Events in Honduras took a dramatic turn last week as an agreement was finally reached that could defuse the country's long-running political crisis. But the coup's defenders in the United States will likely maintain the dangerous stance they have adopted since late June. Ambassador Otto Reich's Oct. 27 article on ForeignPolicy.com perfectly captured the ideologically driven revisionism that conservatives have peddled since the coup that replaced Honduran President Manuel Zelaya with de facto president Roberto Micheletti. Reich vigorously defended Micheletti's assumption of power as the victory of the rule of law and a stand against Latin American leftists.
Although only a narrow segment of U.S. policymakers shares this view, it has consistently attacked the regional and international consensus around the events of June 28 as well as the only appropriate solution to the political crisis. Now, with the agreement on Zelaya's return awaiting the Honduran Congress's approval, Micheletti's apologists will likely depict Zelaya's return as a cowardly concession to another would-be Hugo Chávez. Once again, they will miss the mark. The deal struck last week offers a responsible, democratic exit from the four-month political crisis in Honduras.
In recent months, U.S. conservatives have argued that Barack Obama's administration should recognize the Nov. 29 elections in Honduras as a way out of the political crisis. They made the case that in the democratic transitions that swept the hemisphere in the 1980s, the United States recognized elections held by previous authoritarian regimes to facilitate transitions to democracy; doing the same in Honduras, they contended, would offer a way out of a seemingly endless political deadlock.
This comparison is as dangerous as it is wrong. Allowing a government that came to power through unconstitutional means to ride out an interim period to the next election and then transfer power would set a perilous precedent for U.S. foreign policy in Latin America and beyond. Honduras in 2009 is neither emerging from a civil war nor struggling to end years of authoritarian rule. Instead, the country suffered a coup -- an unconstitutional disruption to its democratic order -- that requires a different remedy.
Since the coup, conservatives have called on the Obama administration to respect the rule of law in Honduras, which they say supports Micheletti's assumption of power. It is true that Zelaya abused his position and ran roughshod over democratic institutions in his bid to maintain power. It is also true that his return should be as part of a coalition government, in which his role is constrained. But the legal defense for his ouster does not hold water.
Micheletti's supporters cite a recent Law Library of Congress report* on the events of the coup to defend their claims, but ignore the fierce rebuttals this report has elicited. One of the most thorough was done by Rosemary Joyce of the University of California-Berkeley, following the legal analysis done by the University of Notre Dame's Doug Cassel. Joyce argues that the Honduran congress does not have (nor did it claim to have) the powers to remove the president that the LLC report suggests. She also debunks the idea that the congress can get rid of a president by "disapproving of him" -- the argument made in the LLC report -- even if it followed the right procedures, which it most certainly did not.