So, obviously it’s never a good sign for democracy when the president is bustled out of the country under military guard. But I’m nevertheless a bit perplexed about the univocal condemnation—and simliarly one-sided coverage—of the ouster of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. Without pretending to any expertise on the Honduran political scene, here’s what I’ve gathered to be the context: Zelaya was pushing for a national referendum on whether he should be able to seek reelection, though the constitution limits him to a single term due to end in January. The country’s Supreme Court declared this move illegal, and the congress recently passed legislation similarly barring any such plebiscite, but Zelaya was apparently undissauded. This weekend, under an order from the Supreme Court, the military spirited Zelaya off to Costa Rica. The line of succession was observed, and the president of the congress, a member of Zelaya’s own party, ascended to the presidency with the confirmation of the legislature.
Grant that this is a mess either way, that this is hardly an outcome that a liberal democrat should feel comfortable with, and that there are almost certainly aspects of this that I’m missing. Is it actually obvious that Zelaya is on the side of “democracy” here? It sounds like he’s the one trying to circumvent the law to extend his own power, and that his removal had the backing of the other legitimate branches of government. That’s not to say I think the United States ought to support the coup—again, I don’t really understand the details of the situation, and I don’t know that it would be our affair in any case—but since we’ve been hearing a lot recently about the virtues of remaining netural on the internal power struggles of sovereign nations, a principle I think is generally a sound one, I’d think it behooves us to follow the same policy here.