Honduras Coup’s Lessons for UNASUR

Marcela Valente

HAVANA TIMES, Oct 2 (IPS) — With the 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras still a fresh memory, the presidents of the Unasur bloc gathered as quickly as they could to vigorously condemn Thursday’s attempted coup in Ecuador and warn that they would not tolerate any such assault on democracy in the region.

“The rapid response by the Unasur (Union of South American Nations), which was much more emphatic and forceful than in the case of Honduras, was decisive in preventing the conspiracy from escalating into a full-fledged coup, which was the ultimate objective of the (police) riot,” Argentine political scientist Atilio Borsn told IPS.

Borsn, a professor of political theory at the University of Buenos Aires, said “the tendency toward coups d’etat is latent in Latin America, and if it doesn’t manifest itself, that’s because there is no correlation of forces allowing it to come to the surface.”

Unasur’s quick reflexes, along with the Ecuadorian people’s defence of democracy as they poured out onto the streets, “discouraged” the coup-mongers and “knocked the air out of their plans,” he said.

Borsn said it was not just the police riot over demands for the repeal of a law eliminating bonuses that triggered the crisis, as demonstrated by the fact that segments of the air force shut down airports and suspended flights, and by the civilians who joined the uprising.

In an emergency summit that ended in the early hours of Friday morning in Buenos Aires, host President Cristina Fernandez and her counterparts Evo Morales of Bolivia, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Sebastian Piqera of Chile, Alan Garcma of Peru, Josi Mujica of Uruguay, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, as well as delegates from Brazil and Paraguay, reacted immediately to the police rebellion that challenged the Ecuadorian government.

In a brief statement they expressed their “strong commitment” to the preservation of democracy, “vigorously” condemned “the attempted coup and the kidnapping of President Rafael Correa,” and called for those responsible to be tried and sentenced.

They also stated that they “will not tolerate, for any reason, any further challenge to constitutional authority nor any attempted coup against civil power legitimately elected,” and that “in the case of future crises, will take immediate concrete measures, such as closing borders and suspending trade, air traffic and the provision of energy and services.”

The bloc also decided to send foreign ministers from the region to Quito Friday to personally support Correa.

Although the final declaration does not specifically mention Honduras, the spectre of the Jun. 28, 2009 coup in which President Manuel Zelaya was removed from his home at gunpoint in his pyjamas and put on a plane out of the country was palpable at the meeting, just as it was present during the hours of chaos and tension in Ecuador.

Shortly before the Unasur summit, Argentine Foreign Minister Hictor Timerman said the bloc’s countries would not let the crisis escalate, and said that in Buenos Aires, “We are going to draw the line at Honduras.”

The crisis in Honduras, which is today governed by right-wing President Porfirio Lobo, who won the November elections organised by the de facto regime that toppled Zelaya, was also referred to in remarks by the presidents of Bolivia and Venezuela.

“The case of Honduras was a message for Latin America,” Morales said at the end of the summit, while Chavez underscored that those who organised the coup in that Central American country have never been brought to justice. “Impunity is a cancer that threatens democracies,” he said.

Correa also referred to the precedent set by Honduras. Just after he was rescued by army and police special forces from the police hospital in Quito were he was held by rebel police all day Thursday, he said he would not “allow what happened in Honduras to happen here” and swore that he would not “forgive or forget” in the case of those involved in the mutiny.

With regard to the crisis in Honduras, Correa and Fernandez have been the loudest voices warning that it set a dangerous precedent for the region, and their governments, along with the Brazilian administration of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, are among those that have refused to recognise Lobo.

The Unasur as a bloc has not recognised the Honduran leader, and in South America, the only countries that have renewed relations with Honduras are Colombia, Peru and Chile.

In an analysis of the coup in Honduras, Argentine political analyst Juan Gabriel Tokatlian warned in a column titled “Neogolpismo” (roughly, “Neo-coupism”) that the case was “far-reaching” and that “the future of democracy in Latin America is at stake.”

Tokatlian warned at the time that if Zelaya were not reinstated to finish out the last few months of his term, “the temptation of ‘neogolpismo’ in the region will grow,” because those who are behind that tendency will learn that they can overthrow a president, simulate a crisis that “forced” them to remove him, and “expect that the international community’s policies against (the coup) will be ineffective.”

Earlier this week, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiqo had invited his counterparts from the rest of Latin America to meet to discuss Honduras’ return to the Organisation of American States (OAS), from which it was suspended after Zelaya was overthrown.

The idea was to discuss the case once again. But Patiqo stated that in order to accept the Central American nation’s return to the OAS fold, the region must demand that those responsible for the coup be brought to trial and punished.

“Impunity for those who undermine democracy is the worst thing we can leave behind us, for the future of Latin America. Coups are lessons from which we learn, to prevent a repetition,” Patiqo said, just hours before the police riot that nearly toppled the government of which he forms part.