Opinion

Commentary: Honduras is a democracy lesson in the making

Ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya speaks during a news conference after a meeting of the Organization of American States in Washington early Wednesday, July 1, 2009. A defiant Roberto Micheletti said in an interview with The Associated Press late Tuesday that "no one can make me resign," defying the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the Obama administration and other leaders that have condemned the military coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya speaks during a news conference after a meeting of the Organization of American States in Washington early Wednesday, July 1, 2009. A defiant Roberto Micheletti said in an interview with The Associated Press late Tuesday that "no one can make me resign," defying the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the Obama administration and other leaders that have condemned the military coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Associated Press

To assess political dissent in Latin America, suspend first the U.S. image of democracy. It won't apply.

Not unless you can picture the military raiding the White House, forcibly removing the president and carting him off to another country on charges of usurping the Constitution.

Hanging chads, Kenneth Starr inquiries and screams of "death panels" and "socialism" pale by comparison.

Yet, in judging Latin governments, too many in the United States lose sight of the fact that democracies — even ours — evolve, molded over the decades by events and the clashes of opposing interests.

Monday, the views of two Kansas Citians recently returned from Honduras were offered here. They decidedly favored Manuel Zelaya, the president exiled this summer.

Here's another opinion, from Mitch Cummins, who moved to the north-coast Honduran island of Roatan in 2002 after buying a computer company. Cummins, who grew up outside of Odessa, Mo., is far more critical of Zelaya, believing he was on a path to undermine the Honduran Congress, Supreme Court and other democratic structures.

The delineator between these two scenarios is more about what exactly Zelaya wanted to accomplish with a referendum to ask the public whether it wanted an assembly to make constitutional changes. Many saw it as a step toward removing term limits.

Many became uneasy when Zelaya, a well-to-do cattleman who moved increasingly to the left, reportedly obtained the ballots for his referendum from President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. The Supreme Court and Congress said no to the vote, and when Zelaya indicated he would go ahead, the military stepped in.

Cummins, who retains his U.S. citizenship, thinks of his adopted home as fighting to maintain its sense of democracy against a rogue president.

To Cummins, Zelaya's removal was necessary and legal, although the military erred by not just banishing him to a rural part of Honduras.

While he thinks Zelaya's raising the minimum wage was well-intentioned, the more than 50 percent hike resulted in businesses that couldn't compete and workers who were fired &mash; the very poor whom the raise was intended to aid.

Those on the left believe the minimum wage change is a big reason Zelaya got tossed out. With seven out of 10 of his countrymen living in poverty, he was tapping that deep vein of populism that is never buried very deeply south of our border.

Cummins assumes Honduras will be crawling with watchers during November's presidential election. What remains to be seen is whether simply holding a new election will let the country move ahead.

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