It seems that the ousting of the left-wing president Manuel Zelaya is really the culmination of a decades-old class struggle in Honduras, which has divided the country into two distinct political factions. Zelaya's largely socialist reforms have sparked intense hostility among wealthy business owners and other entrenched powers:
The mustachioed, sombrero-wearing Zelaya makes for an unlikely leftist hero. A 56-year-old former rancher and timber merchant, he took office in 2006 after campaigning on a centrist platform. But once in power, he drew close to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and quickly copied his formula for popularity: giving handouts to the poor and blaming all the country's problems on the rich. Amid rising crime and a spluttering economy, the establishment turned on Zelaya. The flashpoint came in June, when he called for a nonbinding referendum on changing the constitution to allow Presidents to stand for a second term. The Supreme Court ruled the vote illegal and soldiers whisked Zelaya away before it could take place, leaving Congressman Roberto Micheletti to be sworn in as the new President.
The Organization of American States has threatened to suspend Honduras' membership unless Zelaya is quickly restored to power, and the United States finds itself in the unusual position of supporting a leader who has aligned himself with Hugo Chávez and other left-leaning regimes.
Some conservatives have criticized President Obama for his stance, arguing that the removal of Zelaya was both legal and beneficial to the United States. But the Obama administration has, in fact, been slower than most European states to recall its ambassador from Tegucigalpa, perhaps aware that the threat of violence looms large if Zelaya decides to return to the country and attempt to retake power.
The situation in Honduras will likely provide an interesting test of Obama's foreign policy realism, with which I tend to sympathize. At the very least, we should all hope that this conflict ends not with a bang, but a whimper . . .