheduled for yesterday, ZelayaÂ tried to addÂ a “cuarta urna,” (fourth ballot box) so citizens could express their desire for Constitutional “reform,” which would allow for a second term.
The referendum was opposed by Hondurans across the political spectrum, including most of the members of Mel’s own party. I certainly heard stories (unpublished, but widely believed) that institutions such as hospitals were using a combination of threats and bribes (“We cannot treat you at this hospital unless you plan to vote for the cuarta urna” was the basic rumor) to influence the outcome of that referendum.
The Supreme Court had made a determination that the referendum was illegal and had ordered that the ballots and ballot boxes not be distributed. The military complied with that Supreme Court order, so Zelaya fired the head of the Joint Chiefs. Later,Â Zelaya’s allies seized the ballot boxes and began distributing them.
So yesterday, just before the election was to begin, the military removed Zelaya from office.
My take on this:
Zelaya was probably planning a government takeover, not unlike the one executed by his ally Hugo Chavez.
Nonetheless, we should all be deeply concerned about a return to military takeovers in Central America.
If Zelaya is returned to office, there must be assurances that regular elections will be held on schedule.
If Zelaya is not returned to office, it must be clear that a democratic government will continue to rule in Honduras.
UPDATE: Two emails from Honduras. One, from a doctor who says he “has seen a REAL coup–This one was NOT a coup!”
Another, from a priest, “There is a lot of support for the change in Honduras that was made according to the Constitution.”