As the revolt that started this past winter in Tunisia spread to Egypt, Libya, and beyond, dissidents the world over were looking to the Middle East for inspiration. In China, online activists inspired by the Arab Spring called for a “jasmine revolution.” In Singapore, one of the quietest countries in the world, opposition members called for an “orchid evolution” in the run-up to this month’s national elections. Perhaps as a result, those watching from the West have been positively triumphalist in their predictions.
Last year, Hugo Chavez amended Venezuela's constitution and abolished term limits. The entire business was a bit odd, but not because the constitution was changed, which is quite common in Latin America. Nor was it because the changes involved extended his rule (which is equally common). No, what was unusual about the constitutional reform of 2009 was that abolishing term-limits was all it did. You see, constitutions are uniquely plastic in Latin America.
The ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has provided Latin America with a revelatory moment. Beginning with the Monroe Doctrine--and extending through countless invasions, occupations, and covert operations--Washington has considered the region its backyard. So where was this superpower these past few months, as Honduras hung in the balance? More or less sitting on its hands. The fact is that the United States is no longer willing, or perhaps even able, to select who governs from Tegucigalpa, or anywhere else in the region for that matter.