The greatest tourist attraction in Central America has always been politics. Diplomats stop by every few years, take a couple of snapshots of what's going on at the presidential palace, and then profoundly declare their opinions, devoid of context or history. This week's favorite diplotourism destination is Honduras, where the army Sunday arrested President Manuel Zelaya and booted him across the border to Costa Rica. In the Polaroid analysis, it's pretty clear what happened: ''A return to barbarism in our hemisphere,'' as Argentina's president Cristina Fernández put it.
She had plenty of company. ''The action taken against Honduran President Mel Zelaya violates the precepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and thus should be condemned by all,'' said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. ``We call on all parties in Honduras to respect the constitutional order and the rule of law.''
The OAS Permanent Council voted ''to condemn vehemently the coup d'etat staged this morning against the constitutionally established government of Honduras.'' U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded ``the reinstatement of the democratically elected representatives of the country and full respect for human rights.''
Here's a question for all these new-found defenders of Honduran democracy: Where were you last week? Perhaps if some of these warnings about sticking to the constitution had been addressed to President Zelaya, the Honduran army would still be in the barracks where it belongs.
A naked power grab
For weeks, Zelaya -- an erratic leftist who styles himself after his good pal Hugo Chávez of Venezuela -- has been engaged in a naked and illegal power grab, trying to rewrite the Honduran constitution to allow him to run for reelection in November.
First Zelaya scheduled a national vote on a constitutional convention. After the Honduran supreme court ruled that only the country's congress could call such an election, Zelaya ordered the army to help him stage it anyway. (It would be ''non-binding,'' he said.) When the head of the armed forces, acting on orders from the supreme court, refused, Zelaya fired him, then led a mob to break into a military base where the ballots were stored.
His actions have been repudiated by the country's supreme court, its congress, its attorney-general, its chief human-rights advocate, all its major churches, its main business association, his own political party (which recently began debating an inquiry into Zelaya's sanity) and most Hondurans: Recent polls have shown his approval rating down below 30 percent.
In fact, about the only people who didn't condemn Zelaya's political gangsterism were the foreign leaders and diplomats who now primly lecture Hondurans about the importance of constitutional law. They're also strangely silent about the vicious stream of threats against Honduras spewing from Chávez since Zelaya was deposed.
Warning that he's already put his military on alert, Chávez on Monday flat-out threatened war against Honduras if Roberto Micheletti, named by the country's congress as interim president until elections in November, takes office.
''If they swear him in we'll overthrow him,'' Chávez blustered. ``Mark my words. Thugetti -- as I'm going to refer to him from now on -- you better pack your bags, because you're either going to jail or you're going into exile.''
Hey, Hillary: What does the Inter-American charter say about that?
The Honduran army clearly did not act on its own when it arrested Zelaya and sent him packing. The supreme court says the generals acted on its orders, and almost every Honduran politician of any note -- regardless of party -- has voiced approval.
Long, unpleasant history
They may come to regret their decision. Honduras had a long and unpleasant history of military government in the 20th century, and perhaps the army will not march back into Pandora's box and close the lid behind it so willingly.
But the initial signs are promising; the army, after getting rid of Zelaya, put congress in charge of choosing his replacement. Elections are still scheduled for November. Let's see if the OAS and the United Nations and the Obama administration come back to take another snapshot then.