Nearly all the commentary about the coup in Honduras has emphasized two things: (1) that Zelaya is a completely unsympathetic figure here as his attempted power grab through a constitutional assembly precipitated the coup, and (2) that this certainly was a coup and Zelaya should be reinstated. I say nearly all, because some people actually don’t believe it’s a coup. Instead, it’s a run-of-the-mill “military impeachment” and part of the country’s “checks and balances”. The most extreme suggest we should not worry if this was a coup, we only need to ask: “[d]oes the fact that the coup is in the interests of the United States even matter to our president?”
I want to focus on The Wall Street Journal opinion piece because it tries to square the circle in the most coherent manner. What this says about the Journal’s worldview I want to leave aside and focus on a couple of points the article tries to make. First, the piece takes as sacrosanct all the legal fig leafs the supporters of the coup has trotted out. Then it tries to make a point that this coup is part of Honduras’ checks and balances. I’m no expert on Honduras constitutional law (and the Constitution is not a simple document to understand), but I don’t seem to be able to find the provision which gives the Supreme Court the ability to order the military to take the President. No doubt some would say, that the military was acting for the legislature and the Supreme Court. Besides the fact that the Court has a reputation as “one of the most corrupt institutions in Latin America” (according to Larry Birns, director of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.) Greg Weeks sums it up nicely:
Roberto Micheletti and other coup supporters insist everything was legal. If their actions could be deemed legal by virtue of specific laws, that would bolster their assertion that Zelaya’s removal was legitimate. Yet the coup is now about 36 hours old, and to my knowledge no one has explained what law was followed, who issued the court order for picking up Zelaya and flying him out of the country, and what legal basis the new government has for remaining in power until the next presidential election.
Moreover, the coup threatens the democratic order that Central America has tried hard to instill in the past two decades. This region only recently emerged from several longstanding civil wars (in Nicaragua and Guatemala) and democracy has a weak footing with the exception of Costa Rica. A military intervention into civil politics threatens this nascent order. The fact that Zelaya was himself acting beyond the letter of law does not make the military’s also unconstitutional actions any better. The military removed the democratically-elected president of Honduras and assumed control of the country. The Brookings Institute put it best: “While bearing by far the greater responsibility for this crisis, Mr. Zelaya is still the legitimate president of Honduras and must be reinstated in his position.”
To put the Wall Street Journal op-ed in perspective. Here is Mary O’Grady in 2003 defending the ’73 Pinochet coup in Chile on very similar grounds as with the recent coup in Honduras.