The Economist reports on the coup in Honduras:
THE scene was reminiscent of many in the 20th century, when military coups against democratic governments were sadly common across much of Latin America. At dawn on Sunday June 28th a group of soldiers barged into the residence of Manuel Zelaya, Honduras’s president, disarmed his guards, dragged him to an air base and flew him to exile in San José, Costa Rica. The army silenced the state television station, cut electricity supplies and the bus services in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and sent tanks and planes to patrol the city. “I was brutally taken out of my house and kidnapped by hooded soldiers who pointed high-calibre rifles at me,” said Mr Zelaya. “But until the next elections, I will continue to be the president of Honduras. Only the people can remove me.”
The toppling of Mr Zelaya took the region by surprise. Honduras, although small, poor and ravaged by corruption and violent gangs, has seemed a more solid democracy than, for example, neighbouring Guatemala. Mr Zelaya, a Liberal, alienated the leaders of the country’s main political parties last year by joining the leftist Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, an alliance led by Venezuela’s populist president, Hugo Chávez. Yet Mr Zelaya’s policies have been only mildly social-democratic, such as an increase in the minimum wage.
The cause of Mr Zelaya’s downfall was his attempt to emulate Mr Chávez by organising a referendum to call a constituent assembly. He seemed to hope that this would enable him to remain in power, perhaps by changing the constitution to allow him to stand for a second term in an election due in November. This embroiled Mr Zelaya in a conflict of powers. The Congress and the courts both rejected the referendum.
One of the nice things about the end of the cold war is that civil disputes like those in Honduras and Iran play themselves out more or less internally – if these events happened back in the 1970’s or early 80’s then the US and the USSR would pick sides (more or less arbitrarily) pour guns and money into these countries and let them tear themselves apart for a decade or so. Obviously an anti-democratic coup is not great, but such events are now universally condemned. Twentyfive years ago Reagan would have been praising the new dictator of Honduras as a ‘founding father’.