Otto Reich on Honduras' vote

This weekend, Honduran citizens voted Porfirio Lobo president, months after a coup ousted Manuel Zelaya. Here, Foreign Policy contributor and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Otto J. Reich replies to criticism of his FP article on the coup.

How does one rebut so many errors and distortions as those in Christopher Sabatini and Daniel Altshuler's response ("Calling a Coup a Coup," from Nov. 2) to my Foreign Policy article on Honduras ("Honduras is an Opportunity," from Oct. 27). Let us deal with just some of them.

By my count, Sabatini and Altshuler (hereafter, "SA") repeat the term "coup" 11 times, an incantation designed to cast a spell over the reader. But no matter how many times the liberal duo recite the mantra to misidentify the events that removed Manuel Zelaya from office, it was not a coup. Since the entire letter is based on that false premise, its conclusions are equally false.

SA accuse me of "ideological revisionism," for saying the U.S. should recognize the transitional government that is based on Honduran law, while they insist on calling a constitutional removal of a law-breaking president by a unanimous vote of a nation's Supreme Court, a "coup." Curiously, SA dismiss the Supreme Court action by citing two obscure U.S. academics' papers which portend to rebut a U.S. Law Library of Congress report that supported the legality of Zelaya's ouster. Is that ideological on their part, or just plain confused?

The ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, had violated several articles of the Honduran Constitution (as documented in the aforementioned Supreme Court decision), and therefore according to Honduran law (not my opinion) he was no longer president of Honduras when he was deported (the deportation was not legal, but it occurred after the legal removal from office). Further evidence that Zelaya's removal was not a coup was the ratification of his removal by a nearly unanimous vote of the Honduran Congress. SA gloss over Zelaya's violations of the law and focus instead on his subsequent -- and inexcusable -- deportation.

SA claim that "Reich vigorously defended Micheletti's assumption of power as the victory of the rule of law and a stand against Latin American leftists." False. I not only did not defend (or condemn) Micheletti, I mention Micheletti only once in my article, in passing, acknowledging that he replaced Zelaya. This is only one example of the paucity of facts in SA's article. I am not sure whose article they were rebutting, but I don't think it was mine. Their allegations are directed at "conservatives," "Micheletti apologists," and others -- people I know did not write my FP article.

Attacking "conservatives" put SA in a bind. They charge that "U.S. conservatives have argued that Barack Obama's administration should recognize the Nov. 29 elections in Honduras as a way out of the political crisis." Actually, it is not only U.S. conservatives, but also the Obama administration that has come to that conclusion, as evidenced in the agreement brokered by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon in late October. It was Zelaya who renounced the agreement just days after he had signed it. Shannon then said the U.S. would recognize the winner of the Nov. 29 elections as the legitimate head of the next Honduran government.

In their letter to FP, SA praise the U.S.-brokered accord as follows: "[Most] importantly, the prospective settlement sets the stage for internationally recognized elections that will transfer power to a new president and help the country move forward." I agree. And contrary to SA's implication, I support that accord and think it is the best way out of the current crisis. I would hope that Zelaya's retreat from it has not caused SA to reverse course.

Although most of their letter can be dismissed as confused and self-contradictory, Sabatini-Altshuler's ideological motivation in attacking "U.S. conservatives'" position on the Honduras electoral crisis (as embodied by me, I assume) is serious. In concluding, SA claim that the "conservative" posture on Honduras they have attacked in their letter "would have mirrored the United States' foreign-policy blunders in Central America in the 1970s and 1980s. During this period, the United States supported façade democracies -- deadly authoritarian regimes that held civilian elections to legitimize their rule -- to pursue questionable geopolitical aims. This position cheapened elections and weakened nascent democracies."

This not only reveals a clear leftist ideological direction by SA, but also a revisionism resulting in crass historical distortion. This is a contemptible and ignorant slap at Ronald Reagan, the president in "the 1980s," under whom unprecedented progress was made in hemispheric democracy. When Reagan took office in 1981, a majority of Latin Americans lived under military dictatorships. When the conservative Reagan left office eight years later, the situation had been reversed: An overwhelming majority of our neighboring countries had transitioned to democracy after long and brutal dictatorships, such as Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, Uruguay, and Chile. Which of those governments were "façade regimes," as in SA's accusation? Which were U.S. policy blunders? In which of those countries did the U.S. weaken "nascent democracy"?

As someone who worked for Ronald Reagan for those eight years, I can attest that democratic progress was no accident. It was the result of a policy designed and implemented to bring freedom and democracy to our hemisphere. That two American liberals attempt to re-write history and thus demean the U.S. role in the advance of freedom in this region, imperfect as it was but one that came at a high cost in lives and treasure, is an obvious illustration of the moral bankruptcy of American liberalism today.

But SA are not satisfied with running down their country: Their despicable and rude anti-Reagan screed reaches another ridiculous nadir with the statement that those (1980s) U.S. policies were based on "the pursuit of questionable geopolitical aims." Really? What aims were those? The main geopolitical aim of Ronald Reagan, as I remember, was the defeat of communism. The policy succeeded. And with it came an unprecedented global spread of freedom, human rights and prosperity. By whose standards was this policy "questionable?" I do recall it was questionable to the Kremlin, many western Marxist "intellectuals," and most Third World socialist despots and guerrilla leaders. It was not questionable to the hundreds of millions of people of Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union whom it helped to liberate from oppression. We now know they supported Reagan. As did the other hundreds of millions people who benefitted from the end of the Cold War and from the ensuing prosperity resulting from the "peace dividend".

Why does U.S. Cold War policy appear to be a "blunder" to Sabatini-Altshuler? For the same reason they cannot see why the U.S. should support free elections in Honduras. Historical ignorance and political ideology blinds them.


What We're Reading

Back by popular demand is Passport's weekly feature, What We're Reading. Thanks to all the readers who wrote in asking for WWR's return. We're counting on all of you to participate as well.

Preeti Aroon:  Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Read this book, and you’ll be moved -- and outraged. It tells the heartbreaking stories of girls who have been trafficked into brothels, women who have been gang-raped, and mothers who’ve died from lack of basic obstetric care. It’s unconscionable that women and girls are treated this way in the 21st century, and it’s holding back development in some of the world’s poorest countries.

Elizabeth Dickinson: Evan Osnos’ piece “Reds,” in the Food Issue of the New Yorker, is about as fascinating as they come. Tracing the story of how wine became “a thing” in China, Osnos ends up describing some of the smartest, craftiest foreign investors in that country today. So dramatic is market shift that even the French today are seeing China as a grapevine growth market.

Joshua Keating: David Fromkin's A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East is, as advertised, a primer on the origins of today's Middle Eastern conflicts. But it's also a fascinating portrait of the mechanics of foreign policy-making at the tail end of the imperial era. 

Christina Larson: Will the real climate watchdogs please stand up? In the past two years, a network of local and expat green-energy professionals has developed in Beijing. One of the more well-known characters, "Sustainable John," by day works in renewable energy and by night produces wacky videos about environmental issues in China. The latest, released over the weekend, gets down with Copenhagen. 


Annie Lowrey: I’m coming back from vacation 650 pages into Stephen King’s 1000-page behemoth Under the Dome, about the provincial residents of a Maine town cut off from the rest of the world by an impenetrable dome. The book is fabulous, and King is the American Dickens.

Tell us what you're reading -- FP-related or not -- in the comments.