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In recent weeks we have been treated to the spectacle of the president of what still remains the most powerful nation in the world bullying a small, poor country.
On June 28, the Honduran Army arrested that country’s president, Manuel Zelaya, put him on a plane and flew him out of the country. President Obama has joined other countries in condemning this as a military coup.
The problem is, it wasn’t really a coup.
Zelaya, who has allied himself with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, wanted to extend his time in office beyond the expiration of his term in January. In order for Zelaya to run for another term, Honduras’ constitution needed to be changed. Zelaya went about organizing a constituent assembly to do this.
This precipitated a constitutional crisis because Honduras’ constitution only authorizes the country’s congress to call a referendum, and Honduras’ congress opposed the idea. Following the example set by his Venezuelan mentor, Zelaya ordered the army to distribute the ballot papers, which had been printed in Venezuela. When the army’s commander refused to obey what amounted to an unlawful order, Zelaya fired him.
Honduras’ Supreme court reinstated the general and the country’s electoral commission confiscated the illegal ballots. The constitutional crisis deepened when Zelaya led a mob to the air force base where the ballots were stored and carried them off. He then ordered public employees to collect signatures for the constituent assembly.
At this point, the army arrested him and kicked him out of the country. The army wasn’t freelancing, either. It was acting under a warrant from Honduras’ supreme court to conduct a raid to arrest Zelaya. General Romeo Vasquez, head of the Honduran army, has since said that Zelaya was exiled because it would be dangerous to imprison him.
President Barack Obama has joined a chorus of international voices demanding that Honduras reinstate Zelaya. The United States, the biggest single aid donor to Honduras, has cut off some aid and is threatening further aid cuts to the little Central American country if Zelaya is not reinstated in office.
The problem is that most Hondurans appear not to want him back.
Granted this all was done in a clumsy manner. If an American president had done such things, Congress would have impeached him and removed him from office. However, I understand that Honduras’ constitution doesn’t have a clear-cut mechanism for removing a president, so I’m not sure what else they could have done about a president who considered himself above the law and was willing to use mobs to get his way.
Honduras doesn’t constitute a threat to the United States either. The Honduran government’s action doesn’t mean that we need to start digging trenches in Texas and prepare to repel an imminent Honduran invasion. There is nothing about this situation that justifies American meddling in what amounts to an Honduran constitutional crisis that Hondurans need to work out on their own.
The most powerful country in the world putting the squeeze on the third poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere is not one of our proudest moments. President Barack Obama should be ashamed of himself.