Gonzales: Intervene against intervention

The United States declared a policy of “non-intervention” in the affairs of sovereign nations in 2009, but in the case of Honduras — historically a strong American ally — the United States has intervened on several occasions on behalf of an anti-American caudillo, Manuel Zelaya.

The State Department has indicated that it will not accept the Honduran elections that will occur on Nov. 29, even though the primary candidates were democratically and freely elected before the June 28 crisis that resulted in Zelaya’s ouster. The administration is acting against its own interests by supporting Zelaya, a person Secretary of State Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 has described as “reckless,” and a strong ally of regimes seeking to undermine the United States.

In addition to supporting the return of an anti-American leader, the United States intervened in the internal affairs of Honduras and cancelled the visas of members of the independent Honduran Supreme Court and many in the Honduran Congress for opposing Zelaya’s attempt to unconstitutionally extend his rule.

Americans who care about their Latin American allies need to know how much Hondurans have suffered over the last few months and in particular in the last few days, partly as a result of U.S. actions.

The return of ex-President Zelaya to Honduras on Sept. 22 — which was seen as an “opportunity” by Secretary Clinton — has caused widespread devastation and chaos in the country. Several banks and grocery stores were looted by Zelaya supporters. Many Hondurans had to fight their way to buy food when the national curfew was temporarily lifted. The citizens of Honduras had to hide inside their homes after Zelaya indicated that he “came in peace,” but that if he was not reinstated his call was for “fatherland or death.” He declared the need for a “final offensive” on Sept. 28, even if it resulted in violence. Zelaya is now planning to establish a “parallel” government to run the country after the November elections and has called for a national insurrection. Many of his supporters are mercenaries paid by Hugo Chavez.

Because the United States has cut relief to Honduras, many doctors, teachers and farmers paid by international aid could lose their jobs, and Honduras could fall into a greater maelstrom. Many international and local businesses that provide valuable jobs are considering leaving Honduras because of the political instability. Funds have been withdrawn from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration leading to concern about the supply of currency reserves. People fear for shortages of food and gas.

Is this what the international community wants? It is easy for those who don’t have family in Honduras or are not in the country to pontificate about the situation in favor of Zelaya — a chaotic man who is putting the lives of his own people in danger. His attempts to recklessly land in Honduras in July, to revolt near the border with Nicaragua a few weeks later and to secretly enter the country are a clear indication of how he has led a country of 7 million people to the threshold of madness — with the “non-intervention” support of the United States and the international community.

My Yale education has influenced my perspective on the Honduran political crisis. As an undergraduate at Yale in Berkeley College 16 years ago, I audited classes taught by John Gaddis and Paul Kennedy. Those professors often said it is important for U.S. foreign-policy stakeholders to understand the reality inside foreign countries and to conduct thorough research of the history and predominant trends of other nations prior to shaping U.S. policy toward those countries.

Based on this, I believe that supporting the Honduran November elections is the best avenue to avoid further bloodshed.

Yalies should seek to become thoroughly informed about the situation in Honduras to make up their own minds about the political crisis. In addition, Yalies such as John Kerry ’66, who became Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 2009, as well as former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, can play an important role in the debate. Yale students can contact their representatives in Congress to let them know that supporting the November elections can be an important solution to the crisis.

Oscar gonzales is a 1993 graduate of Yale College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences .


  • -

    Great points! well said!

  • &

    “The administration is acting against its own interests by supporting Zelaya, a person Secretary of State Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 has described as “reckless,” and a strong ally of regimes seeking to undermine the United States.” Is that what you think the United States should be doing? Acting in its own interests? Because “acting in its own interest” is exactly how the United States would justify its intervention in Honduras in the 1980s, an exploitative intervention that supported despotic regimes and death squads. On one hand, we may be thankful that the United States is NOT acting in its “own interest” in this case. On the other hand, one would hope that acting in its own interest, for the United States, implies supporting democracy around the world, even when these democracies are ostensibly opposed to American policies. Manuel Zelaya was unconstitutionally removed from office. Supporting fraudulent elections by a fraudulent government is acting in no one’s interest, save the few élites who stand to gain from Zelaya’s ouster. Zelaya may have rather theatrically staged his return to Honduras, but it is outrageous to suggest that the “suffering” in Honduras is purely the fault of Zelaya. The Micheletti coup began the “maelstrom” and are the ones perpetuating it through curfews, violence, and threats against other nations’ sovereign territory (i.e. the Brazilian Embassy). If it is important, as you say, “to conduct thorough research of the history and predominant trends of other nations” then any historical observer” then any careful historical observer, aware of past American involvement in Honduras, would know that declining to support illegal governments is in the best interest both of American foreign relations and, more importantly, of Honduran democracy.

  • Alum

    Zelaya’s actions, though imperfect and not irrelevant, should be a secondary concern in this case. The primary concern is that Micheletti has already opened the right-wing Latin American dictator playbook and is running some of the classics — eliminating all public dissent and having his security forces beat and kill people in the streets with impunity.

    You rightfully point to the fact that Micheletti is “pro-American” as opposed to Zelaya — would you care to finish up the list of “pro-American” Latin American leaders in the last 60 years? Pinochet, Batista, Trujillo… to name only a few. How did those countries fare under them?

    Finally, if Zelaya’s rule was so awful for Honduras (and the opposition’s platform so superior), one would think that said opposition would have been assured a victory in the coming elections (which, as Gonzales points out, were planned before the coup) and would be able to wait four or five months to legitimately assume power. As it stands, they illegitimately arrested and exiled Zelaya for taking the first steps towards attempting to alter Honduras’ constitution. Again, not for actually changing it…but for taking the first steps towards maybe doing so. While I’m sure many Americans wish George W. Bush had suffered a similar fate for repeatedly trampling on the U.S. constitution, I don’t think anybody planned a coup against him…and I don’t think any serious American would have supported it.

  • Gonzales

    Thank you for your comments on the column. I agree with the comments that indicate that both Zelaya and Micheletti bear some responsibility for the current political crisis.

    Before I discuss Zelaya’s and Micheletti’s role in the crisis, however, I would like to ask this question: what would be the reaction of the American people, the U.S. Congress and Supreme Court, if President Bush (with a 30% approval rating similar to Zelaya’s) or President Obama called for a Constitutional Convention to rewrite the U.S. Constitution to possibly extend their term in office beyond the time allowed in the Constitution?

    Zelaya is partly responsible for the crisis because he called for a referendum for a Constitutional convention to revise the 1982 Honduran Constitution to purportedly amend Presidential term limits. The Honduran constitution has 378 articles, and eight “unchangeable articles” which cannot be amended, primarily concerning presidential term limits, the system of government, and the presidential succession process. Anything else can be amended. Since most articles can be amended except those dealing with presidential succession, it was clear that Zelaya was aiming to reform presidential term limits. A non-partisan legal analysis conducted by the Law Library of Congress, found that Zelaya’s impeachment by the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court was legal (See La Prensa 9/24/09). However, the expulsion of Zelaya from the country was not legal and instead he should have been tried through an impeachment trial in Honduras. Zelaya is also an unstable and chaotic man. For example, he blamed Israel and Jewish people for his ordeal (see NYT “Jewish Remarks Add Troubling Note to Honduran Crisis”). His own vice-president, Elvin Santos, indicated that Zelaya has threaded to kill him and to come after everyone involved in Zelaya’s ouster if Zelaya is reinstated. Under Zelaya’s watch, San Pedro Sula and Honduras have become some of the most violent places in the entire hemisphere due to crime, gang, and drug warfare. Like President Bush with Katrina, Zelaya provided very little leadership after a major 7.3 earthquake in Honduras in May 2009. This is not to say that he should have been impeached for this, as a reader points out. But my point is that if Zelaya is reinstated, he will seek revenge and may still seek to violate the Constitution to stay in power.

    On the other hand, the Micheletti de-facto administration is responsible for the political crisis because Honduras did not follow a clear procedure for Presidential impeachment. Although the Honduran Congress, the Honduran Supreme Court, the independent Honduran Ombudsman, and Members of the President’s own Liberal Party all agreed to oust Zelaya, it is not clear within Honduras and in the international community if a clear and public impeachment process was followed (more…)

  • Gonzales2

    (continued…) If the Honduran Legislative and Judiciary branches had been more careful, strategic, and deliberate, they could have organized a trial to impeach the President based on several violations. In addition, the Micheletti administration has restricted freedom of the press significantly and has limited individual freedoms by establishing a series of curfews.

    I believe the international community and the United States should be less concerned about returning Zelaya to power as a “lame-duck” president with a few months to finish his four-year term, and should focus instead on reaching a consensus on the forthcoming elections, so that the elections are seen as the truthful and sovereign will of the Honduran people.

    In the 1980s I was a member of progressive organizations that were in solidarity with the people of Central America because Latin America is a highly unequal society, with one of the highest Gini coefficients (a measure of a measure of inequality of income or wealth) in the world. I agreed with the health and education initiatives in Cuba. I initially supported the FSLN in Nicaragua in the early 1980s. I also initially took a wait and see attitude with Hugo Chavez, but became disappointed as he sought to stay in power by rewriting the Venezuelan Constitution, and especially after he intervened in Honduras to do the same.

    True democracies need leaders who will step aside after their term in office ends. Cincinnatus was the legendary Roman leader who became an example for republican, democratic idealism by stepping down as a leader and returning to his farm. George Washington used him as an example when he stepped down from power, despite many who wanted Washington to be “King” or to continue as President. Unfortunately, in Latin America leaders of both the right, such as Alvaro Uribe, and leaders of the left such as Daniel Ortega, Hugo Chavez and others are seeking to extend their own executive terms at the expense of democracy. The international community should call for respect for executive term limits because in a true democracy no leader should be in power for life.

    In some respects, political democracy–the simple casting of votes to select the leader of one of two parties–has not resulted in economic democracy, the ability to exercise individual economic choices, or a reduction in violence and poverty in Honduras. But now, most Hondurans want a stable government and internationally recognized elections can fulfill this desire. If Zelaya and Micheletti both step aside after the Nov. 29 elections in Honduras, this may fulfill this dream.

    Ultimately, Hondurans want an end to the unremitting cartel and gang violence, a reduction in poverty, basic repairs to areas damaged by natural disasters, a stable government, and the simple opportunity to educate their children so that the future generations will have better financial and economic opportunities.

  • Alum

    What people who criticize the actions of Zelaya, Chavez, and others who seek to extend their presidential powers and their terms in office fail to understand is that it may be the only way to achieve true reforms and effect social change in countries with decades (or centuries) old legacies of right-wing, CIA/corporate interest-backed governments who had a hand in creating such abominable conditions for (and increasing the ranks of) the working poor.

    In a perfect world, it would be unnecessary for these leaders to take unlawful or unconstitutional measures, but how else to ensure that true progress can occur? How else to prevent that, in the next election, a millionaire land owner with business connections and backing from international investors seeking to exploit the country and its people will not pay his way victory and undo the necessary social-minded changes that these visionary leaders are fighting tooth and nail to enact? Zelaya, Chavez, et al. are far from perfect, and I do not agree with every single one of the steps they have taken or the policies they have pursued. But they are paragons of justice compared to many of the right-wing dictators and pseudo-dictators that preceded them, who thought nothing of making thousands of people disappear for the slightest dissent. I most certainly hope that none of these countries return to those days, and if a few laws and constitutions must be trampled to ensure the greater good, so be it.

  • Surprise, surprise


    Check out who Micheletti is hiring to stump for his illegal government. Right-wing lobbyists with ties to big business.

  • pace

    “What people who criticize the actions of Zelaya, Chavez, and others who seek to extend their presidential powers and their terms in office fail to understand is that it may be the only way to achieve true reforms and effect social change in countries with decades (or centuries) old legacies of right-wing, CIA/corporate interest-backed governments …if a few laws and constitutions must be trampled to ensure the greater good, so be it.”

    It seems that #6 (Alum) is saying Honduras is not yet ready for democracy, as the current societal structure disadvantages reformers. Thus it needs an interim dictator or caudillo, an egalitarian one, to first even the turf. Give Alum credit for expressing forthrightly a common attitude.

    But consider its implications. Honduras, as Gonzales says, has a high Gini coefficient.
    But at least 14 other countries have higher, including Brazil, Colombia, Panama, Guatemala and Haiti, and many not much lower. So what is the magic figure above which democracy is unfeasible? Should we as a nation decide that certain countries need not democracy but an egalitarian dictator? And intervene to ensure the latter stays in place until the job is done?

    US democracy, in terms of voting, was originally the exclusive province of white, property-owning males. Theoretically, the situation should have grown even worse. But that hasn’t happened. Instead the vote has been extended to women, certain minors and countless minorities, not to mention people with little but the clothes on their backs. This did not happen without a struggle, but it did happen without a dictatorship. It happened in spite of newspapers doing battle for wealthy owners, and in spite of intimidation, violence and murder. Early victories in particular were hard won. But the battles hardened the troops for larger victories.

    The point is that democracy is the best preparation for democracy. When an oppressive minority wields disproportionate wealth and power, the answer is unification of the majority through grassroots activity. This not only creates organizations with clout enough to counter the oligarchy, it also leverages necessity to mother those civic institutions that build a solid-core democracy, one that can weather a sabotaged election or instances of institutional corruption and emerge all the stronger. Such a democracy has a resiliency and flexibility and robustness that fortify it against the many afflictions to which human institutions fall prey.

    Gonzales, as the son of a Honduran labor union leader, not surprisingly favors “democracy now”. This is not the most theatrical approach perhaps, as it invests its greatest hopes for the future not in the magical powers of a supreme Leader but in the dogged labors of oneself and one’s peers. But it is upon just such an ethic of individual responsibility that democracy rests. Quite in contrast to cultish autocracies, which rest upon democratic dry rot …