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Zelaya’s Useful Idiot – by Jamie Weinstein

Posted By Jamie Weinstein On November 20, 2009 @ 12:08 am In FrontPage | 8 Comments

During the Cold War, Congressional Democrats compiled a long history of being useful idiots for leftist causes and regimes in Latin America. Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois seems to be trying to revive the tradition for the 21st century.

Last week, Schakowsky became the first Congressional Democrat to visit Honduras since Manuel Zelaya was forcibly removed from the Honduran presidency in June. Zelaya’s removal was authorized by the country’s Supreme Court and legislature in response to multiple attempts by Zelaya to violate the Honduran Constitution. It is widely suspected that Zelaya was seeking to change the Constitution in order to extend his presidency, which is limited to one term by Honduran law.

In a hastily arranged conference call just hours after she returned from her three-day trip to Honduras last Thursday, Schakowsky claimed to speak for Congressional Democrats and the U.S. government when she stated “the coup against President Zelaya is illegal and, along with every other nation in the region and the world, we don’t recognize the coup regime as the legitimate government of Honduras.”

It is true that the international community condemned Zelaya’s removal as an illegal coup, a position with which the Obama administration has concurred. But Schakowsky’s statement that the coup was illegal is in conflict with an August report by the Law Library of Congress on the situation in Honduras. The report reviewed the relevant Honduran law and ultimately concluded that

“available sources indicate that the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system.”

When asked about the report, Schakowsky said she disagreed with it and that it was an “outlier.” Instead, the congresswoman focused on what she saw as human-rights violations taking places under the new government of Honduras and singled out Zelaya himself as “a victim of serious human rights abuses.”

If human rights violations occurred, the perpetrators should certainly be punished. But the congresswoman may have only been getting only half of the story from Zelaya and his supporters. If Zelaya’s removal was an illegal coup d’état, as Congresswoman Schakowsky, the Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration maintain, it would be one of the odder coups in recent memory. Most illegal coups take place as a power grab. But Zelaya’s removal was supported not only by the Supreme Court, but by almost the entirety of the Honduran legislature, including by the vast majority of members in Zelaya’s own party. On November 29, Honduras will hold democratic elections in which Honduras’s interim President Roberto Micheletti will not participate. Micheletti has stated that he plans step down in January and turn over power to whomever is elected in the forthcoming elections.

When I asked Congresswoman Schakowsky to explain why nearly the entire leadership of Honduras and the country’s Supreme Court would support the removal of Zelaya, if not for some sort of power grab since Micheletti will be giving up power, Schakowsky didn’t have a particularly compelling answer. “I think there were a number of things,” she said, “including raising the minimum wage. A number of things that the Zelaya administration had done that were offensive to the business class, the elites in Honduras, and so, I know, I think they wanted him out.”

So it was a business conspiracy aimed at preventing Zelaya from raising the minimum wage, according to the congresswoman. But what of the fact that the new president of Honduras will be chosen by democratic elections? Wouldn’t these nefarious business leaders have hand-picked a replacement? If they wanted a puppet in power, why not install someone they could control to rule Honduras instead of allowing the new leader to be chosen by unpredictable democratic elections? It doesn’t make much sense.

Asked by another reporter whether she was concerned about accusations that Zelaya was moving toward the orbit of Venezuela’s anti-American president Hugo Chavez, Schakowsky brushed off the concern as unfounded, citing an unimpeachable source. “I talked to President Zelaya about that and he felt those fears were way overstated,” she declared. Well, that settles that.

On second thought, perhaps Schakowsky shouldn’t be taking Zelaya at his word on such matters. After all, this is a man who reportedly told the Miami Herald with a straight face that “Israeli mercenaries” were torturing him by pumping toxic gases and high-frequency radiation into the Brazilian Embassy in Honduras, where he is currently holed up.

Schakowsky said these comments by Zelaya were “completely inappropriate.” But the comments were not so much inappropriate as they were insane. Does this sound like a person who is capable of leading a country? Or, for that matter, a man from whom Schakowsky can be confident she is getting the truth?

Schakowsky’s trip raises many questions. While the Congresswoman says “democratic order needs to be restored in Honduras,” by which she means “President Zelaya needs to be restored” to power, one may wonder why she is so eager to rush to the defense of a leader who is of such questionable reputation. Why not just allow the elections to go forward at the end of the month and allow the Honduran people to decide their new leader? More broadly, why were so many of those on the Left so hesitant to criticize the fraudulent elections that occurred in Iran over the summer, but so quick to criticize Honduran internal matters that the Library of Congress says were legitimate?

These questions deserve answers. As for Congresswoman Schakowsky, perhaps the explanation is as simple as her longing to return to the good old days, when trips to exotic Latin American locales simply entailed stumping for some leftist leader.


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