The deal to reinstate Honduran President Manuel Zelaya unraveled this week, leaving the Obama administration as the only government in the western hemisphere willing to let the recent military coup there stand. What can you say when the "world's only remaining superpower" gets strong-armed by the world's original "banana republic"?
This is not "bold leadership." It isn't even status quo, for it has been years since Latin America has seen a military coup like those that plagued the region for much of the twentieth century. There were none, for example, during George W. Bush's time in the White House.
Honduras is one of the smallest, poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. It has about the same population as New York City. It is the country where the term "banana republic" was coined. For one hundred years it has been dominated by agribusiness giants like United Fruit which grow bananas and compliantly corrupt governments there with equal success. In the political turmoil that engulfed Central America in the 1980s, with major civil wars in all of its neighboring countries, Honduras played the role of Washington's doormat in the region, with the U.S. training a proxy army along the Nicaraguan border, running secret air missions over El Salvador, and running enough spies and spooks to keep the internal politics of Honduras on complete lock-down.
This corrupt, compliant, inept doormat of an army is what hustled the country's elected president out of bed at gunpoint and on to a plane out of the country five months ago. And now the Obama administration is left as the only government in the western hemisphere that can't find the cajones to stand up to this doormat military?
Could the problem have something to do with the $400,000 the illegal Honduran government has paid to lobbyists with close ties to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton? Hey wait a minute, wasn't Obama the guy who was going to run the lobbyists out of Washington?
Two weeks ago, Clinton spent 30 minutes on the phone with the leader of the illegal government, and announced that she had secured a deal that would put the elected president back in office, a deal she called a "big step forward for the inter-American system and its commitment to democracy." But no sooner had the deal been announced than the Honduran regime reneged on it, with the apparent blessing of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon Jr., while the rest of Latin America sputtered about the "mixed messages" coming from Washington that were undermining Honduran democracy. Wait a minute. The U.S. is the only country in the hemisphere backing a military coup? Who is in the White House again?
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has announced he is resigning in the face of "mixed messages" from Clinton about Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories, which could leave Israel and the U.S. to deal with Hamas as the sole organized voice of the Palestinian people. Nice work Hillary. Say, aren't you the one who wanted me to vote for you because you were "Ready to be Commander in Chief from Day One?"
With such high stakes in the Middle East, what's the big deal about Honduras? The coup there comes at a point in history when it seemed like Latin America was at long last done with military coups. Democracy has spread throughout the region in recent years as military dictatorships which came to power through coups fell and democratically elected governments took their place. Tens of thousands of people died as the direct result of these coups, in many cases while enduring the sorts of ferocious torture the US has recently been accused of at Guantánamo. In almost every case, the military governments were supported by the U.S.
Some of today's democratically-elected Latin American governments are hanging on by a thread in face of real threats of military coups. Just two days ago Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo fired the commander of Paraguay's armed forces amidst loud rumors of an impending military coup. There is open talk of a coup against Bolivian President Evo Morales, the country's first fully indigenous head of state in the 470 years since the Spanish conquest. A coup in Bolivia would be a catastrophe for Latin America. Blood would flow. You can bet your last dollar that the generals and businessmen who are the subjects of coup rumors in Bolivia, Paraguay and elsewhere have been watching Washington's response to the coup in Honduras with intense interest.
When Barack Obama was elected President of the U.S., there was no place in the world where his rousing call to democracy fell on more receptive ears than in Latin America. The new American president was going to face tough going in many parts of the world, but not Latin America. The troubled relationship between the US and its southern neighbors appeared to be on the brink of a new era. So when the military coup happened in Honduras, I was incredulous. I thought to myself, "These guys don't know what century they are in. What a bunch of fools!" I mean, had these guys been asleep? Didn't they notice the change that had just happened in the U.S.? They would be gone in a few days, no doubt about it. Yet there they are, five months later, in power and going nowhere. And it looks like the upcoming elections there will be recognized by no government in the western hemisphere except mine.
So I ask you: who is the fool now?