Monday, June 29, 2009

Obama vs Honduras

In Monday's news were two notable developments which suggest Obama may be more left than he was generally perceived last year.

The first is Obama's backing of ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. Although it was an army move that sent Zelaya into exile (on board a plane provided by Hugo Chavez), the judiciary and the legislature - arms of government that act as checks on the power of the executive in democratic states - had called for Zelaya's ouster. After an independent electoral tribunal had ordered the (made in Venezuela) ballots Zelaya intended to distribute (as part of his hopes to change the constitution) to be confiscated, Zelaya himself led a group of supporters to an airforce base where they carted off the ballots. Zelaya's apparent unwillingness to accept the term limit mandated by the constitution was thus the proximate cause of his overthrow. As noted by a Washington Post writer,
Public sentiment in Latin American is running strong against tinkering with constitutions to give presidents more time in office.... A one-term limit is commonplace in Latin America. It is meant as a legal check to ensure that the region's rich tradition of public corruption and political patronage could only last so long in some of these nations.

The Honduran Congress swore in its speaker, Roberto Micheletti, as the new interim president. Micheletti promises to step down after general elections in November. People that are familiar with Honduras (check the comments boards on the Economist and elsewhere for input from people actually in Central America right now) add that Zelaya has furthermore lost a great deal of support within his own party and has a poor record on dealing with the country's corruption problems.

One would think that the international community would accept the developments in Honduras contingent upon there indeed being free and transparent elections in November, not least because backing Zelaya at this point promotes further instability and, more importantly, plays into Chavez' hands. The US State Department's even-handed statement on Friday could have been left standing without Obama declaring his support for a Chavez ally. Meanwhile, he is leaving Columbian president Uribe, who has made great strides in bringing prosperity and, more importantly, security to his country out in the cold by denying him the free trade agreement he is seeking.

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