Newsweek’s ‘Selective Zeal for Democracy’

Newsweek has a rather curious take this week (7/20/09) on the Honduras coup in a short piece headlined “The World Goes Bananas Over Honduras”:

Poor, hot and fractious, Honduras–the original banana republic–rarely draws a second look from the global community. But on June 28, when President Manuel Zelaya was yanked out of bed by the military and bundled into exile, the world took notice. International leaders unanimously decried the “assault on democracy.” The Organization of American States expelled Honduras, the only nation since Cuba to be so disgraced. Venezuela even threatened to send in troops to reinstate Zelaya. But in the rush to judgment, heads of state showed selective zeal for democracy, at best. “It’s odd that world leaders have determined that coups can only be committed against presidents, [but] not against Congress or the courts,” says Diego Arria, a former Venezuelan diplomat. In recent years, executives in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua have stacked their benches and legislatures with yes men and muzzled the media–while international leaders looked the other way. And unlike those aspiring autocrats, the Honduran military could reasonably argue that it was acting in good faith by ejecting a leader hellbent on seeking re-election–despite an ironclad constitutional clause preventing such a move. Of course, it’s a good thing when world leaders stand up for the people. But if it’s going to mean much, they should try to be consistent.

Actually, it’s not odd at all that world leaders are condemning Honduras as a coup but not Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador or Nicaragua; generally, coups are state takeovers by a small group with military/police backing, which hasn’t happened anywhere in Latin America besides Honduras since…oh right, the anti-Chavez coup in Venezuela by folks on Arria’s side.

And the Honduran military can’t justify its coup by saying the leader they ejected was “hellbent on seeking re-election” for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s clear that Zelaya wasn’t even seeking re-election, since the actual advisory vote on amending the constitution was to happen in the same fall election that would choose Zelaya’s successor. But the very word “election” in that excuse should give you a hint that perhaps there’s something wrong with the logic involved. Asking voters if they want to vote on whether to change the constitution can hardly be considered such a threat to democracy that the military has to suspend that democracy in order to defend it.

It’s notable that all the countries Newsweek listed have leftist governments aligned with Venezuela, while right-wing Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, who not long ago engineered a change to his country’s constitution in order enable his re-election, didn’t merit a mention–or much coverage at all when it happened, for that matter–nor did Venezuela’s anti-Chavez coup, which U.S. media heartily endorsed. Perhaps the issue Newsweek ought to be probing is U.S. media’s “selective zeal” for Latin American democracy.

About Julie Hollar

Managing Editor of Extra! Magazine
Julie Hollar is the managing editor of FAIR's magazine, Extra!. Her work received an award from Project Censored in 2005, and she has been interviewed by such media outlets as the Los Angeles Times, Agence France-Presse and the San Francisco Chronicle. A graduate of Rice University, she has written for the Texas Observer and coordinated communications and activism at the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. Hollar also co-directed the 2006 documentary Boy I Am and was previously active in the Paper Tiger Television collective.