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Honduras coup spotlights Latin America's growing instability

Unrest has also erupted in Guatemala and Nicaragua in the past year, and the region is dealing with powerful organized crime and drug traffickers.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 3, 2009

Supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya protest in front of the National Congress in Tegucigalpa Thursday. The EU pulled its ambassadors from Honduras in protest of the coup Thursday and the Organization of American States has threatened to expel the country.

Eduardo Verdugo/AP


Tegucigalpa, Honduras

The military ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya on Sunday, for many, harks back to dark days of military coups in Latin America.

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Yet even as it stands as the region's most tense crisis at the moment, it does not stand alone. Protests have erupted across the region in the past year.

Citizens took to streets in Nicaragua demanding a recount after municipal elections they say were rigged.

In Guatemala, protesters called for their president to step down after he was accused of orchestrating a murder. There, as in other countries in the region, organized crime is taking over wide swaths of territory and corrupting institutions.

"Somewhat to my surprise, Central America seems to be unraveling politically," says Kevin Casas-Zamora, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution's Latin America Initiative. "In different ways, it is showing the vulnerabilities of democracy in the region."

Latin American countries have come a long way from the military dictatorships of past decades. Fair elections are the norm, and while institutions are weak, some have become global models. But recent events have proven a disturbing reminder of the fragility of institution-building.

The global community has unanimously condemned the situation in Honduras, calling it a coup, and has urged the nation to reinstate constitutional order.

The head of the Organization of American States said Thursday he would travel to Honduras Friday to demand the return of the ousted president.

The OAS also said it would suspend Honduras if the president is not reinstated by Saturday.

The 27-nation European Union, meanwhile, recalled all its ambassadors to Honduras in protest of the coup.

Still, says Mr. Casas-Zamora, Mr. Zelaya had also broken the law by defying a Supreme Court notice and a nation widely opposed to his plans to move forward with a nonbinding referendum ultimately aimed at scrapping presidential term limits. "The situation in Honduras is bad all around," he says. "No one seems to [care] about the law."

Unrest in Guatemala, Nicaragua

The ouster of Zelaya follows mass protests in Guatemala, after a murdered lawyer, in a video circulated after his death, denounced Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom as an orchestrator of his killing, possibly in an attempt to stymie a corruption scandal. Guatemala has been overrun by organized crime, and drug traffickers threaten to overwhelm the state.