Viewpoint: Viva la libertad

BY ROBERT SOAVE

Published July 5, 2009

It’s appropriate that in the same week our country celebrates the anniversary of its independence, there are several shining examples of corrupt tyrants being expelled from power all over the world.

One of these examples is remarkably close to home. Just one week ago, Detroit City Council member Monica Conyers resigned from office and now faces a five-year jail sentence for allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for her vote. Conyers’s resignation comes just a few months after Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick plead guilty to felonies and resigned from office.

The city of Detroit has suffered for years under the regimes of wickedly corrupt officials like Conyers and Kilpatrick. But the fact that these powerful politicians were finally overthrown is a testament to the enduring strength of the people of Detroit, as well as the strength of the state’s courts, prosecutors and media.

And yet, Detroit’s revolutionary achievement is not the only one in the news this week. On June 28, a day before Conyers resigned from office, the nation of Honduras exiled its president, Manuel Zelaya, in what has been labeled as a coup d’etat by the international community.

A coup isn’t usually thought of as a good thing. Indeed, Latin America has seen its fair share of right-wing coups that replace one tyrant with someone worse. But what happened in Honduras on June 28 wasn’t a coup. Zelaya violated the Honduran constitution by pushing for a ballot referendum that called for the constitution to be rewritten. His reason for this referendum is obvious — Honduras’s constitution prohibits any president from serving multiple terms. In fact, it goes as far as to prohibit the constitution from ever being changed to allow a president to serve a subsequent term.

As Octavio Sanchez, Honduras’s former minister of culture, explained in a July 2 article in The Christian Science Monitor, the constitution clearly states that “whoever violates this law or proposes its reform, as well as those that support such violation directly or indirectly, will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any office for a period of 10 years” (A ‘coup’ in Honduras? Nonsense., 07/02/2009). This means that the supposed coup d’etat — technically speaking — didn’t take place. According to Sanchez, “soldiers arrested a Honduran citizen who, the day before, through his own actions had stripped himself of the presidency.”

This view of Zelaya’s actions is widely agreed upon within the Honduran government. As Alvaro Vargas Llosa, director for the Center on Global Prosperity at the Independent Institute, observed in a July 1 article in The Washington Post, “Every legal body in Honduras — the electoral tribunal, the Supreme Court, the attorney general, the human rights ombudsman — declared the referendum unconstitutional” (Honduras coup is President Zelaya’s fault, 07/01/2009). Zelaya had defied the Supreme Court by ordering the military to prepare for an unconstitutional referendum. The head of the military refused to comply with Zelaya’s orders, was fired, and then reinstated by the Supreme Court. Zelaya’s abuse of power was flagrant, maniacal and unconstitutional.

And yet the world has reacted to Zelaya’s overthrow with universal condemnation. President Barack Obama said, “we believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there.” Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez — who got rid of his country’s term limits via referendum last year — has all but declared war on the new president, Robert Micheletti.

The world needs to wake up to the reality of the situation in Honduras. Zelaya has no more right to remain in power than Conyers. In a June 27 editorial, The Detroit News wrote that Conyers’s corruption “violates the public trust, breaks her fiduciary duty to taxpayers and is overwhelming grounds for her removal from office” (Monica Conyers should resign seat, 06/27/2009). The same thing could have been written about Zelaya. Just as the workings of the legal system of Michigan and Detroit eventually defeated Conyers, so too has Honduras’s legal system triumphed over Zelaya’s attempt to grab more power for himself. It should be celebrated — not condemned — that Honduras, whose democratic tradition only extends back a quarter of a century, can expel a corrupt tyrant just as easily as the United States, where democracy has largely flourished for two hundred years.

Thomas Jefferson famously said, “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” At least this Fourth of July week, only the tyrants are hurting.

Robert Soave is the summer managing editor.