President Mel Zelaya is right to refuse to be delivered back to his presidential chair, trussed and bound like a capon, an impotent symbol of a democratic facade.

Robert E. White, president
of the Center for International

If Secretary of State Clinton permits the coup regime to impose conditions on the return of the constitutional president, then she damages, perhaps irreparably, the Organization of Americas States (OAS), and breaks faith with Oscar Arias who thought he had her unequivocal backing.

For the United States to placate those who encouraged the coup, to guarantee that no price will be paid by those who broke the constitutional order, to impose insulting conditions on an elected president as a price for his return, is to connive with those who have degraded democracy in Honduras for the last 25 years.

The United States has a great opportunity. By speaking unambiguously, by acting decisively, by joining with the other nations of the hemisphere in restoring constitutional government, a great victory will have been achieved for the Obama doctrine of a Partnership of the Americas.

Mel was undoubtedly an erratic and inept president. In fact, Honduras has had a succession of hapless presidents who were tolerated because they never tried to put into effect any serious reforms. Unlike the others, Zelaya tried to bring to Honduras some measure of economic democracy. He failed, in part because of his own weaknesses, but the limited success he did achieve brought down on him the wrath of those to whom Honduras is not a nation to be uplifted, but a money machine to be exploited.

If the United States and the OAS cannot do the job, I have no doubt that President Hugo Chavez will put together a coalition to restore the rightful president. If we won’t lead, others will.

There is a precedent for this. In 1948, the sitting president of Costa Rica with the support of the oligarchy and the military decided to annul the election results and stay in office. The United States did nothing. Pepe Figueres led a volunteer force, supported with military contingents from Guatemala, Cuba, and the Caribbean Legion. This combined force defeated the Costa Rican Army and Figueres restored the constitutional order. Out of that intervention came the abolition of the military, taxes for the rich, New Deal-type reforms for the country, and the finest democracy in Latin America.