- By José R. CárdenasJose R. Cardenas was acting assistant administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development in the George W. Bush administration.
The Associated Press dispatch from Honduras this past weekend opens thus:
The return of ousted former President Manuel Zelaya from exile Saturday brings Honduras’ nearly two-year political crisis to an end and hope to one of the poorest nations in the Americas."
Sure. And if you believed that, you’d believe Fidel Castro is going to call for free and fair elections in Cuba next week.
Only the willfully deluded or the dangerously naïve would believe that the return of the disgraced former president means anything more than increased civic disturbances, more violence, and more chaos in one of Latin America’s poorest countries.
Why? Because that is the way Hugo Chavez wants it.
The Venezuelan autocrat has bankrolled the two-year exile of his puppet Zelaya, as well the international campaign to force the oligarch-turned-populist’s return to Honduras. Chavez has never gotten over the fact that Zelaya’s attempt to replicate the Chavez model in Honduras was cut short by his impeachment by the Honduran Congress and his removal from office by order of the country’s Supreme Court for violating the country’s Constitution and other illegal acts. (Zelaya’s apologists insist on characterizing what transpired as a "military coup.")
Chavez aims to exact his measure of revenge against Hondurans for their rejection of his radical populist project and, by hook or crook, either reinstall Zelaya as president or prepare the way for a successor who will finish the job.
While Chavez acting as the thug that he is comes as no surprise, what is noteworthy is the complicity of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, whose government teamed with Chavez to engineer Zelaya’s return. It is now apparent that President Santos cannot run away fast enough from the legacy of his wildly successful and pro-U.S. predecessor Alvaro Uribe. And peace and stability in the region will be the poorer for it.
Santos’s foreign minister, María Ángela Holguín, is in Washington this week for a bit of diplomatic back-slapping with Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, another co-conspirator in forcing Zelaya’s return who can always be counted on to do the wrong thing. (The OAS is scheduled to vote this week to reinstate Honduras, after they were suspended in the wake of Zelaya’s ouster.)
So what we have here is that instead of allowing the Honduran people to move on with their lives following the turbulent and polarizing Zelaya years, they are now forced to accept the anti-democratic fox back into the henhouse just so a few Latin American politicians can preen before the cameras celebrating their diplomatic "victory."
And just what message is this "victory" sending to the hemisphere? That it is perfectly acceptable that an elected president can run roughshod over democratic institutions, undermine separation of powers, and rewrite the constitution to seek indefinite re-election? That co-equal branches of government must remain supine before any president bent on aggressively aggrandizing power? That the Chavez model is a paragon of democratic legitimacy and rule of law and any attempts to legally thwart it are ipso facto illegitimate?
How noble. And what will these leaders say when the first Honduran lies dead in the street because of Zelaya’s irresponsible and reckless exhortations? How easy it is to let someone else be a martyr for your cause.
Zelaya’s return to Honduras is no victory for democracy, rule of law, or the inter-American system. It’s a flat-out defeat for the principles upon which any healthy democracy is based. And, sadly, the price will be paid by the Honduran people.
(Full disclosure: In July 2009, I was part of a team that advised a Honduran delegation that traveled to Washington to defend the constitutionality of Zelaya’s removal from power.)