Latin Americans suffered at least three dozen military coups d'etat from the 1960s through the end of the 20th century. They believed they had put that unsavory history behind them with a wave of democratically elected civilian governments, and for the most part they had, until Honduras returned to that bygone era this week with army tanks in the streets, the president ushered into exile at gunpoint -- in his pajamas -- and the Congress waving a phony resignation letter before naming a new president. This was a coup, and it must be reversed.
Before his ouster, President Manuel Zelaya was no democratic saint himself. He was doing battle with the other branches of government over his legally questionable efforts to eliminate presidential term limits. The Supreme Court and Congress declared a referendum on the subject unconstitutional, and the prosecutor's office and electoral tribunal had the ballots confiscated. When the army refused to organize the vote, Zelaya fired the commander of the armed forces.
The Organization of American States demonstrated extraordinary unity in condemning the coup. That's not surprising, as the OAS includes many countries such as Chile, Argentina and Brazil that have overcome military dictatorships. The U.S., however, was initially more cautious. Instead of calling it a coup, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton referred to "the underlying problems that led to [Sunday's] events." Only on Monday did President Obama finally call those events by their name.