During the course of his presidency, President Obama has placed little value in encouraging democratic developments abroad, stating the need to focus on the “substance” of a government, rather than its “form.” While the president’s abandonment of democracy is certainly discouraging, he has raised an important point:
We spend so much time talking about democracy…[b]ut democracy, a well-functioning society that promotes liberty and equality and fraternity, does not just depend on going to the ballot box.
However, although the president recognizes that democracies in name do not always yield democracies in practice, his unwavering support of ousted president Manuel Zeyala directly contradicts this basic understanding. Elected in 2005, Zelaya has proceeded to trample upon the democratic foundations of Honduras, clashing with every other governing institution, attempting to circumvent the nation’s constitution in an effort everyone understood to be a bid for a second term in office. This Hugo Chavez-like power-grab failed after the legislature voted overwhelmingly for his replacement, and the Supreme Court ordered the military to forcibly relieve Zelaya of his position.
Perplexingly, Obama resolutely supports the exiled president solely because Zelaya was democratically elected almost four years ago. The Obama Administration has failed to address Zelaya’s recent power ploy, which was clearly a massive affront to Honduras’ constitutional system. Obama should revisit his earlier statement, which warns us not to presume leaders are ruling democratically simply because they were elected, and reassess accordingly his position on demanding the restoration of Zelaya as the constitutional president of Honduras.