The United States Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, an extremely competent diplomat, tried very hard to keep Honduras's Congress from ousting President Manuel Zelaya. After his arguments and pressures were exhausted, and faced with something that seemed inevitable, he did what he could: he sheltered the president's son at his residence to save him from any violent outcome.
Fortunately, Zelaya's expulsion from the presidency and from his country was bloodless. It wasn't exactly a military coup: the Army acted on orders from the Supreme Court after Zelaya's continued violations of the law. The ousted president seemed intent on getting reelected, even if it meant violating the Constitution, and on dragging the nation into Hugo Chávez's "21st century socialism" camp against the will of the Honduran people.
Nevertheless, if there is still something worse than the depressing spectacle of a freely elected president forced to leave his country at gunpoint, it is that same leader trying to force his way back in. If Zelaya returns, he will be arrested and charged with an array of crimes. His imprisonment will embarrass any who decide, irresponsibly, to accompany him on such a mad adventure.
This is most grave. Hugo Chávez and Daniel Ortega are already talking about invasions and resorting to force. That could unleash a bloodbath and would certainly destroy the weak political institutions that Honduras labored to achieve three decades ago, when the era of military dictatorships mercifully ended. Peter Hakim, president of Inter-American Dialogue, put it this way: "Zelaya is fighting with all the institutions in the country. He is in no condition really to govern."
And that's the truth. According to Mexican pollster Mitofsky's April survey, Zelaya was Latin America's least popular leader. Only 25 percent of the nation supported him. Another survey found that 67 percent of Hondurans would never vote for him again. Why? Because the Hondurans attributed to him a deep level of corruption; because they assumed he had links to drug trafficking, especially drugs originating in Venezuela, as former U.S. Ambassador to the O.A.S. Roger Noriega revealed in a well-documented article published in his blog; and because violence and poverty -- the nation's two worst scourges -- have increased dramatically during his three years in power.
Simply put, a huge majority of the country -- including the two major political parties (including Zelaya's), the Christian churches, the other branches of government and the armed forces -- do not want him as president. All agreed that he should finish his mandate and leave power in January 2010, but no one wanted him to break the law to keep himself in the presidency. Hugo Chávez has already done that, and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, Bolivia's Evo Morales and probably Ecuador's Rafael Correa are also trying to do the same. The Hondurans, without question, do not want to go down the path of Hugo Chavez's collectivist and anti-Western "caudillismo," allied to Iran, Cuba and North Korea.
What to do under these circumstances? The worst idea is to resort to force. The government of interim President Roberto Micheletti already is summoning reservists and the Army is preparing to defend the nation's sovereignty. The nationalist discourse is heating up with talk of "defense of the motherland" against foreign enemies. They worry about foreign aggression, shrewdly propelled by Chavez and his crew, in which -- inexplicably this time -- the Americans have sided with the enemies of democracy and the rule of law.
If a conflict explodes, one of the Western hemisphere's poorest countries will suffer the bloodletting that Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua experienced during the Cold War.
The solution is to move forward with the general elections planned for November. It's a solution within everyone's reach: the candidates are already there, freely elected in open primaries, and both enjoy much popularity. Why plunge this society irresponsibly into a maelstrom of violence? Once the new government is selected, a government that enjoys the legitimacy generated by a democratic process, the Honduran people can push this lamentable episode into the past.
That will be best for almost all parties in the conflict. Zelaya may lose the game, but Hondurans will not pay with their blood for the mistakes and misdemeanors of a maladroit ruler.
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