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Rattling Democracy in Latin America

Ecuador's recent crisis proves that a decisive and unified response from the international community can help determine the outcome of an illegitimate coup.

by Sara Joseph

In late September, tear gas and the smoke from burning tires filled the air as Ecuador's president was held hostage in a police hospital.

For people throughout the Americas, Ecuador's attempted coup brought flashbacks of the June 2009 coup in Honduras. Indeed, Honduran activists still reeling from the 2009 coup were among the first to send messages of solidarity to people in Ecuador resisting the attempted coup. But why did the coup fail to topple President Rafael Correa in Ecuador, while in Honduras the current president was the winner of elections hosted by an illegal coup-installed government?

More than a year after the coup that overthrew President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya, politically motivated human rights violations in Honduras remain disturbingly common. a recent Witness for Peace delegation to Honduras confirmed that human rights conditions have deteriorated since the coup. Under acting president Porfirio Lobo, journalists, labor organizers, women, and members of the gay community have all become targets of state violence. Targeted assassinations and threats against social movements continue to be denounced on a monthly basis and the country has also become one of the most dangerous worldwide for journalists.

The United States is one of the few countries that has recognized Lobo's presidency. For example, President Barack Obama hosted Lobo at an official function for heads of state in New York City a few weeks ago. The tacit consent that Washington has shown Honduras allows continued U.S. funding for the Honduran military, despite accusations of its involvement in systematic human rights abuses.

For months, independent observers have warned that U.S. support for the military coup government in Honduras will embolden right-wing forces and cause instability throughout the Americas.

When protesting Ecuadorian police officers assumed control of the country's airports, tear-gassed the president, and held him hostage in a local hospital, it confirmed those fears.

Since taking office, President Correa has pursued economic policies that challenge U.S. corporate interests and refused to allow the United States to continue to use the Manta military base. Correa's alignment with the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) fed suspicions that the U.S. would support the attempted coup.

But within hours of the news breaking, Latin American, European, and North American governments expressed clear support for democracy in Ecuador. Secretary Hillary Clinton issued a statement that "urge[ed] all Ecuadorians to come together and to work within the framework of Ecuador's democratic institutions to reach a rapid and peaceful restoration of order."

And by 10 o'clock that night, a team of more than 500 military and police officials had rescued Correa, and the coup d'etat was largely considered a failure.

In contrast, the United States never spoke out strongly against the Honduran coup and was quick to throw support behind Roberto Micheletti and then Lobo's government. Now, even as reports of human rights abuses pour out of Honduras, the United States continues to support Lobo both symbolically and financially.

Ecuador's recent crisis proves that a decisive and unified response from the international community can help determine the outcome of an illegitimate coup. Honduras can't wait any longer: The United States must take a stand on human rights by voting against Honduras' reintegration in the Organization of American States. If we fail to hold the Honduran government accountable, it will set a dangerous precedent, leading to more antidemocratic acts of force in the Americas.

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