No Strongman for Honduras

Monday, July 27, AD 2009

Tomorrow will mark one month since Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was roused from his bed by members of the military and escorted, in his pajamas, to a plane heading out of the country. Later that same day, June 28th, the Honduran congress elected Roberto Micheletti as interim president, with a term to expire on January 27th, 2010 — the date on which Zelaya’s term would otherwise have ended.

Since then, things have held in a state of tense limbo. No other country has recognized Micheletti as the legitimate president, and Zelaya is now camped out on the Honduras/Nicaragua boarder pushing for his return. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, a backer of Zelaya, has darkly threatened consequences if he thinks Venezuelans in Honduras might be threatened, but to date no outside power has attempted to force the Honduran military to stand down.

However, the situation is more complicated than a simple coup. This in depth article in the weekend’s WSJ on the lead up to Zelaya’s ouster is a pretty good primer on the subject. The military removed Zelaya in response to orders from the Honduran Supreme Court for the military to arrest Zelaya for disobeying the constitution. Zelaya was attempting to push through a ballot referendum to change the constitution — his primary object according to most Honduran authorities and observers being to remove the constitutional provision which limits each president to only one term in office. In this, he was following the example of other Latin American presidents who have sought to remove the constitutional provisions in their countries that were designed to keep one man from maintaining power indefinitely.

Continue reading...

13 Responses to No Strongman for Honduras

  • I thought this was a good post. I have a friend who was a missionary in Honduras when the coup happened who left out of fear of an invasion or other violence. This post mirrors much what of what she’s told me about the situation.

    She also has her own blog, if anyone’s interested:

  • “there is no denying that the precedent of the military stepping in and removing a sitting president, no matter how poorly behaved, is deeply troubling — especially in a region in which there is such a recent history of frequent military coups.”

    To what extent is this concern simply a habit of the Anglo-American approach to government and the military? In many Latin American countries, doesn’t the military have police powers we Americans would rigorously separate?

  • Nine years ago, a column of soldiers and civilian demonstrators ejected the President of Ecuador from office. The Clinton Administration remonstrated with the parties involved to allow the constitutionally-designated successor to take office. This was done after some hours and the matter was closed. That particular column of soldiers was not, as were their Honduran counterparts, enforcing a court order. IIRC, the deposed President of Ecuador, Jamil Mahaud, seemed relieved to be rid of the office (the country being in the midst of a wretched economic crisis). The disposition of the U.S. Government this time has been inexplicably stubborn in insisting that this dodgy fellow Zelaya remain in office. Roberto Micheletti is the constitutional successor, Zelaya has almost no partisans left in the national legislature, and general elections are due to be held on schedule in November. It sometimes seems as if when this Administration is given a choice of alternatives, in reliably chooses the worse one.

  • “there is no denying that the precedent of the military stepping in and removing a sitting president, no matter how poorly behaved, is deeply troubling — especially in a region in which there is such a recent history of frequent military coups.”

    There are nineteen Latin American republics. The last conventional military coup among them – featuring the replacement of the antecedent government with a military board or autocrat – occurred in Paraguay in 1989. The last which featured the replacement of a constitutional administration with a military government occurred in Bolivia in 1980. You have had various incidents falling short of that, where the president of the republic was ejected from office but the whole of the remaining nexus of constitutional office-holders remained in place. In a couple of cases, the military was the prime mover and in others, the president resigned and left the country in response to street demonstrations.

  • It may be my combination of American cultural prejudices and too much reading of Roman history (where although many of the better emperors were generals — the tendency of generals to vie for imperial power was in the long run destructive) but I would prefer to see the military not involved in removing a sitting president from power even if they then step aside to allow another constitutional leader to take power. It just seems like a destabilizing force.

    So in that sense, I’d marginally prefer to see a politically neutered Zelaya returned to power for a few months and then replaced.

    However, my overall sympathies are much more with Micheletti and the military. What must absolutely not happen is for the Obama administration to put the power behind Zelaya to allow him to come and band make himself a Chavez-style indefinite president.

    It sounds like part of the problem is that for some reason the Honduran constitution includes no provision for impeaching a sitting president, though it does allow for replacing him if he’s left the country. (Thus Zelaya’s expulsion rather than arrest and trail.)

    At first it seemed like the administration had taken precisely the wrong approach to thing, but apparently Clinton is now no longer calling Zelaya’s outer a coup (which Zelaya is objecting to loudly) and is only pushing for his return with sharply limited powers. With those conditions, I could see that being the best way to save the appearances, though I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Micheletti serve out his term instead. To my mind, the essential thing is that elections take place as scheduled in November and Zelaya not be on the ballot.

  • I may be wrong, but one of the things that I’ve found interesting is that there doesn’t appear to be much popular support for a return to power of Zelaya (which one would expect if it were a stereotypical military coup). Besides supporting a ‘rule of law’ approach to the situation, by supporting Zelaya’s return Obama may undercut Chavez’s status as a regional powerbroker. I wonder how much that was a factor.

    DarwinCatholic: What is the meaning of your username?

  • DarwinCatholic: What is the meaning of your username?

    Well, sad to say, it’s not that I’m from Australia.

    My handle dates back to my own blog (still active, and co-written with my wife) which bears the subheading, “Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don’t survive.” When we got going, I was writing a lot about the demographic tends of different political and philosophical viewpoints. As it happens, I also have a lot of interest in evolution and its relation with religion, so the theme sort of tied in there as well.

    Since I’ve been around as “DarwinCatholic” for about four years now, it seemed like a shame to lose the branding even though I went ahead and put my real name on the contributors page here, so I’ve kept the handle.

  • I came over from the Vox Nova link after I saw your comment on Exceptionalism. It embodied so well the frustrations that I’ve felt about people who have seem to confuse principled opposition of one sort with partisanship or unreasonable attention to ‘one issue amongst many.’ I thought it was a terrific comment!

    I’m interested in the relationship between evolution and philosophy (and ideologies of all sorts)- especially the theory that memetics is akin to genetics.

  • Thanks. I was a little disappointed none of the principals there responded to that, but so it goes.

    I’m never sure whether to think that memetics is terribly clever or terribly silly, but the idea of selective pressures acting on ideas is certainly interesting. There do certainly seem to be selective pressures on ideas, which include how well they fit observable reality, whether they provide the user with a certain sense of satisfaction, and whether they encourage behavior likely to result in their perpetuation. (e.g. The Shakers’ beliefs about celibacy were a major obstacle to their continuance as a sect.)

    I’m wary of the whole thing, because it seems like memetics is partly a way of treating ideas as if their appeal is more important than their truth, but it does seem like a useful way of addressing why certain ideas are persistance regardless of their truth.

  • “I’m wary of the whole thing, because it seems like memetics is partly a way of treating ideas as if their appeal is more important than their truth” – Well, I think that it is not so much that it says that such things are more important (which is a value claim) as it is a theory to explain why some ideas succeed and others don’t (which is a non-normative account of patterns of behavior). After all, societies do seem to adopt ideas in ways that do not merely take into account the verity of the ideas. (Otherwise crackpot ideas would never become popular and good ideas would never be assigned to the historical dustbin.)

  • True. And in that aspect I think it’s an interesting approach to ideas, and has the capacity to tell us a bit about ourselves in that what ideas appeal to us tells us about ourselves.

    I guess it’s not the field itself that I’m concerned with so much as some of the people who seem to be interested in it.

    But then, that can be said of many fields, many of which I find interesting.

  • I guess it’s not the field itself that I’m concerned with so much as some of the people who seem to be interested in it.

    Do you have an opinion of Rene Girard? Isn’t he the father of mimetic theory?

  • Both views have their origin in the word ‘mimema’ (something imitated), but one is memetics and the other is mimetics. I’m not very familiar with the modern continental philosophers, but I think that his idea deals with how imitating other people is a feature of human psychology. (?)

    Memetics is a term that the biologist Richard Dawkins came up with. The original idea seems to have been that from an evolutionary perspective, the success of an organism is actually a matter of gene transmission (and not the fate of the organism itself)- but that beyond that, it wasn’t the genes in the sense of particular genetic material, but the genetic coding. In other words, it was the information encoded in the genes. The theory is that just as a gene can be understood as a self-replicating unit of biological information a ‘meme’ (it rhymes with ‘theme’) is a self-replicating unit of information that is cultural rather than biological.

    Memes can be technological innovations, or stories, or ideologies, or any information that can be transmitted and reproduced from person to person. The interesting part is that you can look at the way that memes are transmitted or mutate and draw analogies to the way that genes work- and theorize about what has or will happen to ideas in a culture.