Honduras’ ousted President seriously miscalculated bid for extension
On June 30, your newspaper carried an article, “Latam (Latin American) leaders, PPP condemn coup in Honduras,” and while I understand the stated concerns of both those regional leaders and the PPP, it might be helpful to readers to understand the backdrop to this development and see the role President Manuel Zelaya Rosales played in his own ouster.
Now, before I go on, let me say that generally, I am against any coup that overthrows democratically elected governments because they tend to set a precedent which could become cyclical; however, I would only nod in agreement if the government is hurting the people while denying them their right to effect needed change via existing legal channels.
But let me also hasten to ask the Cuban diplomats in Georgetown, who came out against the coup and had their statement and picture published by Kaieteur News, if they ever took an identical stance when Hugo Chavez led a group of military officers in two unsuccessful attempts to overthrow the democratically elected (1988) Carlos Andres Perez regime of Venezuela in 1992? What happened in Honduras last week was no different than what happened in Venezuela in 1992, and though it was almost 17 years ago, I have not even the vaguest recollection of the Cuban Embassy in Georgetown engaging in a photo-op and putting out a statement condemning the Chavez-led attempted overthrow of Venezuela’s elected government.
And when the PPP said in its statement that ‘experience has shown that a military coup is like a curse to a country as it affects development and often leads to bloodshed’, it should take note of my aforementioned reference to Chavez’s unsuccessful attempts twice in one year to overthrow an elected government and in which lives were lost amidst much bloodshed. In fact, if Chavez were a Cuban who tried to do that to Dictator Fidel Castro, he’d be promptly executed; instead, Perez placed Chavez in prison. And while in prison he plotted his second unsuccessful attempt at an overthrow, by audio recording a statement to be played on TV and radio stations and having flyers distributed by helicopter declaring the government was ousted. It didn’t work, and he was eventually freed, but that was a lot of gumption, even if Chavez felt Perez’s government was corrupt (Perez was actually impeached in 1993 by the legislative branch on corruption charges), just like the Zelaya government was full of corruption and cronyism.
Incidentally, corruption and cronyism in Zelaya’s government are being highlighted by his opponents in Honduras as the real reason for his ouster and not just his attempt to extend his term in office via a referendum. The Attorney General there has also made it clear that if Zelaya ever returns he would be promptly arrested, so while I am generally against coups that oust democratically elected governments, I don’t know if I can say I am totally against the Honduras coup because when we consider the corruption and cronyism, analyse the steps Zelaya took to extend his term in office and the resistance he kept getting from those who held the balance of power – the judiciary and the legislature – he actually appeared to be seeking a third term to prevent his government’s corruption from being exposed. There is a lesson to be learned here by all and sundry!
If Zelaya really cared about serving as opposed to hiding corruption and protecting certain loyalists in government, he should have taken a step back, simply served out his term and then go to work lobbying on the sideline for a referendum to extend term limits. If a constitutional amendment allowed for an extended term, maybe later on he could then have tried a second run at the presidency. Sadly for him, he is at fault here!
I am not going to get into the ramifications of the relevance or irrelevance of term limits for heads of government in democracies, but here’s the history that led up to his ouster and why I think Zelaya’s problem was all about a series of miscalculations: Associating with Chavez was his first miscalculation. He won election almost four years ago and somehow became aligned with Chavez and
other socialist governments that have emerged in Latin America in recent years.
Except for bold attempts to form a socialist bloc while claiming that the capitalist system has not delivered, and brazen attempts to hold on to power indefinitely, I have not seen anything tangible to benefit the people so far from the leftist agenda being promoted by Chavez, Castro and company in the region. If you ask me, I think the end game right now is to slowly but methodically establish a regional dictatorship in which socialist governments are active participants under Chavez and democracy and capitalism, as we know them, are eventually done away with.
As a leftist, Zelaya’s policies obviously did not make life that much better for Hondurans in a country that is not only poor, but, in conjunction with the global economic meltdown and the already stated rampant corruption and cronyism in his government, they made matters worse.
And rather than taking the heat directly, he has tried to redirect it to the nation’s elite class; a common tactic of leftists. That was his second miscalculation, since the elite class is the money generating class or the private sector of the country and the government needs them. Just look at what is happening to Venezuela.
Perhaps trying to copycat his pal Chavez, who was successful on his second try in less than a year in getting a constitutional amendment via a national referendum to extend his term in office, Zelaya decided to arrange a nationwide referendum in Honduras to run for re-election. But then the government’s institutions he needed to rely on for support in getting his way, especially the nation’s election body, gave him the thumbs down. That was his third miscalculation, because the Honduran bigwigs saw what Chavez has been up to in recent months, trying to control everything and muzzling the free media in Venezuela, and they don’t want that to happen in their country.
Sometime last week, Zelaya then turned his attention to the military for support in his bid to extend his term in office and that’s when the pot really started boiling.
The head of the military refused to go along with Zelaya’s game plan, and so Zelaya fired him. Following this headline firing by the President, his Defence Minister promptly resigned, creating more headlines. That was his fourth and politically fatal miscalculation; the major turning point in his downfall.
The head of the military’s firing ended up in the country’s Supreme Court, which shocked the President by ruling the firing was unjustified. On Sunday (28-07-09), the day set for the holding of the referendum, the legislative body, the courts and the military got together and Zelaya was placed on a plane to Costa Rica. The very leaders of government institutions he needed to help him win an extended stay in office turned against him!
Now, apart from Chavez and his usual loud mouth belligerence and sabre rattling about trying to help get his ally back in power, what we have witnessed may well hold valuable lessons for other democracies where constitutional term limits apply. One such lesson is not to under-estimate the players who hold the balance of power in the democracy, especially if they firmly believe the democracy is being threatened and if they are fierce supporters of separation of powers. As President of his country, Zelaya seriously miscalculated when he made his pitch for a referendum without first gaining the trust and support of the very players who engineered his ouster. If there was one thing his friend Chavez did on winning elections was to place his own loyalists in positions of power, from the judiciary to the legislature to the army, and then he set about ordering a referendum to amend the Constitution that now allows him to serve beyond 2012. He is now an elected dictator, and unless oil prices keep soaring, socioeconomic conditions will keep deteriorating!
Zelaya’s downfall, therefore, was not so much the result of a blatant assault on democracy as much as it was a failure on his part to secure the support of the major principals who ousted him and who are now claiming they did it in an attempt to save democracy. Zelaya has since been talking about returning to Honduras, but commonsense says if he ever gets reinstated that his government will not be the same.
He will have to either fire all those who helped oust him, which is a very tall order, or he has to cancel his referendum push, serve out his term and settle for giving the presidency a second shot later. Besides, given the widespread corruption and cronyism in his government, if he returns he could be facing arrest and indictments.
And whether he returns of not, what ever happened to politicians agreeing to term limits and sticking to the agreements once elected?
Do incumbents feel they are the only ones with answers and solutions to their countries’ dilemmas so that they should hang on to power beyond their agreed to time limit? Or does seeking an extension in office for some of these people mean they are inherently dictatorial or that they have to prevent uncovering of massive corruption in their governments?