The U.S. has gone halfway around the world to spread democracy. Too bad we don’t practice what we preach a little closer to home.
It is unconscionable that freedom-loving Americans could be standing toe to toe with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Castro brothers in the effort to undermine the people of Honduras as they fight to keep their country free.
It is incredulous that we are insisting that this poor country reinstate Manuel Zelaya, who was forcibly removed from power on June 29, after he attempted to subvert the constitution and hold a referendum to make himself president for life.
Our stand is inexcusable but understandable. The world is like a giant chessboard. Every move that is made must be carefully watched and evaluated. Some countries have more value to us than others. Therefore, they get the lion’s share of our attention. It is inconvenient when too many little countries, deemed to be of no value, begin making moves on their own. It can shake up the game board and force us to change our foreign-policy strategy. This can be annoying.
That is why many U.S. administrations – both Democrat and Republican – have in the past propped up dictators and thugs to keep the status quo and to send a message to the countries around us that coups do not pay. Just ask the people of Haiti.
In 1991, Jean Bertrand Aristide, a man who was democratically elected president of Haiti, began to take the law into his own hands and began a reign of terror as brutal as any the country had seen. In August of that year he lost a no-confidence vote in the legislature but refused to step down. In September, he was forcibly removed by the military and fled to the United States.
At the urging of George H.W. Bush, the Organization of American States began enforcing a blockade that wiped out the country’s light industry and destroyed the small but growing middle class. Bush 41 also gave Aristide access to Haiti’s treasury.
In 1994, President Clinton sent American troops to Haiti to return Aristide to power. Clinton tried to cajole and bribe Aristide into playing the role of president, but he would not cooperate. Aristide remained a de facto dictator until 2004, when he was finally removed to the Central African Republic with the aid of the administration of George W. Bush.
During the Aristide era, the U.S. kept insisting that we had “restored democracy to Haiti.” In the process, many people needlessly lost their lives and we broke the back of the Haitian economy.
Now, in an effort to keep our Latin American neighbors in check, we are beating up on the poor people of Honduras. Honduras is the second-poorest country in our hemisphere, right behind Haiti. Don’t we have enough egg on our face? Have we no shame?
What happened in Honduras on June 28 was legal, though imperfect. The attorney general of Honduras charged Zelaya with violating a number of clauses of the Honduran Constitution. The Supreme Court backed him up, and when Zelaya refused to comply with the court order, a warrant was issued for his arrest. Yes, the army removed Zelaya from the country, but only because it feared violence by his Marxist supporters if he were tried in court.
Roberto Micheletti, the former head of Congress, was the next in line for the presidency, and he was ratified for this office by an overwhelming vote, including the majority of Zelaya’s own party. All of Honduras’ democratic institutions are fully functioning and intact.
Honduras will hold its scheduled presidential election Nov. 29 – the one Zelaya was seeking to undermine – and has invited in independent observers from around the globe. This is not good enough for us. The Obama administration is demanding that Honduras reinstate Zelaya as president even though he is not legally eligible to run again. To further bully Honduras into taking Zelaya back, we cut $30 million in aid, have suspended visas and stood by as Honduras was dumped from the U.N. Human Rights Council by the likes of Nicaragua and Cuba.
This is no way to treat a poor neighbor trying to sustain a democratic government and give its citizens a better life. In the 1990s, our actions to prop up a democratically elected president-turned-dictator reduced Haiti from one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere to one of the poorest countries in the world. Must we do the same to Honduras?