Latin American terrorists?

Honduras’s elected president, Manuel Zelaya, was overthrown in a military coup months ago because right-wingers didn’t like him getting buddy-buddy with Castro and Chavez. A civilian stooge named Micheletti was put in his place, and the congress illegally ratified the coup after the fact. What once looked like brilliant US intervention on behalf of Zelaya and democracy came to an end when Honduras’s congress voted not to reinstate Zelaya, and the US decided to recognize a newly-elected government anyway. William Finnegan’s post-mortem of the fiasco is worth reading, and gives some more background.

Finnegan has two very sharp observations:

  1. The US attempt to restore Zelaya failed because President Obama was defeated by right-wing Republicans like Senator Jim DeMint, who held up key nominations in the Senate in order to coerce a change in US policy. Not only that, but DeMint even traveled to Honduras to tell anyone who would listen that he would bend the president to his will. So much for “politics stops at the water’s edge.”
  2. Obama got played by DeMint because the Administration wasn’t willing to expend the political capital necessary to stand up to DeMint. As Finnegan says, “Honduras is small, poor, weak—a sideshow among the huge foreign-policy challenges confronting this Administration.”

That second point, that democracy in Honduras didn’t matter enough to the Administration to put pressure on DeMint, brings up the obvious comparision: Afghanistan. Afghanistan, too, is “small, poor, [and] weak”. Yet the Administration just finished announcing a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar commitment to support Afghan ‘democracy’. Meanwhile, Honduras actually had a functioning democracy, and didn’t need billions of dollars to keep it going. Yet Obama opted to put his money on Afghanistan and let Honduran democracy fall to military-backed rule.

I say this entirely tongue-in-cheek, but perhaps Latin American democrats worried about sustaining their own democracies should foster some home-grown terrorists that threaten US security. That seems to be the only thing that can get anyone’s attention in Washington, after all.


* A final note: The Inter-American Democratic Charter, an instrument of international law under the Organization of American States, contains clauses prohibiting extra-constitutional changes of government and mandates the OAS with mediating such disputes diplomatically and then suspending a member state if diplomacy fails. It seems that the OAS would benefit from a stronger Charter in this regard. The adopted, but yet-to-be ratified or entered into force, African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance has very strong provisions calling for action up to economic sanctions and other coercive measures for unconstitutional changes of government. Given Latin America’s long (and continuing) history of military coups, the strengthening of coercive pro-democracy measures will likely be a focus of regional diplomacy in the coming years.


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This is a group blog. JSC5 currently writes from the US. JSC7 writes from behind the Great Firewall of China.

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