Levitsky Leads Honduras Talk

Summer coup could impact future of democracy in Latin America

The coup in Honduras that occurred over the summer and the subsequent international reaction may have large implications for the future of democracy in Latin America, Professor Steven R. Levitsky said at a dinner discussion last night.

The discussion was hosted by International Relations on Campus, the outreach arm of the Harvard International Relations Council.

International media first focused on the small Central American nation in June when the Honduran military ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya while he was attempting to reform the national constitution—over the objection of the Supreme Court—to allow him to serve another term in office.

The crisis intensified when the United States, following the lead of some Latin American countries and the Organization of American States, refused to recognize the new government. Leaders of these countries sought to restore Zelaya to power, even though the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had sanctioned the ouster.

Levitsky said he largely agreed with the U.S. and Latin American policy, emphasizing that there have been few coups in Latin American in the past 30 years and that recognition of the coup threatened to destabilize other Latin American democracies.

“When a president is taken out of his house in his pajamas and is forced to leave by the military, that is a coup,” Levitsky said.

Strong democratic institutions, such as a congress that responds to the people and civilian control of the military provided the best hope of a warding off the cycle of instability and coups that have dominated Latin American in the past, he said.

“Democratic institutions have to weather storms and last over a number of years to take root,” Levistky said, adding that sanctioning the coup posed “an incredibly dangerous precedent.”

Some students—including Meredith C. Baker ’13, who was volunteering in Honduras at the time of the coup—disagreed with Levitsky about the decision to oppose the coup.

“The consensus of the Hondurans was that they did not like Zelaya, and that murder and drug trafficking rates increased under his presidency,” Baker said. “They did not want him restored to power.”

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