Thursday, August 28, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

The Elephant in the Room: Going against democracy

By supporting a Chavez wannabe over constitutional principles in Honduras, Obama has chosen the wrong side of a struggle - again.

Mauel Zelaya was ousted as president of Honduras in a coup on July 28. (Miguel Alvarez/AP)
Mauel Zelaya was ousted as president of Honduras in a coup on July 28. (Miguel Alvarez/AP)

Hugo Chavez was democratically elected to the presidency of Venezuela - initially, in 1998.

Ever since, the Venezuelan strongman has done everything in his power to undermine constitutional democracy, the rule of law, and basic freedoms in Venezuela. In addition, he has inflamed anti-United States sentiment across Latin America, and he has forged alliances with Iranian despot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian regime's Hezbollah proxies, and terror outfits such as Hamas.

All of this is bad enough to have in our backyard, but Chavez hasn't stopped there. Flush with petro-dollars, he has succeeded in exporting his unique brand of authoritarianism throughout Latin America, including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Honduras was to be the next domino to fall.

By late last month, though, the Honduran people had had enough. They sent President Manuel Zelaya, a Chavez wannabe, packing.

Bravo for them? Not according to President Obama, who has insisted on the reinstatement of this democratically elected president.

True, Zelaya was democratically elected to the presidency - initially, in 2005. But ever since, he's been trying to copy Chavez's power grab.

The Honduran constitution, and the Honduran people's allegiance to it, have posed a problem for the corrupt and reckless Zelaya. The constitution strictly limits presidents to one four-year term. And that's among the eight constitutional articles that cannot be amended by the president and a congressional majority. In fact, the article declares that anyone found to "incite, promote, or aid in the continuation or reelection of the president" faces loss of citizenship.

Zelaya wasn't fond of this constitutional limit, and, a la Chavez, he tried to find a way around it. What's a would-be dictator to do? Get yourself a new constitution. It worked for Chavez.

Zelaya just had to persuade two-thirds of the Honduran Congress to approve a referendum calling for a national constituent assembly, which would be able to write a new constitution. But he couldn't be bothered with such formalities. So he simply issued an executive decree ordering a national referendum to be held by the end of last month.

The Honduran armed forces initially pledged to provide logistical support for Zelaya's referendum. But after the Supreme Court, the Congress, the attorney general, and the country's supreme electoral tribunal unanimously opposed it, the military stopped playing along. So Zelaya fired the head of the military and ignored a Supreme Court order to reinstate him. The Congress, which is dominated by Zelaya's own party, started discussing impeachment.

Zelaya decided to take matters into his own hands. Along with a thousand of his paid activists, he drove to an air force base in Tegucigalpa, the capital, to pick up referendum ballots flown in from - drum roll, please - Venezuela!

Disobeying a court order, Zelaya took the ballots and distributed them. The Supreme Court ordered the military to arrest Zelaya. Only then did the armed forces do so and exile him to Costa Rica.

This is what the popular media, the "international community," Obama, and Chavez are calling a military coup. But Zelaya's government was not replaced with a military dictatorship. The Honduran Congress, following constitutional procedure, voted Zelaya out and replaced him with the head of Congress, Roberto Micheletti.

What are the lessons here? First, democracy requires more than a single vote. Once elected to power, Chavez and his Latin American cronies have exploited democratic procedures to undercut the constitutional protections and institutions that make true democracy possible. Honduras was headed down the same anti-democratic path toward joining an anti-American alliance.

Second, Obama chose not to side with the heroic, pro-democracy revolutionaries in Iran. Now he has gone a step further and sided with an anti-democratic Chavez clone over the brave, principled democrats in Honduras.

It is one thing to scuttle President George W. Bush's pro-democracy agenda. It is quite another to consistently side against democrats seeking to liberate their countries from anti-American tyrants.

 


The Elephant in the Room:

Rick Santorum will chat about this column with readers at 11 a.m. today on the Editorial Board's blog, "Say What?", at http://go.philly.com/saywhat.


Rick Santorum can be contacted at rsantorum@phillynews.com.

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