I don’t know that it gives me any special insight into the situation, but I was in Copan, Honduras, the night one head of state was replaced with another. The military had apparently cut the power and water supply, and walking to breakfast, a friend and I saw some armed soldiers jogging in the distance. But waking up in a Central American country and finding that the lights don’t work, the shower won’t turn on, and some armed men are lining up outside isn’t really cause for surprise. I thought nothing of it. Sunday’s La Prensa -the country’s biggest paper-had been printed before the takeover, so it wasn’t much help. Indeed, the paper I read Sunday morning was filled with furious denunciations of the president, his disregard for the constitution, his affinity for unlimited executive power, and his affiliation with Hugo Chavez. And when I boarded a bus bound for Guatemala City the same morning, I still thought it was President Zelaya-not the military-who was transforming the purported democracy of Honduras into something else altogether.
As Brookings’ Kevin Casas-Zamora explains , "There are many villains in this play ... Zelaya pursued his ambition with total disregard of his country’s constitution." Zelaya’s removal, though carried out by soldiers, was ordered by the Supreme Court and backed by the legislature. Cato’s Tom Palmer drives the point home:
Imagine that George Bush, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan or some other American president had decided to overturn the Constitution so that he could stay in power beyond the constitutionally limited time. To do that, he orders a nationwide referendum that is not constitutionally authorized and blatantly illegal. The Federal Election Commission rules that it is illegal. The Supreme Court rules that it is illegal. The Congress votes to strip the president of his powers and, as members of Congress are not that good at overcoming the president’s personally loyal and handpicked bodyguards, they send police and military to arrest the president. Now, which party is guilty of leading a coup?
I don’t have the answer to that question, and having been so close and known so little, I suspect very few people really understand what is going down in Tegucigalpa.
Photograph of soldiers in Hondras by Yuri Cortez/Getty Images.