An Undemocratic Tide in the Americas

What is the Obama administration thinking?

A close ally of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez sits barricaded in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, having been lawfully convicted of attempting a slow-motion coup in Honduras. Paid bands of his rent-a-thugs are terrorizing and looting the city.

And the Obama administration is effectively cheering them on.

It all began this summer, when Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was deposed and deported following his attempt to subvert the Honduran Constitution.

In a part of the world where strongmen--or caudillos--too often use democratic means to gain power but then refuse to relinquish it, the Honduran Constitution strictly prohibits changing its presidential term-limit provision.

In blatant defiance of this, early this summer Zelaya orchestrated street protests in support of a referendum to rewrite the constitution to allow him to retain power beyond the end of his term in January.

The Obama administration should reverse itself and announce that it will accept the results of the November elections.

By all accounts--including a report issued recently by the independent Congressional Research Service--the Honduran authorities acted legally and constitutionally in ordering and carrying out the ouster of Zelaya.

Zelaya ignored repeated rulings by the Honduran Supreme Court that his actions were illegal, and was only arrested and deported after the Supreme Court (on which a majority of the justices are from Zelaya's party) ruled it necessary.

The Honduran legislature then voted overwhelmingly--including all but three members of Zelaya's own party--to support his ouster and install an interim president. Not a single Honduran institution, from the church to the legislature to the Honduran people's ombudsman--the Defensor del Pueblo--believed he deserved to remain president.

Another reason Honduran officials acted so quickly and decisively against Zelaya is his close relationship with Chavez.

Under Zelaya, Honduras had entered into an anti-American alliance with Chavez called the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americans. ALBA's reason for being is to oppose United States "hegemony" and create Latin American authoritarian governments on the model of Castro's Cuba.

Through ALBA, Chavez has created a tide of incipient dictatorship flowing out of Venezuela and into other countries in Latin America.

Although Chavez, like Zelaya, was democratically elected, he has subverted democracy in Venezuela to ensure his rule will be uncontested for decades. And one-by-one, each of the members of ALBA have followed Chavez's lead and changed their constitutions to remove limits on the number of terms their presidents can serve.

First Bolivia and Ecuador changed their constitutions. Then, this summer, Chavez allies Zelaya in Honduras and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua began agitating to do the same.

First Bolivia and Ecuador changed their constitutions. Then, this summer, Chavez allies Zelaya in Honduras and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua began agitating to do the same.

The Obama administration's reaction to Honduras' attempt to stand athwart this anti-democratic tide in Latin America has been shocking and inexplicable. This summer, the administration promptly labeled the ouster of Zelaya a "coup d'etat" and insisted that he be restored to power.

They have since cut off aid to Honduras and threatened Honduran assets in the United States. Obama Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton even canceled the visas of Honduran Supreme Court members who are refusing to sanction Zelaya's return to power. So much for an independent judiciary.

Perhaps most inexplicable has been the Obama administration's pronouncement that it will not accept the results of the Honduran presidential election scheduled for November as long as Zelaya is denied the presidency.

All parties, including Zelaya's party, are participating and the candidates were selected before the current crisis began. The winner will take office when Zelaya's term would have legally and constitutionally ended in January.

The Obama administration should reverse itself and announce that it will accept the results of the November elections. If they refuse to do so, the Senate should support South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint's effort to block confirmation of President Obama's assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs until the administration changes its mind.

Without the backing of the United States, Zelaya and his thuggish followers will be less emboldened. The elections can proceed peacefully. The rule of law can prevail in Honduras. And we can stop asking ourselves, what is the Obama administration thinking?

Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI.

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