Over the weekend, the Honduran military forcefully expelled democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya from the country. Forced onto a plane at gunpoint while still in his pyjamas, Zelaya was flown to Costa Rica on the eve of a national referendum he planned that, if successful, would have changed Honduras' constitution to allow him to stand for a second term. Currently, Honduran elected leaders can only serve a single, four-year term.
Over the course of his term as president, Zelaya veered sharply toward the populist left, steering Honduras, a relatively poor country plagued by gang violence, along with him. It's a political slant that has seen him forge firm links with other leftist leaders in the region, including President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
His slide to the left has made him deeply unpopular with the middle and upper classes in Honduras. Zelaya says he was ousted by a power hungry elite that wishes to maintain the status quo in their favor while his opponents maintain that by holding the referendum he was trying to remain in power illegally.
The crisis escalated after the Honduran Supreme Court ruled that the referendum was illegal, Congress agreed and the military refused to help supervise the voting. Things came to a head on Sunday morning when Zelaya was forced to leave the country. The Honduras Congress then presented what was supposed to be a letter of resignation from Zelaya and made veteran politician Roberto Micheletti, who was already second in line for the office, president.
Since then, international condemnation of the coup has been fairly unanimous. Micheletti has not been recognized, various South American states have withdrawn diplomatic staff and halted trade. The United Nations has called for "a reinstatement of the democratically elected representatives of the country," the European Union wants to see "a swift return to constitutional normality" and the US, which has strong military ties with Honduras, has also weighed in. Barack Obama has urged that Honduras "respect the rule of law," saying the coup sets a "terrible precedent."
Meanwhile Zelaya, who is now in Nicaragua, said that he plans to return to Honduras later this week.
On Tuesday, editorialists at Germany's leading newspapers express their disapproval about events in Honduras and criticize Congress and the military for illegally removing Zelaya, imperfect as he may have been, from office.
The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:
"What makes this coup particularly bad is the complicity between the Honduran parliament and the local armed forces. Only hours after Zelaya was forced to leave the country, Congress presented a blatantly false letter of resignation from him -- and you don't need to be a friend of Zelaya's to condemn this."
"Anyone who sees the coup as some sort of effort to rescue democracy must ask themselves what version of democracy involves removing the elected leader of a country from office while holding a pistol to their head."
"Zelaya himself wasn't always a good democrat -- he ignored, for example, the fact that the highest judicial office in his country had ruled against the referendum he planned to hold. But in a land with a legal constitution there were plenty of opportunities to uphold that ruling. In any case, a coup was clearly the wrong solution."
"The international community's response has been swift and appropriate. Interim leader Roberto Micheletti has not been recognized and there have been calls for Zelaya's reinstatement."
"If democratic order is not restored in Honduras, this case could wind up providing an unfortunate example for other states -- like Guatemala. There the social reforms of President Alvaro Colom are a thorn in the upper class' side. This sort of thing could encourage the military and the opposition there to consider their own coup."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The coup in the Honduras reminds the rest of the world of another, more tumultuous era in South America when a large part of that continent was ruled from out of the military barracks. But, although it might look that way, those days are actually long gone -- and they won't be coming back, even after Zelaya's forcible removal. The shoe is actually on the other foot -- the military removed Zelaya at the request of the state."
"Despite that, this situation cannot be justified. It is the duty of centrist politicians everywhere to protest these actions, particularly those in the United States. But they also need to take care that they are not dancing to the same tune that Zelaya's local allies -- leaders like Chavez, Ortega and Morales -- are playing. Because the politics of those leaders actually have more to do with the bad old days in Latin America than any pure, new democratic order."
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"The attempts made by Honduras President Manuel Zelaya to change the political system in his country from below, and by peaceful means, have been choked off."
"Nonetheless, he knows he has the support of other Latin American governments should he continue to try to return to his office. After all, the Organization of American States (OAS) managed to put a stop to the militant, right-wing opposition in Bolivia back in September 2008. This also means that the coup-makers in Honduras don't stand a chance in the diplomatic arena."
"In the United States the Cold War is over and the Democratic left wing has recreated itself. Zelaya cannot count on ongoing sympathy from Washington. But if there is one thing that the Honduran right wing, and their helpers -- whose strength increased under the protection of the US military -- have not realized, it is this: If this kind of destabilization is to be successful, it must be more discrete, using weapons like the media and economic pressure instead."
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"What happened in Honduras on Sunday brought back memories of unhappier times in Latin America. But there was actually a marked difference to this coup. There were no mass arrests, no political parties banned. And even if, in the 1970s, the US made friendly overtures to barbaric dictators (whose coups they may partially have supported), on Sunday Barack Obama was already calling for a return to democratic principles in Honduras."
"Zelaya was about to conduct a national referendum that might have changed his country's constitution and that would have allowed him a second term in office. The Honduran president -- who had gone from right-leaning friend of the ruling class to a politician popular with the poverty-stricken over the past few years -- set himself on a path to power using democratic norms, albeit rather carelessly."
"The coup put a stop to all that, even though there were actually legal ways to prevent Zelaya from achieving his goals. Now international pressure must return him to office."