When I think about the 1980s, I am reminded of Pac-Man, Thriller and right-wing Central American military coups by School of the Americas graduate.
President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was ousted by the army on Sunday, capping months of tensions over his efforts to lift presidential term limits.
In the first military coup in Central America since the end of the cold war, soldiers stormed the presidential palace in the capital, Tegucigalpa, early in the morning, disarming the presidential guard, waking Mr. Zelaya and putting him on a plane to Costa Rica.
Mr. Zelaya, a leftist aligned with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, angrily denounced the coup as illegal. “I am the president of Honduras,” he insisted at the airport in San José, Costa Rica, still wearing his pajamas.
Later Sunday the Honduran Congress voted him out of office, replacing him with the president of Congress, Roberto Micheletti.
Romeo Vazquez, the head of the Honduran military, matriculated at the School of the Americas.
Both the Organization of American States and President Obama spoke out against this coup, which apparently was carried off to prevent a vote of the people on a new Constitutional convention. It's a puzzling rationale for a coup, but the opposition feared that Zelaya would use the referendum on a new Constitution to rewrite it, and give himself the opportunity for more terms in office, I guess.
As a result, the Army, which normally distributes ballots, declined to do so, the President sacked the head of the Army, his Attorney General argued to the Supreme Court that the firing was illegal (on the rather puzzling grounds that "it regarded the president's decision to hold the referendum as "illegal," and therefore his order to the military commanders as well"), and the Supreme Court agreed.
Meanwhile, the Congress banned referenda within 180 days of a general election, thereby making this referendum illegal. The President took the ballots so that the referendum could be held, and today the military removed him from power and flew him to Costa Rica.
The President's supporters seem to think that he plans to use a National Constituent Assembly to create some sort of Chavez-like system in Honduras. His supporters seem to think that the coup just reflects an entrenched oligarchy's unwillingness to contemplate anything that might reduce their power. (Some Honduran takes are here.)
For my part, I am puzzled. (Seriously: I know nothing about Honduras.) If holding an Assembly to revise the Constitution is such a bad idea, why not just vote no on the referendum? If the people would, in fact, like to have such an Assembly, why not have one? What, in short, is so scary about a referendum that simply asks whether people would like to have an Assembly that might revise the Constitution in as yet unspecified ways? And even if there's some reason for thinking that it is scary, is this (seemingly) mild, non-binding referendum anywhere near threatening enough to hold a coup over?
Probably not, but oligarchs reacting to a populist leader find whatever thin reed they can to topple them.
I guess the United States tried to step in and stop this coup from happening, but the military broke off talks at some point and went ahead with their plans. Of course, these plans do not appear to meet with the will of the people, who are protesting despite a curfew. And they do not meet with the will of the world, which has offered near-universal condemnation of this coup. It appears Hugo Chavez is willing to go further than the rest of the Western world and threaten open war against the Honduran military, which can't be good for civilians, either. Stay tuned.
...Wow, the Wall Street Journal editorial page supports overt military coups. Not just at cocktail parties, but in their own pages.