Corrupt, Bullying Nicaraguan Ruler Emboldened by Obama’s Demand That Honduras Accept Return of Would-Be Dictator

Nicaragua’s corrupt, authoritarian president Daniel Ortega is now pushing a change to his country’s constitution to extend his rule. Ortega is a former communist backed by Venezuela’s anti-American strongman Hugo Chavez. He uses vote fraud, arbitrary arrests, and intimidation to expand and perpetuate his power.

Ortega has been emboldened by the Obama Administration’s demand that neighboring Honduras permit the return of its corrupt, bullying ex-president Mel Zelaya, who was removed for similarly seeking to perpetuate his rule.

Honduras’s Zelaya was lawfully removed from office by soldiers acting on orders of his country’s Supreme Court (and replaced by the speaker of Honduras’s Congress) after he, too, sought to rewrite his country’s constitution to allow him to seek another term in office. (Honduras has had such a problem over the years of corrupt presidents using patronage, fraud, and intimidation to get reelected over and over again that Article 239 of its current Constitution immediately strips presidents of their office if they even propose ending term limits, and Article 272 of its Constitution authorizes the military to remove presidents who seek to evade term limits).

Zelaya used money from Venezuela’s dictator and blackmail to try to extend his rule, illegally cutting off funds to municipalities whose mayors who refused to back his referendum to rewrite Honduras’s Constitution to extend Zelaya’s tenure in office. Zelaya was planning vote fraud on a vast scale.

For Honduras to allow the return of Zelaya would violate Article 239 of its Constitution, which bans would-be term limit violators from holding office, but it may allow his return anyway if his power is reduced, since the Obama Administration is blackmailing Honduras with threats of trade sanctions (America buys most of Honduras’s exports) and aid cut-offs (Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, and its budget is heavily dependent on foreign aid). Never mind that Honduras’s Congress, Supreme Court, church leaders, and other institutions overwhelmingly don’t want him back.

Even liberal legal scholars admit that Zelaya’s removal from office was technically legal, although, strangely, they don’t like it for ideological reasons (they root for Zelaya because he made left-wing speeches and allied himself with Venezuela’s socialist ruler Hugo Chavez; but they ignore the fact that Zelaya, a wealthy landowner, looted his country’s treasury and gave millions to his wealthy landowner cronies). But amazingly enough, they are now demonizing GOP Senators as ignorant hicks for citing the same facts about Honduran law that they did.

The liberal Daily Kos diarist Litho was one of the first people to note that the Honduran military’s removal of Zelaya from office was “legal” in a “technical sense” under Article 272 of the Honduran Constitution. But when 17 U.S. Senators later noted that the removal was seemingly legal (and asked the Obama Administration to stop trying to force Honduras to reinstate its constitution-shredding ex-president), Litho attacked this argument as being “evidence-free.” Apparently, a straightforward description of the law suddenly becomes reactionary nonsense the moment a GOP senator agrees with it. (Many others have explained why the removal was legal, including the prominent Honduran-American appellate lawyer Miguel Estrada, Honduran lawyer Octavio Paz, former assistant Secretary of State Kim Holmes, and me).

Litho now deceptively claims that the removal is now illegal even according to the Honduran military and Supreme Court. But as the stories Litho links to make clear (and Litho knows perfectly well), the military and Supreme Court were saying that the EXILE of Zelaya was illegal, not that his removal from OFFICE was illegal. (Zelaya’s removal from office was perfectly legal, but his subsequent exile may well have been illegal under Article 81 of the Honduras Constitution, much as President Lincoln’s exiling of the pro-slavery Congressman Clem Vallandigham during the Civil War was technically illegal). In short, as Miguel Estrada notes, while Zelaya may have an “immigration beef” with his country, he has no right to resume being president, and Obama has no right to force his return to office.

The real basis of Litho’s — and Obama’s — desire to reinstate Zelaya is the belief that Honduras’s Constitution is an outdated “artifact” and thus simply should not be followed when it conflicts with the latest ideological fads. Much as some liberal legal scholars argue that certain constitutional provisions should be ignored because they were drafted by dead white males, Litho argues that even though the Honduran “Congress, the courts, and the Armed Forces behaved in ways that are in fact constitutional,” the “Honduran constitution” should be ignored because it conflicts with “the norms of the international community.” The irony is that the same arguments could be made against the U.S. Constitution, which is almost 200 years older than the 1982 Honduran Constitution. The U.S. Constitution contains many provisions that are historical “artifacts,” such as its electoral college system for selecting presidents, which conflicts with the international norm of selecting political leaders purely by popular vote. Much of Britain’s system of government was fashioned by a Parliament that was once elected by a tiny percentage of its population (only wealthy male landowners and merchants could vote).

To justify meddling in Honduras, the Obama Administration has made radical arguments at odds with our own constitution, like claiming that a “universal principle” gives presidents the right to keep ruling even if they violate the Constitution (explain that to Richard Nixon), and that government officials have a right to extensive “judicial process” before removal (explain that to the many elected officials who can be recalled from office at any time, like California’s governor, or who can be impeached by Congress without judicial intervention, like the President).

At the same time, Obama has deliberately ignored violations of democracy and constitutional rights by left-wing dictators in Latin America, leading even the liberal Washington Post, which has not endorsed a Republican for president since 1952, to accuse Obama of showing a “willful disregard of political oppression” by left-wing dictators.

In response to Obama’s pressure on Honduras to put Zelaya back in power, Senator Jim DeMint has placed a temporary hold on the nomination of Arturo Valenzuela to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs. Valenzuela has a soft-spot for Anti-American dictators, reflecting his reputation as a loud defender of Venezuelan dictator Chavez’s terrible record on freedom of the press.

The wire services like CNN and Reuters (whose reporters have long romanticized left-wing dictators overseas) continually refer to Honduras’s removal of its president as a “coup,” even while noting that his removal was ordered by the country’s supreme court. But if it was constitutional, it was by definition not a coup. As Wikipedia notes, “A coup d’état . . . or coup for short, is the sudden, unconstitutional deposition of a legitimate government, by a small group of the State Establishment — usually the military — to replace the deposed government with another, either civil or military.”

Honduras’s president was constitutionally removed pursuant to Articles 239 and 272 of the Honduras Constitution. Moreover, he was removed not by a “small group,” but with the unanimous support of the Honduras Supreme Court, the almost-unanimous support of Honduras’s Congress, and “much of Honduran society. For each of these separate reasons, it was not a coup.

The fact that soldiers removed him on orders from the supreme court does not make it a “coup” anymore than the English Parliament’s use of soldiers to replace and exile King James II made that a coup. The use of soldiers to enforce court orders is not unknown even in the U.S., where troops were used to enforce a court’s desegregation order in 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas, against the state’s governor. In Honduras, troops perform many functions performed by civil police in the U.S., like safeguarding the polls. And Honduras does not have the kind of court police who might carry out court orders in the U.S., like U.S. Marshalls. (Even in the U.S., if a president were impeached and refused to leave office, the military would probably be needed to dislodge him. The more powerful the official, the more powerful the force needed to remove him, and it is absurd to expect a president’s removal to be enforced by a couple of pot-bellied U.S. marshalls).

Obama is repeating the foreign policy mistakes of the Carter Administration, which likewise meddled in the internal affairs of foreign countries to promote left-wing dictators and strongmen, like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Mugabe blocked international assistance to his malnourished subjects, who died in droves in a cholera epidemic that Mugabe concealed and claimed did not exist.

It was Jimmy Carter who paved the way for Mugabe’s blood-soaked dictatorship, which turned Zimbabwe, once a prosperous breadbasket, into one of the world’s poorest and hungriest countries. Dissidents’ wives and children are tortured and murdered, orphans are beaten, schools are turned into torture chambers, aid agencies that once fed thousands of starving people were kicked out of the country, and a cholera epidemic rages across the country, where life expectancy has plunged from around 60 years to less than 40.

When Zimbabwean voters overwhelmingly elected a racial-reconciliation government headed by the black bishop Abel Muzorewa in 1979, to replace the white-only regime that had governed the country, the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to recommend an end to international sanctions against the new government, which was starved of funds and facing a bloody guerilla war led by Marxists like Mugabe, who was supported by North Korea. Carter ignored the vote, maintained sanctions against the new government, and supported Mugabe. His U.N. Ambassador, Andrew Young, effusively praised Mugabe, who had killed people simply for voting, saying that the only thing that bothered him about Mugabe was that he was “so damn incorruptible.”

Aided by U.S. sanctions, Mugabe soon took over the country, jailing Bishop Muzorewa. His North Korean-trained security forces then killed perhaps 25,000 members of the minority Ndebele tribe, forcing torture victims to sing praises to Mugabe even as they were savagely tortured, and forcing people to torture their own family members, sometimes to death. Guilty white liberals, who had lionized Mugabe as a saintly opponent of racism and representative of black Zimbabweans, did not know what to make of this, and either remained silent, or kept praising him. Mugabe’s government received billions of dollars in aid, which finally stopped after Mugabe destroyed his country’s economy by seizing the country’s white-owned commercial farms and giving them to his incompetent political cronies. More recently, Mugabe so mismanaged his country’s crumbling economy and infrastructure that an easily-preventable cholera epidemic broke out, killing thousands.

During his presidency, Carter was blind to Mugabe’s faults because he saw Mugabe through a prism of racial guilt, seeing a Third-World post-colonial conflict as a reenactment of the U.S. civil-rights movement.

Obama made a mistake of the same kind when he went to Kenya in 2006 to campaign for the unscrupulous left-wing demagogue Raila Odinga against the pro-Western, democratically-elected government of President Mwai Kibaki. Odinga, a Luo tribesman, fanned the flames of ethnic hatred by milking the resentment of many of Kenya’s tribes against President Kibaki’s relatively-prosperous Kikuyu tribe. (The tribes did have legitimate grievances over the corruption of the Kibaki government, which continued many of the corrupt practices of his precedessor).

(The subsequent election, which Kibaki was declared to have won after likely election fraud, led to a violent ethnic conflict, including ethnic cleansing by Odinga supporters, that ended only when Kibaki appointed Odinga Prime Minister and ceded to him much of his presidential powers. Today, Kibaki and Odinga are jointly looting the Kenyan treasury to enrich themselves and their supporters).

Obama apparently saw his meddling in the politics of another country as righting past racial wrongs, since Kibaki’s Kikuyu have historically fared better than Odinga’s economically-backward Luo tribe, which counted Obama’s father as a member. But Kenya is not America during the civil-rights movement, and it was foolhardy for Obama to meddle in African politics, just as it was foolhardy for Carter to do so three decades earlier in Zimbabawe. Fortunately, the man Obama supported in Kenya (Odinga) does not appear to be as evil as the man Carter supported (Mugabe).