Coup de Disgrace: The Pluckiest Little Nation Won’t Be at the U.N. This Year

Patrick Goodenough
By Patrick Goodenough | September 18, 2009 | 5:47 AM EDT

Here’s a quick quiz: name a small democracy in a neighborhood where much bigger nations – most of them significantly less democratic – are leading efforts to isolate it in the international community.
In the face of considerable hostility at the United Nations, the country concerned could use a loyal, powerful ally.
If you guessed Israel, you wouldn’t be wrong, for the Jewish state has for decades been on the receiving end of General Assembly animus. It has not been completely alone, however, a fact borne out by such lopsided voting results as 186-5 (the five being the United States and other honorable dissenters from the global consensus, including at times Australia, the Marshall Islands and Palau, as well as Israel itself).
It is unclear how much longer Israel will continue to enjoy the constant support of the superpower under the Obama administration. But for now at least, the level of sympathy among many politicians as well as ordinary Americans remains strong.
Not so, unfortunately, in the case of another small, beleaguered democracy.
U.N. headquarters in New York City next week will play host to, at last count, 86 heads of state, 36 heads of government, three vice-presidents, eight deputy prime ministers and 55 foreign ministers.
None will represent the constitutionally-mandated, interim government of Honduras.
President Roberto Micheletti and Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez had their U.S. visas revoked this month, the latest retaliatory step for the removal from power over the summer of Manuel Zelaya.
The former president was ousted on the orders of the Supreme Court after he violated Honduras’ constitution by proposing to amend its presidential term limits.

After expelling Zelaya, the army returned to barracks. As legislature president Micheletti was next in the constitutional line of succession. He was voted into the presidential post and says he will vacate it once previously scheduled elections are held in November. He does not plan to run.

Nonetheless, the U.S. has thrown its lot in with those saying that the events of June 28 constituted a “coup.” Consequences have included the suspended of non-humanitarian U.S. aid to Honduras, a poor country slightly bigger than Virginia, with a population of around 7.3 million.
Honduras’ seat at the General Assembly will remain empty next week. Or, more likely, Zelaya and his trademark cowboy hat will make a dramatic appearance of the type favored by his leftist ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Twenty-three delegations away, the seat for the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya will be filled by Muammar Gaddafi. His first visit to the U.N. (and the U.S.) caps a two-year stint for Libya as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, and kicks off the year-long 64th session General Assembly session presided over by Gaddafi’s former foreign minister, Ali Triki.
A highlight for Gaddafi – if not for the rest of us – will be his address to the world gathering. In his capacity as president of the African Union (A.U.), he is scheduled to speak immediately after President Obama.
For anyone needing a reminder, Gaddafi early this month laid on a grand celebration to mark the 40th anniversary of his seizure of power. The 1969 event was one that no reasonable person could define as anything other than a coup, although Gaddafi prefers to call it “The Great al-Fatah Revolution.”
Incidentally, guest of honor at the festivities in Tripoli was Chavez, taking a short break from leading the Latin American chorus of outrage over the Honduras “coup.” Another guest evidently oblivious to irony was Jean Ping, head of the A.U.’s administrative Commission, who in his remarks to Gaddafi and co. deplored “the scourge of state coups” plaguing Africa.
It’s difficult to imagine two more different leaders than the volatile, bizarre Gaddafi and the soft-spoken, avuncular Honduran who ended an interview with Fox News this week by saying, “God bless America, God bless Honduras, and [to interviewer Greta van Susteren] God bless you.”
Yet unlike Micheletti, Gaddafi has not had visa difficulties, thanks to a 1947 measure that permits foreign delegates unimpeded access to a demarcated “headquarters district” in NYC.
Notwithstanding the recent unhappiness over the Lockerbie bombing convict’s release, Gaddafi is now a friend of Western governments, which have put aside that small unpleasantness of 40 years ago, not to mention decades of spreading terror abroad and repression at home.
Western oil companies are lining up for a share of Libya’s oil and gas wealth, while leaders from Silvio Berlusconi and Gordon Brown to Obama are not averse to shaking the former pariah’s hand.
Gaddafi is not the only head of state who -- despite coming to power in a coup -- is now persona grata in the West.
The U.N. seats of Sudan, Qatar, Oman, Burkina Faso, Tunisia and Equatorial Guinea, for example, will not stand empty next week. All these countries’ leaders owe their positions to coups, and all are members in good standing at the General Assembly.
Sudan, moreover, is one of 21 vice-presidents of the 64th session, despite the fact Omar al-Bashir, coup d’etat class of 1989, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur.
While Khartoum’s ties with Washington remain chilly, that isn’t the case with some of the other coup-produced governments. For the Obama administration, and its predecessors, it’s been business as usual with many of them.
Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip Crowley on Thursday called Qatar “one of our close allies in the Gulf region” and announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had met with its foreign minister earlier in the day. “Ties between the U.S. and Qatar are excellent,” the State Department’s Web site informs us.
That would be the same Qatar whose emir seized control in 1995 by toppling his own father.
The sultan who runs Oman ousted his father too, in 1970. Oman and the U.S. have good ties, and signed a Free Trade Agreement in 2006. President Clinton visited in 2000, as did Vice President Cheney in 2002, 2005 and 2006.
Some 3,800 miles to the west, in Burkina Faso, army captain Blaise Compaore came to power in a 1987 coup during which the man he overthrew was gunned down and quickly buried in an unmarked grave. His widow and sons are still trying to establish the precise location of his remains.
“U.S. relations with Burkina Faso are excellent,” says the State Department.
In the same year of Compaore’s coup, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali grabbed power in Tunisia by declaring the elderly president medically unfit to remain in office.
This year the U.S. is providing Tunisia with $12 million in foreign military financing plus another $8.8. million to support counterterrorism programs. “The United States has very good relations with Tunisia,” the State Department reports.
And finally, Equatorial Guinea has been misruled since 1979 by a man who as a military police officer seized power in a coup, then had his predecessor tried and executed.
Subsequent “elections” in a country where oil riches have done nothing to improve the lives of its citizens have seen suspiciously large victories for Teodoro Obiang, whom critics have described as one of Africa’s worst dictators.
The U.S. is the largest single foreign investor in Equatorial Guinea, which has an embassy in Washington and a consulate in Houston.
Obiang, who then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice welcomed as “a good friend” on a 2006 visit, will be among the leaders feted at the U.N. next week.
When coming from the likes of Chavez, the double standards reflected in the vilification of Honduras’ interim government are not particularly surprising.

They are infinitely more troubling when echoed by those in Washington who know better.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow