My American Enterprise Institute colleague Roger Noriega and José Javier Lanza, a researcher at Vision Americas, have an important new essay out looking at the decision points which now loom for U.S. policy on Honduras. Honduras provided one of the first “3 a.m. phone calls” that President Obama had to take when, in 2009, the Honduran military overthrew President Manuel Zelaya’s government. While Obama almost immediately pronounced the episode a coup, it was actually less of a coupthan what occurred this past July in Egypt. While Honduras held new elections and renewed its democracy, a perfect storm of regional events put Honduras’s progress in jeopardy. They begin:
As stepped-up counternarcotics policies in Colombia and Mexico have increased pressure on regional drug trafficking networks, organized crime syndicates have relocated operations to Central America, where law enforcement agencies and institutions are ill-equipped to withstand the onslaught. These multibillion-dollar gangs are making common cause with some local politicians who are following a playbook honed by Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. The result in Venezuela was the birth of a narcostate, and similar dramas are playing out in Central America. Like Chávez, caudillos are using the democratic process to seek power, weaken institutions, and undermine the rule of law—generating turmoil that accommodates narcotrafficking. Making matters worse for Honduras is that left-wing activists abroad, in support of ousted president and Chávez acolyte Manuel Zelaya, are waging a very public campaign of outlandish claims seeking to block any US assistance to help the Honduran government resist the drug cartels. It is imperative that US policymakers vigorously support democracy, the rule of law, and antidrug programs in Honduras.
The whole essay is worth reading. The Honduran military ousted Zelaya because he refused to adhere to the rulings of the constitutional court. Obama was wrong to support him, or lend him any legitimacy. Democracy does not end at the ballot box, and no leader should remain above the law. With a “Pivot to Asia” and multiple crises in the Middle East, Obama may have forgotten Latin America, but how Honduras goes will have disproportionate impact on U.S. national security. Let us hope that the State Department and White House won’t blindly accept Zelaya’s propaganda, nor will Congress make any move to block assistance to the Honduran government which will enable its government to resist a growing but slow-motion assault by drug cartels and the regional governments which support them.