Foreign Affairs

Obama Defaults on Honduras

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez — together with the likes of Cuba’s Castro brothers, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega — is spewing a populist, leftist, and strongly anti-American brand of politics that is spreading throughout Latin America. There, a rebellion against Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution is gathering that the Obama administration seems eager to quell.

One country, Honduras, rejected the Chavista vitriol and embraced freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.  This should have been seen as a win for freedom over tyranny.  But instead, President Obama and his administration condemned the Honduran people and stood with a “who’s who” list of tyrants and thugs of Latin America.

Earlier this year, former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, a Chavez ally, suggested that he might want to stay in power for another term.  There was only one problem: the Honduran Constitution explicitly forbids and makes illegal any attempt to change the constitution.  Mr. Zelaya, taking a page from the Chavez playbook, tried to change the constitution to allow him to run again and stay in power.  

On June 28, 2009, the Honduran people had had enough.  The Honduran Supreme Court and the Honduran Congress, following their constitution, issued an arrest warrant and removed Mr. Zelaya as president.  Rather than embracing the Honduran people — our longstanding allies — the Obama administration called it a coup, turned its back on the Honduran people, and embraced Chavez, Castro, Ortega, and others in insisting that Mr. Zelaya be returned to power.  

The situation in Honduras has shown the Western Hemisphere the true colors of its leaders.

For example, over the past several months, we have seen Brazilian President Luiz Lula da Silva become a disciple of Chavez’s by allowing Mr. Zelaya to create civil unrest and chaos from within the secure walls of the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.  

We’ve seen Chavez meddle in the situation in Honduras, offering Mr. Zelaya the use of his private jet and providing him a safe haven in Venezuela.

And we saw the leader of the Organization of American States (OAS), Secretary General José Insulza, be among the first to call Mr. Zelaya’s removal a “military coup,” as well as fight for and ensure Honduras’ expulsion from the organization.  

But perhaps what is most egregious is the approach taken by President Obama and his administration in dealing with Honduras.

Instead of recognizing that the Honduran people were following their constitution and the rule of law, President Obama immediately called for Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement.  Secretary Hillary Clinton joined other leaders in the region and warned Honduran President Roberto Micheletti of serious consequences if he did not back down and allow Mr. Zelaya to return to power.  

The administration then cut vital aid to Honduras and revoked the visas of many Honduran officials.  They threatened not to recognize the November 29 presidential elections unless the will of the Honduran people was overturned and Mr. Zelaya was returned to power.  And serious questions remain about U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens’ actions supporting Mr. Zelaya and working to undermine the Honduran people and their constitution.

Honduras has been a longstanding ally of the United States.  But is this how the United States should treat our allies and other friends of democracy?  

Sadly, in the Honduras crisis, the Obama administration chose to stand with the likes of Hugo Chavez and other thugocrats in the hemisphere and against the ideas of freedom and liberty.  

The Obama administration has repeatedly gotten it wrong when it comes to foreign policy.  For example, President Obama has sent mixed signals on whether he will commit the resources and forces necessary to finish the war in Afghanistan.  He missed an opportunity to support freedom by failing to support the democracy movement during the stolen election in Iran earlier this summer.  But he has taken the opposite approach in Honduras, meddling in the affairs of a country that is merely following its constitution.  

When I visited Honduras in July, I met with a number of Hondurans who told me that the world looks to the United States as a beacon of hope and opportunity for the oppressed.   But the Obama administration’s actions threaten our standing as the world’s guiding light of freedom and make Hondurans question the ultimate motives of our government.

President Micheletti and Mr. Zelaya came to an agreement a few weeks ago which would give the Honduran Congress the power, with the consultation of the Supreme Court, to decide on Mr. Zelaya’s future once again.  The agreement also calls for a reconciliation government to take over in the meantime.

While this isn’t an agreement I would have signed, we should be proud of the people of Honduras for standing strong in their fight to protect their freedom and democracy.

When the agreement was announced on October 30, Secretary Clinton and the Obama Administration vowed to recognize the results of the upcoming Honduran presidential elections.  We will be watching to make sure they keep that promise.  Yet they must do more.

The administration should take swift action to restore aid to Honduras and it must reinstate the visas of Honduran officials.

In addition, the administration should remove Ambassador Hugo Llorens from his post so he cannot manipulate the upcoming vote.  The U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa must remain neutral as the people of Honduras decide the future of their democracy.

Since the agreement was signed, Mr. Zelaya has been trying to undermine it, refusing to participate in the unity government and demanding that he lead it.  Mr. Zelaya is someone who cannot be trusted, and it’s not surprising that he backed out of the agreement.  The Micheletti government must not back down and allow Mr. Zelaya and others to call for a renegotiation.

Hondurans will head to the polls in a few short weeks and they will show the world that democracy is alive and well in Central America.  At the same time, while the people of Honduras vote, dark forces from Caracas will be trolling across Latin America looking for its next victim, possibly El Salvador.

The thugocrats of the hemisphere — Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua — will continue to attack and destroy democracy at every opportunity.  The United States must not let them win.

The people of Honduras will continue to stand tall during this time of upheaval.  I urge Hondurans to show President Obama, Brazil, Venezuela and especially the OAS that democracy is not a political tool, but a cherished value that must be closely protected and defended at all costs.  And I urge the American people to continue to stand with the people of Honduras as they seek freedom, security and prosperity for their country and for Latin America.

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