The Honduran government was protecting democracy and respecting the rule of law when it ousted President Manual Zelaya, the democratically elected leader who has worked since coming into office to dismantle the very democracy that elected him. Unfortunately, much of the international community—including the United States—has condemned the action.
Among those coming to the defense of Zelaya are many women’s organizations in the U.S., Europe and throughout Latin American. Many seem sympathetic to Zelaya because he shares their views on domestic policy issues and has called himself a “feminist.” Yet these women’s organizations should not give their support so cheaply. Women’s groups around the world should recognize that the most important thing a government can do to protect women is to respect the rule of law, embrace democracy, and protect individual rights.
It is on those measures that Zelaya has failed spectacularly. Widespread government corruption, alliances with South American dictators such as Noriega, Castro, and Chavez, and limitations on freedom of the press have plagued the Zelaya administration and left the country’s democracy weakened.
Zelaya’s corrupt activities have also cost the country important aid dollars. In 2005, the Millennium Challenge Account—a foreign aid program that provides funding to countries that respect human rights and civil liberties—gave Honduras a relatively high rating in political and civil liberties and provided $215 million to be used for road infrastructure and agriculture diversification. But by 2008, under Zelaya’s presidency, Honduras failed the corruption indicator required for continued funding.
Zelaya popularity with women’s organizations stems from his promise to expand the welfare state and his rhetorical embrace of feminism. It is a tool used by many socialist dictators. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, for example, loves to jump on the feminist bandwagon, saying “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Without the true liberation of women, the liberation of the people would be impossible, and I am convinced that an authentic socialist should also be an authentic feminist.”