The weekend ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya showed just how easily Latin American countries can plunge into crises when their institutions prove too weak to resolve stand-offs between government branches, analysts say.
"The larger set of problems highlighted by the Honduras case is that in some Latin American countries the rule of law is fragile, and the institutional framework for resolution of conflicts is very fragile," said Bruce Bagley, a Latin America specialist at the University of Miami.
Zelaya's ouster and expulsion to Costa Rica by the military early Sunday capped a long-simmering crisis that pitted the president against virtually every other branch of government over his plan for a nonbinding referendum that could have opened the door to constitutional reforms -- including allowing presidential reelection. The constitution prohibits any change in its ban on reelection.
The referendum, which was to have been held Sunday, was declared illegal or condemned by Honduras' Supreme Court, the attorney general, the Electoral Tribunal and Congress. But Zelaya pressed ahead and even fired the armed forces commander for refusing an order to use troops to help with the balloting.
"We are abiding by the Constitution," said Roberto Micheletti, elevated from head of the congress to interim president after Zelaya's ouster, arguing the president was removed legitimately – an argument rejected by Washington and most other countries.
"Both sides committed errors," Bagley said. "But the military conducted a coup. There are procedures for removing a president. Impeach him. That's the way these things should happen. But you should not get the military involved."
"In fact, no one has been abiding by the rules in the Zelaya dispute," added Bagley, "which in any case is not unusual for Honduras and other Latin American countries where the institutions of government are weak."
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