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Con: Obama supports legally deposed thug

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David A. Ridenour
August 15, 2009
EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, Should the United States push more aggressively to return Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to power?

The Senate recently confirmed Sonia Sotomayor as the 111th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it needn’t have bothered. The Obama administration apparently believes Supreme Courts can be ignored.


After removal of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from office, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quick to condemn the move, saying it could create a “terrible precedent.” What terrible precedent did she think might be established? A Latin American country actually following its constitution? Despite what you may have heard, there was no coup d’etat in Honduras.


Manuel Zelaya, a Hugo Chavez wannabe, was legally removed from office for violating his country’s constitution in an effort to extend his power.


Zelaya had proposed a national referendum to amend the Honduran constitution to permit him to serve an unlimited number of terms—much as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez proposed in 2007. However, unlike Venezuela, the chief executive in Honduras is constitutionally barred from proposing such a referendum.


Zelaya was legally removed from office in a 15-0 decision by the Honduran Supreme Court for violating Article 239 of the constitution, which states: “No citizen that has already served as head of the Executive Branch can be President or Vice President. Whoever violates this law or proposes its reform … will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years.”


Significantly, nine of the Supreme Court Justices are members of Zelaya’s OWN party.


To the court’s credit, its initial response to Zelaya’s referendum was restrained. Rather than ordering his immediate removal from office, it ruled his referendum unconstitutional and ordered the military, which normally carries out balloting logistics, to refrain from distributing ballots.


But Zelaya decided to go ahead with it anyway. When his country’s top military leader, Gen. Vasquez Velasquez, refused to violate the high court’s order, Zelaya fired him. When the court ordered him reinstated, Zelaya refused.


Zelaya and a group of his supporters then broke into a military facility where the referendum ballots were stored, stole them and began distributing them in violation of the court’s directive. The ballots, not surprisingly, were printed in Venezuela.


Zelaya shouldn’t have just been removed from office, he should have been imprisoned.


Yet, the United States condemned Honduras and rescinded all aid to the country—an unfortunate consequence of a secretary of state completely out of her depth.


The Hondurans can be forgiven if they’re just a little bit protective of their constitution. At the time Honduras adopted its current constitution in 1982, it had already gone through 15 constitutions since gaining independence from Spain—a new one, on average, every 10 years.


Previous constitutions proved ineffective in restraining executive power and led to a succession of authoritarian military regimes. This is why the current constitution requires the removal of any president who proposes extending his term.


One can’t argue with the results. President Zelaya’s election marked the seventh consecutive democratic election in Honduras, the most in its history. By removing him, Honduras was simply acting to prevent that streak from ending.


By denouncing rather than praising Honduras’ defense of its democracy, the Obama administration sent the wrong message to Hondurans.


It sent the wrong message to Hugo Chavez and other regional despots who now must question America’s commitment to defending democracy.


And it sent the wrong message to Americans concerned about Obama’s commitment to democratic values.


If Barack Obama continues to put his ideology before freedom, he may fall to a kind of coup himself—something the rest of us like to call “elections.”


David A. Ridenour is vice president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank. Readers may write to him at NCPPR, 501 Capitol Court NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; Web site: www.nationalcenter.org.

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