The Wall Street Journal
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady
Honduras Defends Its Democracy
Fidel Castro and Hillary Clinton object.
Hugo Chávez's coalition-building efforts suffered a setback yesterday
when the Honduran military sent its president packing for abusing the
It seems that President Mel Zelaya miscalculated when he tried to
emulate the success of his good friend Hugo in reshaping the Honduran
Constitution to his liking.
But Honduras is not out of the Venezuelan woods yet. Yesterday the
Central American country was being pressured to restore the
authoritarian Mr. Zelaya by the likes of Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega,
Hillary Clinton and, of course, Hugo himself. The Organization of
American States, having ignored Mr. Zelaya's abuses, also wants him back
in power. It will be a miracle if Honduran patriots can hold their
That Mr. Zelaya acted as if he were above the law, there is no doubt.
While Honduran law allows for a constitutional rewrite, the power to
open that door does not lie with the president. A constituent assembly
can only be called through a national referendum approved by its
But Mr. Zelaya declared the vote on his own and had Mr. Chávez ship him
the necessary ballots from Venezuela. The Supreme Court ruled his
referendum unconstitutional, and it instructed the military not to carry
out the logistics of the vote as it normally would do.
The top military commander, Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, told the
president that he would have to comply. Mr. Zelaya promptly fired him.
The Supreme Court ordered him reinstated. Mr. Zelaya refused.
Calculating that some critical mass of Hondurans would take his side,
the president decided he would run the referendum himself. So on
Thursday he led a mob that broke into the military installation where
the ballots from Venezuela were being stored and then had his supporters
distribute them in defiance of the Supreme Court's order.
The attorney general had already made clear that the referendum was
illegal, and he further announced that he would prosecute anyone
involved in carrying it out. Yesterday, Mr. Zelaya was arrested by the
military and is now in exile in Costa Rica.
It remains to be seen what Mr. Zelaya's next move will be. It's not
surprising that chavistas throughout the region are claiming that he was
victim of a military coup. They want to hide the fact that the military
was acting on a court order to defend the rule of law and the
constitution, and that the Congress asserted itself for that purpose,
Mrs. Clinton has piled on as well. Yesterday she accused Honduras of
violating "the precepts of the Interamerican Democratic Charter" and
said it "should be condemned by all." Fidel Castro did just that. Mr.
Chávez pledged to overthrow the new government.
Honduras is fighting back by strictly following the constitution. The
Honduran Congress met in emergency session yesterday and designated its
president as the interim executive as stipulated in Honduran law. It
also said that presidential elections set for November will go forward.
The Supreme Court later said that the military acted on its orders. It
also said that when Mr. Zelaya realized that he was going to be
prosecuted for his illegal behavior, he agreed to an offer to resign in
exchange for safe passage out of the country. Mr. Zelaya denies it.
Many Hondurans are going to be celebrating Mr. Zelaya's foreign
excursion. Street protests against his heavy-handed tactics had already
begun last week. On Friday a large number of military reservists took
their turn. "We won't go backwards," one sign said. "We want to live in
peace, freedom and development."
Besides opposition from the Congress, the Supreme Court, the electoral
tribunal and the attorney general, the president had also become persona
non grata with the Catholic Church and numerous evangelical church
leaders. On Thursday evening his own party in Congress sponsored a
resolution to investigate whether he is mentally unfit to remain in
For Hondurans who still remember military dictatorship, Mr. Zelaya also
has another strike against him: He keeps rotten company. Earlier this
month he hosted an OAS general assembly and led the effort, along side
OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, to bring Cuba back into the
supposedly democratic organization.
The OAS response is no surprise. Former Argentine Ambassador to the U.N.
Emilio Cárdenas told me on Saturday that he was concerned that "the OAS
under Insulza has not taken seriously the so-called 'democratic
charter.' It seems to believe that only military 'coups' can challenge
democracy. The truth is that democracy can be challenged from within, as
the experiences of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and now
Honduras, prove." A less-kind interpretation of Mr. Insulza's judgment
is that he doesn't mind the Chávez-style coup.
The struggle against chavismo has never been about left-right politics.
It is about defending the independence of institutions that keep
presidents from becoming dictators. This crisis clearly delineates the
problem. In failing to come to the aid of checks and balances, Mrs.
Clinton and Mr. Insulza expose their true colors.
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A11