Thursday, October 29, 2009

Obama's friends

The Time Of Tyrants

Democracy: Daniel Ortega muscled Nicaragua's courts to permit his permanent re-election, effectively making him dictator. He's not alone. After the U.S.' shabby treatment of tiny Honduras, a new wave of tyrants is rising.
'Nothing can stop me from re-election," crowed Ortega, a man Ronald Reagan once called "the little dictator." Last Monday Nicaragua's Supreme Court issued a ruling permitting the Marxist Ortega to run for a second term after he and a group of allied mayors petitioned them, overruling a one-term limit in the constitution. Same old Ortega: His dictatorial hunger hasn't changed.
But one thing is different: U.S. actions since the Honduran crisis that have only emboldened him. Last June 28, Honduras' Supreme Court ruled that then-President Manuel Zelaya's bid to hold a reelection referendum was unconstitutional and subject to the sanctions of Honduras' 1982 constitution: removal from office.
Out he went, but the U.S. cried foul, shortly after Zelaya's patron in Caracas, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, yelled "military coup." Unlike Chavez, whose means of striking at Honduras were threats and mayhem — such as sneaking Zelaya back to Tegucigalpa to whip up mobs — the Obama administration was in a position to inflict long-term punishment on the Hondurans.
Over the past four months it has: pulled visas to impede business travel, humiliated leaders, kicked out Honduran diplomats from the U.S., cut off $30 million in economic and military aid, and threatened to not recognize Honduras' Nov. 29 election.
These acts have harmed the economic climate and cost Honduras $200 million in lost business. Most significantly, they've put Honduras on the spot, creating the perception of "crisis" even as Ortega next door creates a real dictatorship. Sure, the State Department says it's "concerned" about the latter. But we don't see any OAS missions or "peace talk" initiatives coming of it.
It's based on an utter misreading of what's threatening Latin America. No, it's not military coups — which went out of style in the 1970s. It's dictators in democracy's clothing. Would-be tyrants use democratic institutions to gut separations of powers and end checks and balances, leaving just an institutional shell of a country with a democratic label. Venezuela's Chavez is its epitome.
Ortega was next, shifting his tactics from the days when he shot his way to power for his last dictatorship, but his goal is the same.
Some may ask what's wrong with this. In Ortega's case it's that the mayors who stood at his side at the court were mayors at all only because of elections that even the State Department called fraudulent. That gives a whiff of the integrity of the widely detested Ortega's coming re-elections now that he can hold them repeatedly.
With word out about U.S. indifference, Ortega's act accelerates a bad trend. Chavista regimes like Bolivia and Ecuador already have conducted similar moves, and now the president of Guatemala has pushed courts into permitting his re-election, too. Even higher-grade democracies like Costa Rica and Colombia are using congressional end-runs around courts for the same result. Such talk is hitting even Brazil.
It all suggests there won't be many new leaders in Latin America for a long time.
Once upon a time, Reagan led a war to rescue Central America from communist dictators and a Cuban-style takeover. Nicaragua was at its epicenter then, and now Ortega seems to have won. So long as the U.S. sees evil only in those who resist becoming democratic zombie states, there's worse on the horizon.
And tiny Honduras, which stood alone to prevent dictatorship, remains ostracized, bullied and reviled by the Obama administration, the Organization of American States, the United Nations and other places that purport to certify democracy.
The outrageous stance is fostering dictatorships. That's some legacy the Obama administration wants to create for our neighbors to our south and the cause of democracy.

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