Earlier this year, there was an unexpected change in government in Honduras. On June 28, President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was removed from power with support of Honduras’ Congress and the nation’s courts. In accordance with the Honduran constitution, Zelaya was replaced with Interim President Robert Micheletti. Although some have denounced this action as “coup d’etat” – notably Cuba, Venezuela and, shamefully, the United States – it is better characterized as a defense of constitutional democracy from the illegal attempts by Zelaya to extend his hold on power.
For better or worse, the U.N. generally stays neutral in dust ups like this waiting to see what happens and working with the resulting leadership. But not this time. The U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution supporting Zelaya. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urged “the reinstatement of the democratically elected representatives of the country and full respect for human rights, including safeguards for the security of President Zelaya, members of his family and his government.
Moreover, the U.N. invited “His Excellency Mr. José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, President of the Republic of Honduras” to address the General Assembly on Wednesday. To rub salt in the wound, his address to the General Assembly was scheduled among the heads of state thereby formally shunning the legitimate Honduran government. Micheletti can not even attend the U.N. because the U.S. State Department has denied him a visa.
In similar fashion, the Honduran ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva was ejected from the Human Rights Council last week when other Latin American countries (prominently Cuba, but also Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico) objected to his presence because he supports Micheletti rather than Zelaya. Never mind that it was Zelaya that sought to violate the law and the “illegal” Micheletti regime that observed the Honduran constitution.
The U.S. was sitting on the Human Rights Council as a member for the first time last week. The Obama administration had argued that the Bush administration policy of distancing the U.S. from the flawed Council was a mistake and it would make a bigger difference for human rights by working within the Council. Yet, when a chance to stand up for principle arose, the Obama administration chose to stay silent.
Considering the fact that only a minority of U.N. member states are considered politically “free” in the 2009 annual rankings by Freedom House, it is hardly surprising that the U.N. should side with Zelaya. It is, however, worth pointing out that supporting a former president like Zelaya is an aberration at the U.N. Where are the calls for former President Marc Ravalomanana of Madagascar to speak for his country after a coup earlier this year? Or for President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi of Mauritania to represent his country in 2008? Or any of the scores of other leaders ousted from power over the U.N.’s six decades?
Support for Zelaya in the U.N. is founded on his key allies in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba, which wield great influence in the world body. That Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela support Zelaya is no surprise – he is trying to emulate their presidents.
The U.S., however, should stand up for democracy and the rule of law. Instead, it supported a populist bent on subverting the constitution in Honduras. The decision was shameful and baffling – made even more so by Zelaya’s recent actions. While Secretary Clinton was discussing ways to restore Zelaya to the presidency with President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, who is acting as mediator in the Honduran crisis, Zelaya snuck back into Honduras without a negotiated agreement and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy. The Micheletti government had told Zelaya that he faces imprisonment and trial for 18 charges of corruption and violating the constitution should he return.
Thus, the U.S. reward for supporting Zelaya is his erratic decision to elevate the crisis in Honduras, provoke violence and bloodshed, and possibly spark further international intervention in the country he boldly attempted to destabilize.