Time to Reject All Dictatorship in Latin America.
By Luis Fleischman.*
The June 28 coup d’état in Honduras that deposed President Manuel Zelaya raised international concern. Brazilian President Lula Da Silva stated that he will not recognize any other president except Zelaya. Most countries in Latin America echoed Lula’s sentiment. President Obama also indicated the inadmissibility of deposing an elected president.
Let us face one truth. Coup d’états no doubt look and sound like the opposite of democracy because in fact they depose an elected president or leader by force. The traumas of the 1970’s, particularly after the 1973 coup against Chilean president Salvador Allende and the distress caused by a possible U.S. support for the coup as well as U.S. support for all the South American military dictatorships has generated among us a natural rejection for such actions.
It is good that the U.S. no longer supports coups and it is good that the U.S. no longer seeks to support them in the future.
Yet, what the U.S. State Department, the Obama Administration and the rest of the Latin American countries have not yet publicly acknowledged is the inadmissibility of creating a dictatorship using democratic practices as means for despotic projects.
Manuel Zelaya was trying to pass a non-binding referendum on the issue of constitutional reform. Zelaya says the constitution protects a system of government that excludes the poor, but has not specified what changes he will seek. Yet, he went ahead against a decision by the Supreme Court and by the Honduran Congress to hold the referendum. The goal of such a referendum, according to Zelaya, himself, was to begin a consultation with the purpose of commencing to move from a “representative democracy to a participatory democracy”.
What does this mean? In very simple words what Zelaya had attempted was to repeat the experiences of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. The formula is simple: social problems cannot be solved under the current constitution. A new constitution would eventually provide maximum power to the elected leader. Congress is useless unless it supports the goal of the president and the goals of the president are to impose social justice from above without congressional debate and with direct support from the people. Congress, that embodies the mechanism through which debate takes place while taking into consideration a number of interests and groups, is perceived by these reformers as nothing but an obstacle to the goals of those leaders who believe in the absolute rightness of their social and political program. Therefore, participatory democracy means that the people vote to give full powers to the president to carry out the will of the majority. Thus, participatory democracy is only the act of voting. After that there is no more participation because participation is embedded in the will of the president. In fact, there is not even a need for debate, or discussion. In other words, this is a dictatorship legitimized by popular vote, a form of tyranny.
The Organization of American States under the mediocre leadership of Miguel Insulza backed Zelaya even before the coup took place. On Friday June 26, the OAS and all the countries backed Zelaya even after the Supreme Court and Congress made a decision not to support a referendum that Zelaya conveyed a few days before. Such a hasty decision to hold a referendum not only reduces the time needed to hold the debate but also the 1982 Honduran constitution states that “any politician who promotes presidential re-election will be barred from public service for 10 years.”
Thus, the OAS interfered in the internal affairs of Honduras in favor of a president with a despotic project. The fact that referendums and elections have taken place in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia is not a reflection of democratic practices but a reflection of the will of dictators to consolidate power via popular referendums while skipping institutional democratic procedure.
Countries in Latin America have always been morally weak and they are getting worse as time goes by. Brazilian President Lula Da Silva declared, without any foundation, that the recent presidential elections in Iran were fair and there was no fraud. Lula, who during the Brazilian dictatorship of the 1970’s, wished that the international community would speak against it, showed little sensitivity towards the people of Iran who courageously confronted a highly repressive theocracy. Likewise, he signed, along with Arab countries a joint- resolution defending the genocidal policies of the government of Sudan against the people of Darfur. Lula rejoiced over the economic crisis of the Western countries stating that the recession was caused by “blond white people” and has shown that he is unable to move beyond the narrow-minded and obsolete anti-imperialism of the third world. Additionally, his tolerance and sometimes promotion of Hugo Chavez is worrisome. It reflects his inability to lead a modernizing, emerging country like Brazil and less so to be a reliable regional leader.
Furthermore, Latin American countries have lobbied for Cuba’s admission into the OAS while ignoring the demolition of democracy at the hands of Hugo Chavez who: destroyed congress; subjugated the courts and the national electoral council to presidential prerogatives; restricted freedom of the press and persecuted press institutions that criticized him; who took over local governments that were not part of his party or movement; persecuted and forced into exile political opponents; and now is also using common criminals to assassinate union leaders who “dare” to act independently of his will. The democratic charter of the OAS does not seem to be worthy of the paper it is written on. Latin American leaders have destroyed it.
The moral character of most of today’s Latin American leaders is deplorable. President Barack Obama cannot manage policy in this continent by pleasing the prevailing moral lightweight approach in Latin America. Furthermore, the model that President Zelaya pursues is usually followed by a foreign and regional policy that includes alliances with Iran, links to drug cartels and a systematic policy aimed at expelling U.S. influence in the region. In fact, as I write these lines reports have emerged that President Zelaya may have allowed tons of cocaine to be flown into Honduras on its way to the United States, allegedly to circumvent Mexico’s government crack down on cartels. According to the allegations the shipments were carried by Venezuelan planes.
If President Obama is to deplore the coup in Honduras, he must do the same with the Chavez-inspired new dictatorships. He will also have to use his influence to help the continent move away from the anti-democratic practices promoted by Hugo Chavez and his allies. To date, the President has espoused a foreign policy that is basically a public relations policy with needless expressions of admiration in hyperbole for mediocre leaders, seemingly unconcerned by the dangers mentioned above.
*Dr. Luis Fleischman is Senior Advisor for the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington D.C