Monday, June 29, 2009

Coup Rocks Honduras

Honduran soldiers blocked a street near the residence of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in Tegucigalpa on Sunday.

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TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Honduran soldiers rousted President Manuel Zelaya from his bed and exiled him at gunpoint Sunday to Costa Rica, halting his controversial push to redraw the constitution but spurring fresh concerns about democratic rule across Latin America.

Zelaya wanted to rewrite the constitution, charging that the current one is skewed in favor of national elites (wonder what his stock is). The Army refused to cooperate, and the Supreme Court declared his scheme unconstitutional. He vowed to go on, anyway.

Mr. Zelaya called the action a kidnapping, and said he was still president. The U.S. and other countries condemned the coup. President Barack Obama said he was "deeply concerned" and called on all political actors in Honduras to "respect democratic norms." Venezuela President Hugo Chávez, a close ally of Mr. Zelaya and nemesis of the U.S., said he would consider it an ''act of war" if there were hostilities against his diplomats. "I have put the armed forces of Venezuela on alert," Mr. Chávez said.

Well, a kidnapping? Yes. Chávez blusters any time he can. An act of war? What is he going to do? Invade?

Honduras's Supreme Court gave the order for the military to detain the president, according to a former Supreme Court official who is in touch with the court.

A former official? Now, if the Court issues an order, is that constitutional?

Later, Honduras's Congress formally removed Mr. Zelaya from the presidency and named congressional leader Roberto Micheletti as his successor until the end of Mr. Zelaya's term in January. Mr. Micheletti and others said they were the defenders, not opponents, of democratic rule.

'Tis a quandary.

Supporters of Honduras's President Manuel Zelaya demonstrate in front of a tire bonfire in Tegucigalpa.

Honduras, one of Latin America's poorest countries, was a staging area for the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan Contra rebels during the 1980s. The country of about eight million people subsists on exports of bananas, shrimp, coffee, apparel and remittances from Hondurans in the U.S.

Washington called the removal of President Zelaya a coup and said it wouldn't recognize any other leader. The U.S. stand was unpopular with Honduran deputies. One congressman, Toribio Aguilera, got prolonged applause from his colleagues when he urged the U.S. ambassador to reconsider. Mr. Aguilera said the U.S. didn't understand the danger that Mr. Zelaya and his friendships with Mr. Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro posed.

Between a rock and a hard place: Zelaya wasn't exactly respecting democracy, but removing him before his term expires isn't deemed acceptable. And many Hondureños did not like Zelaya.

Latin America analysts said the Honduran coup will complicate President Obama's efforts to re-engage a region where anti-Americanism has flourished in recent years. They said Mr. Chávez is likely to seize on the crisis to depict Central America as under attack.

Which is absurd; this is an internal Honduran matter, and Chávez is sticking his nose into it because he wants to exert regional influence.

As a result, analysts said Mr. Obama will need to aggressively call for the reinstatement of President Zelaya, despite U.S. concerns that he is seeking to mirror Mr. Chávez's campaign to secure limitless rule.

"It's very important for the U.S. to come out against the coup and make the point that the U.S. supports democracy unequivocally," said Kevin Casas-Zamora, Costa Rica's former vice president and a senior fellow at Washington's Brookings Institution. "This would prevent Chávez from stealing the show."

Mr. Casas-Zamora and other regional analysts said the coup raised questions about just how much influence Washington actually has in Central America, given the Obama administration's failed effort to avert it. Honduras receives more than $200 million in development aid from Washington annually.

At a Sunday news conference in Costa Rica, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, ousted at gunpoint by the army hours earlier, denounced his exile as a kidnapping.

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