Did Someone Say Coup?

Mona Charen
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Posted: Jun 30, 2009 12:00 AM

The news that Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was removed from his post and spirited out of the country by the Honduran military has elicited official condemnations from the governments of France, Ecuador, Chile, Spain, and Argentina; as well as protests from the Organization of American States and the United Nations. The U.S. State Department called the events an "attempted coup," and demanded that Mr. Zelaya be returned to power in order to facilitate the "restoration of democratic order."

Hold on. There was an attempted coup in Honduras, but it was Zelaya who initiated it, not his opponents. As the invaluable Mary Anastasia O'Grady reported in the Wall Street Journal, Zelaya, a Hugo Chavez acolyte, was attempting to ape his mentor by rewriting Honduras' constitution. Under Honduran law, however, the president cannot call a referendum on the constitution on his own authority. O'Grady explains: "While Honduran law allows for a constitutional rewrite ... A constituent assembly can only be called through a national referendum approved by its Congress. But Mr. Zelaya declared the vote on his own and had Mr. Chavez ship him the necessary ballots from Venezuela. The Supreme Court ruled his referendum unconstitutional, and it instructed the military not to carry out the logistics of the vote as it normally would do." The attorney general of Honduras, as well as the nation's Supreme Court, had declared the referendum illegal. Zelaya attempted an end run. O'Grady writes: "Calculating that some critical mass of Hondurans would take his side, the president decided he would run the referendum himself. So on Thursday he led a mob that broke into the military installation where the ballots from Venezuela were being stored and then had his supporters distribute them in defiance of the Supreme Court's order."

Zelaya had a good teacher. Hugo Chavez has been patiently and persistently undermining the democratic character of Venezuela for 11 years -- a slow-motion coup. Just a day before Zelaya's confrontation with the army and the courts came to a head, thousands of Venezuelans once more took to the streets of Caracas, this time to protest the threatened closure of Globovision, the only remaining television channel in the country critical of President for Life Chavez. Two years ago, RCTV (Radio Caracas Television), then the nation's leading station, lost its license because it declined to provide fawning coverage of Chavez (one is tempted to call him "the Dear One" as they do in North Korea). "The media terrorism in Venezuela is a permanent practice by a big part of the private media," Andres Izarra, a government spokesman, explained to the Washington Post. "Messages of hate," Izarra asserted, "some inserted subliminally," had been detected by the government even in entertainment shows. Chavez has hardly been subtle about his goals. In a statement that could have come from Vladimir Lenin, Adolf Hitler, or Joseph Stalin, he declared, "I am going to go after those resisting the revolution and eliminate them one by one." His targets have included priests, independent journalists, businessmen, opposition politicians, and Venezuela's tiny Jewish community.

Globovision stands accused by the government of "media terrorism" because a commentator suggested that Chavez might end his days the way Benito Mussolini did. Two weeks ago, CBS reports, police raided the home of Globovision's president, Guillermo Zuloaga, and ordered the station to pay $2.3 million for giving free airtime to anti-government groups during a 2002 oil strike. The government was further enraged when Globovision provided coverage of an earthquake before the official media arrived on scene, and particularly that Globovision was critical of the government's handling of relief. Chavez accused the station of spreading terror and needlessly alarming the nation.

If Globovision is silenced, there will be no free television at all in Venezuela. Thousands of Venezuelans marched to protest the dying of the light, yet foreign ministries around the world were silent. Neither Secretary of State Clinton nor President Obama has breathed a word of condemnation of Chavez's slow strangling of freedom in Venezuela, nor his export of Chavismo to Nicaragua, Bolivia, or Honduras. But without a moment's reflection, the secretary of state and the president offered crucial diplomatic support to Chavez disciple Manuel Zelaya.

When Barack Obama was asked about the book Chavez handed him last April, "Open Veins of Latin America," the president said he hadn't read it. Now I'm not so sure.