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Deja Vu

July 2, 2009

“Nothing but Bloodshed and Terror!”


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“Leader’s Ouster Not a Coup, Says the Honduran Military,” The New York Times, July 2, 2009.

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Flipping through a stack of legal opinions and holding up a detention order signed by a Supreme Court judge, the chief lawyer of the Honduran armed forces insisted that what soldiers carried out over the weekend when they detained President Manuel Zelaya was no coup d’état.

“A coup is a political move,” the lawyer, Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza Membreño, said Tuesday night in an interview. “It requires the armed forces to assume power over the country, which didn’t happen, and it has to break the rule of law, which didn’t happen either.”

Governments around the world have decided differently, labeling Mr. Zelaya’s removal an illegal act and calling for his prompt return to power. On Monday, the day after the coup, President Obama said, “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras, the democratically elected president there.”

“A Glance at Spanish America,” by Simón Bolívar, 1829.

Nowhere do we find legal elections. Nowhere do we see a normal transfer of elective power based on law. If Buenos Aires manages to abort a Lavalle, the rest of America finds itself overrun by Lavalles. If Dorrego is assassinated, assassinations are rife in Mexico, Bolivia, and Colombia: 25 September is all too recent for us to forget. If [Juan Martín de] Pueyrredón robs the public treasury, there is always someone in Colombia ready to do the same. If Córdoba and Paraguay are oppressed by bloodthirsty hypocrites, Peru has its General [José] La Mar decked out in a donkey skin, sporting tiger claws instead of fingers, licking his lips in anticipation of American blood. If anarchist movements spring up in every Argentine province, Chile and Guatemala are in such a state of tumult that there is scarcely any hope of peace. There [i.e., in Argentina, Manuel de] Sarratea, Rodríguez, and [Carlos María de] Alvear oblige their country to welcome bandits into the capital under the name of Liberators. In Chile, the Carrera regime and its thugs commit acts that are in every way similar. [Ramón] Freire, serving as director, constitutes anarchy, and to bring this about, he collaborates with the congress in acts of extreme violence. [Pedro Alcántara] Urriola takes over the legislature, having first defeated the government troops along with the director who had led them with such distinction. And is there any coup that Guatemala hasn’t attempted? The legitimate authorities are overthrown, the provinces rebel against the capital, brothers wage war on brothers (an atrocity that even the Spaniards had not inflicted), and it’s war to the death. Towns attack towns, cities attack cities, each one claiming its own government, each street declaring itself a nation. In Central America, nothing but bloodshed and terror! …

In America there is no good faith, not even between nations. Our treaties are scraps of paper, our constitutions empty texts, our elections pitched battles, our freedom mere anarchy, our lives pure torture.

Such, Americans, is our deplorable condition. If we cannot change it, we would be better off dead. Nothing is worse than this endless conflict, whose indignity seems to grow in violence with each new faction and with the passage of time. Let us not be deluded: The evil proliferates moment by moment, threatening us with total destruction. Popular unrest, armed uprisings—these will ultimately oblige us to detest the very principles constituting our political life. We have lost all guarantees of individual freedom and security, which were the very goals for which we had sacrificed our blood, and the possessions we treasured most before the war. And if we look back on those times, who can deny that our rights were more respected then? Never before have we been as unfortunate as we are at this moment. Then, we possessed certain positive benefits, tangible benefits, whereas now our hopes are sustained only by fantasies of a better future. The bitter reality of the present leaves us in a state of constant torment, constant disillusionment. Let us have done, then, with twenty agonizing, painful, fatal years. We long for a stable government, reflective of our current situation, worthy of the character of our people, a government that will rescue us from the ferocious hydra of discordant anarchy, a bloodthirsty monster that feeds on the most exquisite marrow of the Republic, and whose inconceivable nature reduces men to such a state of frenzy that it simultaneously fills everyone with an insatiable lust for absolute power and an implacable hatred of legal process.

The true portrait of this chimera is the revolution from which we have just emerged but which still lies in wait if we fail to support with all our vigor the social body tottering on the edge of the abyss. The country is waiting for congress to convene so it can impose on us the task of saving her.

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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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