The military coup in Honduras is, at the very least, an occasion for Barack Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to agree on something, albeit with a wide variance in expression. It sure is another sign of the times to hear a leftist South American leader -- oustered President Manuel Zelaya -- say something like this before the coup occurred:

"Everything was in place for the coup, and if the U.S. Embassy had approved it, it would have happened. But they did not. I'm only still here in office thanks to the United States," he said in the interview, which was published Sunday.

I don't think the coup went through after Zelaya's remarks with U.S. approval -- American officials are now apparently trying to have Zelaya reinstated and disputing a seemingly forged resignation letter produced by coup organizers. John Boonstra at UN Dispatch observes that there is some ambiguity surrounding the controversial referendum to extend Zelaya's power that led to the coup, but that it behooves a cautious U.S. foreign policy to support legitimate democratic process over military coups, whatever the policy differences are. Thus, Obama's statement last night:

"I am deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras regarding the detention and expulsion of President Mel [sic] Zelaya. As the Organization of American States did on Friday, I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference."

In the past, of course, coups in Latin America have led to a lot of domestic political turmoil in the United States, with conservatives and liberals lining up with their respective factions -- contras and Sandinistas, etc. Seeing Obama and Chavez on the same side -- which will, ironically, help undermine Chavez' authority as chief anti-American demagogue in South America -- will no doubt angry up Republican blood. Who will be the first American conservative to side with the military junta? Or will we see a general agreement that taking a stance against military coups is a net benefit for U.S. national security? I hope it's the latter, if only to avoid sending mixed signals abroad.

-- Tim Fernholz

Photo of Zelaya (R) and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa (L) from the official photostream of the Ecuadorian Presidency.

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