Twenty-first Century Coups d'Etat

consolidation of power through brute force represents a serious step
backward for the region. How is it possible that a coup d'etat could
take place and survive in the 21st century? This is the question that
the international community faces after the coup d'etat that Honduras
suffered on June 28. On that day, the Honduran Armed Forces kidnapped
the democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya, and forced him
onto a flight bound for Costa Rica. The Organization of American States
(OAS), the UN General Assembly, the U.S. government, and every Latin
American nation have denounced the coup and demanded the immediate
reinstatement of President Zelaya. The international diplomatic
response was strong and swift, leaving the de facto regime in Honduras
isolated. Many believed that this response would be sufficient to force
Roberto Micheletti, the "president" imposed by the architects of the
coup, to renounce his claim to rule by force.

It has been several decades since Central America emerged from a tragic
and bloody era of military dictatorships, in several cases supported by
the U.S. government. Times have changed. President Obama united with
the global call to restore democracy in the impoverished Central
American nation of Honduras. The country has been hit with economic
sanctions through the temporary closing of borders with neighboring
Central American countries, the freezing of loans from the World Bank
and the International Monetary Fund, the suspension of oil imports from
Petrocaribe, and the suspension of USD $16.5 million in U.S. aid, among
other sanctions.

However, the coup leaders are stubbornly holding on to power. They
did not allow the plane carrying President Zelaya and the president of
the UN General Assembly, Miguel D'Escoto, to land in the Honduran
capital of Tegucigalpa on July 7. Micheletti has stated that he will
remain in power until elections slated for November, and will never
permit Zelaya to return as president. There is currently a curfew in
place across the country, military roadblocks in various regions, and
arrest warrants filed against leaders of unions and campesino,
indigenous, and human rights movements. Security forces have killed at
least three people. Social movements continue to rally in the streets
and their numbers and degree of organization have increased daily as
they fight for the return of President Zelaya and his right to consult
the public on a constitutional assembly. It was this issue that sparked
the coup, implemented by the armed forces, and conservative politicians
and businessmen.

In an attempt to diffuse the situation, President Oscar Arias of
Costa Rica began mediating talks between the two sides. It soon became
clear that the mediation effort offered little hope of success, since
Micheletti refused any possibility of allowing President Zelaya's
return-an obligatory condition for Zelaya, the international community,
and the citizens' movements of Honduras. Micheletti returned to
Honduras after just one day of negotiations, refusing to meet with
Zelaya and leaving behind a delegation that, because of the
intransigence of the coup leaders, does not have the power to advance
the talks. The second round of talks the weekend of July 18 produced
the same result. Given that the regime is isolated, sanctioned, and
being confronted by its own people, how is it possible that the coup is
now entering its fourth week, tenaciously maintaining a control that
has been widely declared illegitimate?

It is time to recognize that diplomatic pressure alone has not
worked. The U.S. government, along with other countries, needs to move
past talk and start implementing concrete actions. Although it has
applied limited economic sanctions, much more needs to be done based on
an official declaration from the State Department that a coup has taken
place in Honduras. Commercial measures under CAFTA must also be
applied. This implies an incredibly high price, not only for the de
facto regime, but also for the Honduran people. The people have made it
clear that these measures are necessary and have demanded that the U.S.
government and others apply these sanctions. The coup leaders and the
international far-right that support them are aware that Honduras is a
test case for the Obama administration and the world. If the coup
leaders succeed in consolidating power based on military force it will
represent a serious step backward for the rule of law in the region.

The Honduran people have shown their willingness to take the
personal risks of demonstrating in the streets against the coup and
enduring the consequences of more sanctions. The rest of the world
should follow their example in the fight for democracy and demand that
their governments implement stronger measures to restore Honduras'
constitutional order. Only then will it be possible to send a message
once and for all that military coups are unacceptable in the 21st

Translated for the Americas Program by Monica Wooters.

This article was published in Laura Carlsen's biweekly column for the Panamanian daily La Estrella found at (in Spanish).

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