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THE INDEX — July 20, 2009

Somalia's al-Shabaab Islamic militants released a statement on Monday direct

Henry "Chip" Carey: In Honduras, No Easy Solutions

The ongoing crisis in Honduras, stemming from the June 28 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, does not lend itself to many obvious solutions acceptable to both sides. A second-best solution may be all that the new mediator, former Nobel Peace Prize winner and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, might be able to achieve. Thursday’s separate meetings of Arias with Zelaya and then the de facto president, Roberto Micheletti, indicated possible common ground, but also no immediate solutions. Neither met his interlocutor, though the talks will continue. Thus far, the United States has backed the Arias mediation, which has bought Washington time before it may have to cut its military assistance to Honduras, which U.S. law mandates once a democratic government has been removed extra-constitutionally. The history of U.S. military cooperation with the government and military of Honduras has remained extensive, since the 1980s, when Honduras hosted the U.S.-backed Contra rebels, who were attempting to undermine the Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua. Not surprisingly, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears to have persuaded Zelaya, after their Tuesday meeting in Washington, to negotiate, rather than rush right back to Honduras to attempt to take power. On Sunday, July 5, Zelaya had unsuccessfully attempted to land his airplane in the capital, Tegulcigalpa. The Honduran army, though, blocked the air strip, while also killing at least one protestor that had gathered in solidarity to receive Zelaya at the airport. With elections scheduled for later this year, the simplest procedure might simply be to let the voters decide between the two presidential claimants. The problem here, though, is that the Honduran Supreme Court has already ruled that Zelaya is ineligible to compete under the existing, single term-limit system. Indeed, his desire to run again for office was exactly what spurred the apparent coup in the first place.

Henry "Chip" Carey: A Constitutional Crisis in Honduras

If it succeeds, the universally condemned Honduran military coup could send a disastrous signal to Latin America and beyond that the long slog of democratization can be interrupted on a moment's impatience. Deposed President Manuel Zelaya’s past performance leaves much to be desired, but so do the nation's institutions, which need democratic reform, not military mentorship. Honduras represents an archetypal "Tier-II" category of democracy. As a nation, it has underperformed in forming a broad democratic alliance, and often bent the rules to build the rule of law. It needs time, patience, and nurturing—even when democratically elected leaders govern undemocratically. The unpopular, populist President Zelaya built a narrow coalition, alienating the business community while attempting to overturn single-term limits on the executive office. Zelaya had damaged his democratic credentials by failing to respect judicial independence in disagreeing with the Supreme Court decision to strike down his planned plebiscite that sought to allow him to run for president again. The vote (which would have amended the constitution) was planned for this past Sunday—though it is not clear he intended it to be binding. Things heated up even further when the chief of the army, Gen. Romeo Vasquez, refused to allow the army to provide logistical support for the referendum. Zelaya promptly fired him, and the Supreme Court jumped back into the fray, demanding he be reinstated. In the end, the military, legislative leaders, and the president failed to work out compromises, even with some mediation from the U.S. ambassador, to prevent the breakdown of democracy. The new ruling authoritarian coalition claims to be using a constitutional solution to the crisis by protecting the new president, Roberto Micheletti, who was previously head of the legislature. Indeed, many Hondurans have argued that a coup did not actually occur, since the legislature and Supreme Court had declared Zelaya's referendum and various other acts to have been unconstitutional. In response, the court played its own constitutional card, by ordering the armed forces to reestablish a "democracy." Thus, Micheletti's constant public refrain: “democracia, democracia, democracia." Barring the chorus of claims from both sides over what is "constitutional" and what is not, it is important to note that, most likely, this was a classic middle-class coup—a Brumarian moment of relief for the privileged, bolstered by constitutional distortions to correct constitutional distortions. Zelaya had won office on a conservative, law-and-order ticket but increasingly had adopted the populist tendencies of many of his fellow Latin American leaders, alienating broad swathes of the legislature and the business community. Perhaps the new regime (if it remains in power) may actually keep its word and reconfigure itself democratically, as it claims. Occasionally, when democratic leaders govern undemocratically, a new authoritarian alliance can put things right. But, in practice, it is usually the exception to the rule and a pretext for other aims—all too often, it is might that makes right. Worse, coups signal that the military is to be the arbiter. But in Honduras, the “man on horseback,” as the military is depicted, often governs in nineteenth-century, caudillo ("strongman") fashion, making order by giving orders.



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