Sunday, June 28, 2009

Honduras' Manuel Zelaya Ousted in Coup

The military has expelled Honduran president Manuel Zelaya in what is the first post-Cold War military coup in Latin America. There will no dobut be plenty more as I (or others) know more, but some quick thoughts:

-This is a pretty....interesting.....event. Zelaya's opponents have viewed his efforts to amend the constitution to allow a second presidential term as a Chavez-ian powergrab. I just don't buy this. Maybe Zelaya had the goal privately, but given the number of countries in the last 15 years that have increased the presidential terms from one to two (Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Peru, for example), there doesn't seem to be anything that indicates that Venezuela rather than, say, Brazil, is the example of Zelaya's efforts. Thus, pointing to the one case (Venezuela) in Latin America in which an open-ended presidential administration to say that your president is trying to do the same, without pointing to at least four other cases where the president did not set up an open-ended administration, seems like flawed logic, to put it lightly. Again, perhaps this is Zelaya's secret goal, but if it is, it's a major secret, and there's as much evidence that Honduras could end up like the other four, rather than like the one outlier.

-While it's technically the first "successful" coup since the Cold War (there was the effort to overthrow Chavez in 2002), and definitely the first military one, it's definitely too soon to say where this is going, and I'm not even going to try. Once this plays out over the next few days/weeks, then we'll have a better idea where things may go. Some quick (tentative) thoughts include the fact that the new "interim" president will be the president of Honduras's Congress, Roberto Micheletti. But Micheletti is from Zelaya's party, which makes things particularly interesting. If he's remotely like Zelaya in terms of ideology, he could simultaneously have broad support from the working classes and a major "legitimacy" issue from the elements involved in the coup of Zelaya who would have reason to already be suspicious of Micheletti's administration. This is all a long way of saying this is really in flux, and it's almost impossible to figure out where it will go until things settle down (or at least develop further).

-That said, Zelaya's manuevering (including leading civilians to an air force base to take ballots), while perhaps brave, also (initially) strikes me as overextending himself, if not being downright foolish. When the middle class, elites, and military are all against you, it has traditionally been a bad idea to openly take on the military on its own turf with the support of the poor and working classes. This isn't to say that it could never succeed, and certainly, contexts vary, but this has been the problem behind too many coups in Latin America in the 20th century to ignore in this particular case. As above, time will make things clearer, but my first reaction is that this is a case of a president overestimating the power he could draw on these kinds of moves, and he found out too late that the opposition both in society and the military was more than equal to the challenge.

-Finally, I look forward to Erik's discussion of this, as I believe he has arrived in Honduras on the same day the coup has happened.