By the Wall Street Journal
As military “coups” go, the one this weekend in Honduras was strangely, well, democratic. The military didn’t oust President Manuel Zelaya on its own but instead followed an order of the Supreme Court. It also quickly turned power over to the president of the Honduran Congress, a man from the same party as Mr. Zelaya. The legislature and legal authorities all remain intact.
We mention these not so small details because they are being overlooked as the world, including the U.S. President, denounces tiny Honduras in a way that it never has, say, Iran. President Obama is joining the U.N., Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez and other model democrats in demanding that Mr. Zelaya be allowed to return from exile and restored to power. Maybe it’s time to sort the real from the phony Latin American democrats.
The situation is messy, and we think the Hondurans would have been smarter — and better off — not sending Mr. Zelaya into exile at dawn. Mr. Zelaya was pressing ahead with a nonbinding referendum to demand a constitutional rewrite to let him seek a second four-year term. The attorney general and Honduran courts declared the vote illegal and warned he’d be prosecuted if he followed through. Mr. Zelaya persisted, even leading a violent mob last week to seize and distribute ballots imported from Venezuela. However, the proper constitutional route was to impeach Mr. Zelaya and then arrest him for violating the law.
Yet the events in Honduras also need to be understood in the context of Latin America’s decade of chavismo. Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez was democratically elected in 1998, but he has since used every lever of power, legal and extralegal, to subvert democracy. He first ordered a rewrite of the constitution that allowed his simple majority in the national assembly grant him the power to rule by decree for one year and to control the judiciary.