Heritage Foundation calls Honduras coup a ‘conservative awakening’

I don’t expect a lot from the Heritage Foundation, having seen its take on carbon dioxide, but I still find it startling to see a U.S. institution endorsing the military overthrow of an elected government in Latin America, where right-wing dictators and left-wing revolutions shed so much blood not so long ago. Just what heritage are we promoting?
The Heritage Foundation’s senior policy analyst for Latin America, Ray Walser, penned a commentary this week entitled “Honduras’s Conservative Awakening” that tries to justify the coup on democratic grounds, which requires some fantastic gymnastic logic. Here are a few of Walser’s more precious moments:
• In a commentary defending the military overthrow of an elected administration, Walser criticizes left-leaning governments in Latin America for “illiberal abuses of the ballot box and the degradation of constitutions.”
• Walser defends coup leaders for refusing international demands that they reinstate President Zelaya by writing, “A government based on checks and balances and rule of law does not easily bend to accommodate foreign dictates.”
• He supports the Honduran Supreme Court, which backed the coup, in its refusal to accept Zelaya’s return: “For many Hondurans the court’s ruling represents a triumph of principle over expediency.” For most Hondurans, surely, it represents a triumph of expediency over democracy.
• Walser criticizes Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega for “an effort to change the Nicaraguan constitution to allow his reelection.” This was also Zelaya’s crime–an effort to allow the president more than one term. In an earlier commentary in the New York Post, Walser wrote of the Honduran coup: “In truth, it was much more of a last-ditch effort to protect Honduras’ constitutional order and rule of law from a reckless populist.” A reckless populist not unlike that darling of the Heritage Foundation, Ronald Reagan, who told David Frost as he was leaving office in 1987 that he would “like to start a movement” to repeal the constitutional amendment that limits U.S. presidents to two terms. Would Walser have supported a military coup in the U.S. in 1987?
• “In the name of democracy for all,” Walser writes, “the U.S. needs to distance itself from the erratic, messianic Zelaya.” Messianic is a good way of saying “reckless populist” again, and reckless populist is a good way of making it sound like a bad thing for a democrat to have popular support. Presumably the U.S. should distance itself from Zelaya by getting chummy with those stable, even-keeled generals who sent soldiers to the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa in the middle of the night on June 28 and again to the airport on July 5, where they killed one Honduran citizen and injured eight others. We should stand with the generals and their new puppet president, Walser implies. But elsewhere he writes: “Conservatives are rightfully troubled when a true totalitarian, Raul Castro; a pseudo-democrat, Hugo Chávez; and President Obama stand together.”
Let’s just call it the Hypocrisy Foundation. In each case, Walser applies one democratic standard to the right, another to the left.
Walser justifies the overthrow of Zelaya because he exploited “the polarizing schism between rich and poor, the shortcomings of Honduran institutions, and the suspect promise of a new political order favorable to the dispossessed.” But then Walser urges the U.S. not to impose economic sanctions on the new right-wing regime because they would be “injurious to the poor.” Indeed, it would be injurious to those poor rightist generals, justices, and their puppet president. Pobrecitos.
Patience is a virtue in democracy. I can think of a large, somewhat democratic republic that was ruled for eight years by a dangerous right-wing buffoon who was appointed by a conservative Supreme Court after a shady election, but did the military throw him out of office? That president showed little respect for democracy, but the people of that nation nonetheless waited patiently for their next opportunity to replace him peacefully. Has the Heritage Foundation learned nothing about democracy from America? Or does it just not care about democracy?

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