A reader writes:

I have seen a couple of the links and emails you have posted about the coup in Honduras and I think one major aspect has not been underlined enough. What is truly tragic and worrisome about this is that both sides acted against the rule of law and with blatant disregard towards the established democratic institutions of the country.

Those making Zelaya out to be a political innocent, a martyr of the 'right wing oligarchy' are imposing their own sympathies (or perhaps their Cold War ideologies) on the situation. For the last few weeks it has been clear to those who believe in democracy and more specifically the importance of democratic institutions that Zelaya was doing everything both legally and not legally in his power to ignore the decisions of the Supreme Court, the Congress, his own political party and everyone who has a constitutional say in how the country is governed and when elections or constitutional referendums are called. Again to be clear: he wanted another term and was willing to do everything in his power to stay President despite a legal prohibition against it. When all his legal avenues were exhausted instead of accepting this he put together a mob and broke into an army base to 'free' the ballots for the referendum which he was going to run on his own. A restoration of Zelaya to the presidency should take place only if he agrees to obey the constitution, otherwise we are exchanging one set of unconstitutional players for another.

Those excusing the coup do so because they were rightly worried about Zelaya's own unconstitutional power grab, but the ends do *not* justify the means. Congress was legally moving to impeach Zelaya and should have stuck to that course when confronted with the likelihood of Zelaya breaking the law on Sunday. Instead they pulled a move out of the 1970s and 1980s book and called the army in to lend a helping hand. To oust Zelaya this way only lost them credibility and, sincerely for those in the region worried about the deeper issue of institutional stability and democracy, sent a signal that institutions are only useful to them when the results are to their liking.

Because both sides have shown zero respect for the institutions that make a democracy a democracy both Zelaya's cry me river martyr act and those whitewashing of the coup as somehow legal are not credible. It is crucial that a solution be found that sends a clear signal that in Latin America coups are not winked at or accepted as the method to solve a constitutional dispute. It is also crucial that the solution does not condone the actions of Zelaya previous to the coup.  Both sides who broke institutional norms should be dealt with so no precedent is set that any President in the region can just walk over the institutions of democracy when it pleases him and be rewarded for it (this already happens too much under the guise of true institutional change--see Alvaro Uribe and Hugo Chavez for good examples. and note this is not a right or left wing issue, it is a problem with political leadership and the lack of limits on executive power). Also the armies of the region should know too that their arbitration/intervention when a question regarding the rule of law takes place is no longer welcomed, sought or condoned.

It is a depressing show seeing usually keen political observers fall back into facile but totally useless Cold War ideologies to cheer on their preferred political outcome in this crisis--those on the right excusing the coup as quasi-legal and the only optimal solution and those on the left cheering Zelaya's martyrdom and excusing his unconstitutional power grab as justified.

Even more depressing though is that neither side took a minute to reflect on what the coup really meant--finally after many years a question political scientists and analysts have had since the 'thrid wave' of democratization happened in Latin America has been answered. In Latin American democracies the military, when confronted with a constitutional crisis, once again intervened. Not healthy and not a good augur.

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