Commentary Magazine


Zelaya, Honduras, and Obama

Yesterday morning, John R. Thomson wrote at National Review Online that Roberto Micheletti — the president of the Honduran Congress, a member of ousted President Manuel Zelaya’s party, and the person unanimously chosen to complete Zelaya’s term after the Supreme Court ordered the army to remove him from office—described the ouster as “a democratic act,” and that it will not affect the elections scheduled for November 29 to choose a successor to the term-limited Zelaya.

As retired career diplomat George Landau—the former U.S. ambassador to Chile, Paraguay, and Venezuela—observes, “This was not a military coup. The military blocked an attempted civilian coup by Manuel Zelaya, as he defied Honduras’s Supreme Court, its Congress, and his own political party. Instead of calling for his reinstatement in office, we should congratulate the Honduran government on removing the president peacefully.

According to Thomson, “not one informed Honduran—including members of the media—has opposed Manuel Zelaya’s removal from office.”

While many regretted the need to do so, all said the move was both legal and necessary, a position supported by Honduran attorney general Luis Alberto Rubí, who had threatened to prosecute Zelaya if he actually held some form of referendum.

Late yesterday afternoon, two unidentified “senior [Obama] Administration officials” held a background briefing for reporters.  They responded as follows to a question about the characterization of Zelaya’s removal as a “coup:”

QUESTION: . . . earlier this week, Secretary Clinton gave us to understand that you were holding off on a determination on whether it was indeed a military coup. . . . Is that still your stance, even though I know that . . . the Legal Adviser’s Office has begun the process of determining whether it was a military coup and, therefore, whether the aid cutoff is triggered? . . .

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  . . . [B]oth the President and the Secretary have described events in Honduras as a coup, which they certainly were once the current claimant to the presidency swore – was sworn in before the congress after the forcible removal of the legal and constitutional president, Mel Zelaya. . . .

In regard to the illegal detention and expulsion of President Zelaya, this was an act which was unconstitutional and illegal and cannot be tolerated. . . .

Unconstitutional, illegal and cannot be tolerated:  a harsh position, harshly expressed, delivered in as harsh a manner as possible—by press conference.  The New York Times reports this morning that American officials were “giving Honduras a cold shoulder” and that they “said that they had not had any official or unofficial contact with the interim government.”

It’s almost as if Honduras were an adversary of the United States rather than an ally—although if it were an adversary the “no-meddling” principle might kick in.

If it could make contact, Honduras might protest that it interprets its own constitution differently from the Obama administration, and that there is no difference of opinion on the issue between its Congress, Supreme Court, civilian attorney general and military lawyers.

But Honduras would undoubtedly find that its interpretation is, as Secretary Clinton might explain, unenforceable.