Blood in Tegucigalpa

Quico says: It’s hard to know where to start to pick apart yesterday’s extraordinary air-borne telenovela over Tegucigalpa, but it’s only right to start with Isis Murillo: the 19 year old anti-Micheletti demonstrator shot dead by soldiers just outside the airport as Zelaya circled overhead.

I was having a drink with my own 19 year old nephew when it happened. And I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach: stung and furious and dismayed. As we reflect on an afternoon positively brimming with farce, we should bear in mind that at its center was a genuine tragedy. Nobody should die the kind of death Isis Murillo died.

I don’t know who was in command of the soldiers who fired on Isis. I don’t know why those soldiers were packing live ammo at a civilian rally. I don’t know why the Honduran army doesn’t stock plastic buckshot. I don’t know what military planning genius failed to grasp the dangers of this entire situation. I can’t begin to fathom the chain of criminal decisions that lead up to a bunch of soldiers shooting live rounds at an unarmed political march.

Even if those who made this decision were evil enough not to care, their sheer stupidity is staggering: how could they fail to see that handing Zelaya and Chávez the bodies they so desperately needed would disastrously undermine their own position?

One thing I do know: what’s at stake in Honduras right now goes well, well beyond that godforsaken little country’s destiny.

Hugo Chávez made sure of that.

Honduras has turned into a screen onto which our continental psychodrama is projected, the place where the hemisphere symbolically works out its mess of contradictory attitudes towards democracy and what it means and what its defense entails. Because the fight over the meaning of that word is the ideological struggle of our time, and that struggle has to be waged anew in each successive generation.

Will democracy come to mean, to the next generation of Latin Americans, nothing more than uninterrupted rule by a Big Man who is elected every few years but otherwise gets to govern above the law and beyond the control of any alternative power? Or will democracy come to mean something more real, something with deeper roots in our societies and our selves: constitutional rule by office-holders who are no less subject to law for having been elected to lead the republic?

That, in the end, is how the battle lines have been drawn in Honduras, and it’s a testament to Hugo Chávez’s skill that he’s managed to line up all of the hemisphere’s leaders behind a vision that conflates democratic legitimacy with the right of a ruler to do whatever the hell he feels like, in every situation, the constitution be damned.

That is what he has shown us, again and again, he believes in. And that, in the end, is why he is fighting for Zelaya’s return.

Which is why even many who could not – for diplomatic reasons – say so openly have been quietly rooting for Micheletti, hoping his stand against chavista aggression would succeed. Because, lets face it, those of us who reject Chávez’s visiom of caudillismo-cum-democratic-legitimacy really could’ve used a win in Honduras this week.

Any such hope has now died, alongside Isis Murillo. Having started off with a weak but not impossible hand, Micheletti’s government has now completely relinquished any residual claim on the conscience of the hemisphere’s real democrats.

Because it’s simple, really. Democrats don’t order soldiers to fire into unarmed demonstrations. They just don’t.

Now also on TNR’s blog, The Plank.