Honduras just can’t catch a break. The country’s so-called leaders always seem intent on wrecking the place.
I mean, doesn’t it feel like it was just yesterday that King K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yopaa of Quiriguá led his army into Copán, where he beheaded rival king Uaxaclajuun Ub'aah K'awiil — effectively ending the golden age of Honduras' greatest Mayan kingdom?
I mean, I know it was 1,271 years ago. I’m just saying it feels like it was yesterday.
And who can forget Honduras’ so-called Soccer War?
It happened back in the summer of ’69. Right around the time Bryan Adams was buying his first real six-string and playing it until his fingers bled, Honduras and El Salvador fought a short war that left some 6,000 people dead, 12,000 injured and 50,000 homeless.
It was sparked by riots surrounding a best-of-three-games soccer series to determine which of the two countries would qualify for 1970’s World Cup tournament. The war wasn’t actually about soccer, though. It was caused in large part by the Honduran government’s unwillingness to enact meaningful land reform.
Most of Honduras' best farmland was owned by the country's tiny ruling class and American fruit growers. Instead of sharing the land they controlled, Honduras’ oligarchs tried to appease the country’s poor by confiscating land from the country’s large Salvadoran immigrant community. Some 300,000 Salvadorans had their land taken and were deported in the 1960s. The Soccer War was blowback resulting from the greed of Honduras’ ruling class.
Though the latest political crisis in Honduras has nothing to do with soccer, it is similar to the Soccer War in the sense that it’s the direct result of the Honduran ruling class’s inability to put the country’s well-being ahead of its own petty interests.
On June 28, Honduran military forces backed by the country’s supreme court and legislature raided the home of President Manuel Zelaya. The troops put Zelaya on a plane and shipped him off to Costa Rica.
While many of us would welcome a free trip to Costa Rica, Zelaya was more than a little ticked off at what happened.
First of all, it’s the rainy season in Costa Rica right now. Sure, it’s greener this time of year, but the beaches aren’t as nice.
Secondly, Zelaya is, in fact, the democratically elected president of Honduras. Inaugurated in January 2006, Manny still had six months left on his four-year term.
The people who overthrew him say Zelaya had plans to remain president beyond his expiration date. Since last fall, Zelaya has been saying he wanted to hold a referendum to see if the Honduran people would consider amending the country’s constitution to, among other changes, allow presidents to serve more than one term.
Honduras’ supreme court ruled Zelaya’s referendum was unconstitutional. Zelaya responded by saying the referendum would henceforth be nonbinding. Instead of a plebiscite, it would be a poll.
Zelaya’s opponents feared that he intended to turn himself into a Honduran Hugo Chavez. An outspoken critic of the U.S., Chavez has initiated several constitutional changes that have allowed him to stay in office and increase his personal control of Venezuela’s government.
Was Zelaya planning to stay office in violation of Honduras’ constitution? It sure seems like it.
What happened in Honduras on June 28 was unambiguously a military coup. The armed forces removed an elected head of state. It shut down opposition media. And it deployed soldiers to suppress public demonstrations opposing Zelaya’s overthrow.
The Obama administration has reacted with characteristic caution. On the one hand, it refuses to recognize the coup leaders as Honduras’ new government. On the other hand, it refuses to actually call what happened a coup.
Instead, Obama has nudged Zelaya and the people who overthrew him into negotiations — taking place in rainy Costa Rica as this column is being written.
What’s gonna happen? If I had to guess, I’d say Zelaya will return to serve out his term, on the condition he won’t even hint at running again.
One thing I don’t have to guess at: Obama’s fostering of negotiations is a hit with Latin Americans thrilled to see an American president standing up for democracy — even when the elected leader being stood-up-for isn’t especially pro-American.