Saturday, July 4, 2009
Barack Obama's actions in response to the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya seem very peculiar for the reasons I have already noted, but they are interesting in another way.
It seems clear that the President Zelaya was attempting to establish a new constitution so that he could remain in the office of the presidency. The existing constitution had a firm one term limit for the President, which could not be amended. In fact, it also provided that anyone who proposed its reform "will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years." In South and Central America, such a limit makes perfect sense, where strong Presidents had often usurped power, and continue to do so in the model of Hugo Chavez. In that part of the world, the Napoleonic system of a dictatorial president, established through a referendum of the people, has been used much to the detriment of the liberties of the people. Instead, the Honduran Constitution seems to have eschewed this radical form of democracy in favor of a republican system.
Obama's statement that the ouster was an illegal coup is therefore interesting. I am not aware of any analysis issued by the State Department explaining why it was illegal. It may be, but even if it was illegal, it was clearly in response to an apparent presidential illegality that was threatening the republic.
Based on the statements of the Obama Administration, it seems that Obama simply views the ouster as illegal because the President was elected and he was ousted without an impeachment (even though the military was acting at the orders of the Supreme Court). The view seems to be that an election is key and that other limitations on the elected government are to be viewed as secondary, even if they are necessary to preserve freedom. Lets call this the "freedom and democracy are simply about elections" view.
In many ways, one might also believe that George Bush held a variant of this view of freedom and democracy. His attempts to establish democracy
throughout the world were flawed in part because they did not realize the
preconditions for democratic freedom -- preconditions that exist in places where
democracy is successful. Successful democracies generally emerge in
countries with some tradition of the rule of law and where there are operating
markets. I was always (and continue to be) skeptical that one would get functioning
democracies in the Palestinian territories or in
Thus, it seems to me that both Bush and Obama have simplistic and unrealistic approaches to democracy. Neither President sufficiently appreciates that democracy is an accomplishment that requires much more than elections to support it.