Could Honduras crisis prompt a power grab in Nicaragua?
Strongarm tactics used during the seven-month political crisis in Honduras set a bad example for the region's other fragile democracies and could lead to a power grab in Nicaragua, critics say.
As Honduras begins to return to normal under democratically elected President Porfirio Lobo, who took office Jan. 27, the political crisis sparked by last summer’s military ouster of President Manuel Zelaya appears to be fading into history as another chapter in Central America's tumultuous past.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But Honduras’s seven-month experiment with de facto governance under conservative interim President Roberto Micheletti may have lasting political repercussions in the region, even after Honduras has healed and moved on.
In neighboring Nicaragua, for instance, critics charge that President Daniel Ortega is using the Honduras episode as a cudgel – and a justification – for eroding the checks and balances of his country's fragile democracy.
“What happened to President Manuel Zelaya could happen to [you] next,” Ortega warned the opposition following Honduras’s presidential elections on Nov. 29, 2009.
And like the case of Honduras, he warned, international mechanisms for dealing with a democratic crisis, such as the Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS), have already proven ineffective.
“With what authority are you going to complain?” Ortega said. “With what Democratic Charter? The Democratic Charter has fallen to pieces… there is no Democratic Charter that means anything in Latin America; decisions are now made by the people.”
Scrapping democratic norms?
Like Micheletti's former interim government in Honduras, Ortega has recently made a series of legally questionable moves that he claims are intended to protect the Constitution.
When judges aligned with Ortega's Sandinista Party overturned a constitutional ban on consecutive reelection in October to allow Ortega to run again in 2011, they justified the move by claiming that they were protecting people's “constitutional right” to vote for whomever they want as their president. And when Ortega passed a Jan. 9 decree to extend the periods of 23 top judges and magistrates whose constitutional terms are set to end in the coming months, the president said his decision was based on his constitutional obligation to provide stability to the country and prevent chaos.
In both cases, the opposition, civil society, and legal analysts argue Ortega’s moves are illegal attempts to consolidate his power and undermine the country’s constitutional democracy.
“I'm afraid Nicaragua has already crossed the threshold into a failed state,” said Nicaraguan lawmaker Francisco Aguirre, national secretary of the Liberal Constitutional Party. “It's no longer a potential category, we're already there.”