Opposing coups

In an unpleasant throwback to the bad old days of Latin American politics, the president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, has been ousted in a military coup.

Soldiers entered the presidential palace in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and disarmed the presidential guard early Sunday, military officials said. Mr. Zelaya’s private secretary, Eduardo Enrique Reina, confirmed the arrest.

Mr. Zelaya flew into exile in Costa Rica, telling a local television station, “They are creating a monster they will not be able to contain.”

Much of the capital was without electricity on Sunday and residents stood on long lines to buy kerosene for home generators. Military tanks patrolled the streets and military planes flew overhead. Soldiers were on guard at all the main government buildings and military trucks dropped off police at strategic crossings throughout the city, residents said.

Political tensions have increased in recent weeks, as Mr. Zelaya pressed ahead with plans for a nonbinding referendum that opponents said would open the way for him to rewrite the constitution to run for re-election despite a one-term limit.

In the weeks leading up to the referendum, supporters and opponents of the president held competing demonstrations.

Last week, the Supreme Court and Congress both declared the referendum unconstitutional. But on Thursday, the president led a group of protesters to an air force installation and seized the ballots, which the prosecutor’s office and the electoral tribunal had ordered confiscated.

Are military coups against democratically-elected leaders ever justified? What about when the leaders themselves are behaving in ways that are clearly undemocratic? My opinion is that the benefit of the doubt has to be given to the elected leader. That’s why I opposed both Colonel Hugo Chavez’s attempted coup against Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992 and the attempted coup against President Hugo Chavez ten years later.

And that’s why I think the US should join other Latin American countries in calling for the reinstatement of Zelaya.

Caracas Chronicles notes Chavez’s predictably hypocritical reaction to the ouster of his ally Zelaya compared to his eager support for the Iranian regime and its fraudulent and brutal response to the recent presidential election– what some have called a coup.

Update: The Obama administration supported an OAS resolution denouncing the Honduran coup and calling for the reinstatement of Zelaya.