Honduras: Opening the Door for the Military

One of the main reasons given by many people for supporting the overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya in 2009 was the belief that he was attempting to change the Constitution either to allow presidents of Honduras to run for re-election or to extend their terms in office. There was never any hard proof that that is what Mr. Zelaya intended to do. In fact, Mr. Zelaya denied this accusation several times. It was all speculation, based on Mr. Zelaya's close relationship with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who had managed to successfully perpetuate himself in power.

Lots of people in Honduras simply didn't trust Mr. Zelaya and increasingly noticed during the six months prior to his removal that he was becoming irrational and starting to act like a bit of a dictator. Many people in Honduras were convinced that Mr. Zelaya was planning to manipulate public opinion polls and referendums and establish a constituent assembly to review and rewrite the Constitution in a way that would allow him to remain President. Again, all this was pure speculation, but lots of Hondurans really believed it, and they feared that Honduras would return to the era of dictators.

So the powers that be in Honduras -- a mix of Liberal and Nationalist politicians and influential business leaders, in collusion with the Supreme Court and the Armed Forces, and with perhaps a tacit nod from the U.S. government -- got rid of Mr. Zelaya. Largely for the sake of pre-empting Mel the dictator, and worse... Mel the socialist dictator and his annoying Venezuelan dance partner.

For all its democratic imperfections, Honduras had succeeded in holding fair and regular presidential elections since 1981, with peaceful transitions of presidential power every four years. Many Hondurans did not wish to relinquish this predictability, believing that it was better not to give presidents too much time to grow overly fond of their office and consolidate too much power, and thus be able to steal even larger quantities of cash than they were already going to do.

There is a similar sentiment in Honduras these days with regard to Congressman and Nationalist presidential candidate (who is also the president of the National Congress) Juan Orlando Hernández and his proposal to create a new military police force consisting of 5,000 recruits. This proposal, along with the deployment of thousands of soldiers by the Lobo administration to patrol the streets of Honduran towns and cities, brings back unpleasant memories of the 1960s and 1970s when Honduras was ruled by the military. Mr. Lobo and Mr. Hernández are playing with fire when they offer the military to police Honduras, and what they envision is not progress, but rather regression.

It's a dangerous thing to mix and cloud the roles of these two security institutions. One exists to deal with external threats, and the other for internal. Make the military and the police more professional and effective by paying, training and equipping them better. Don't confuse them by inserting them into battlefields and against combatants for which they were never meant.