The Cult of the Caudillo: Why Honduras Has Latin America Worried

In the tile-roofed presidential palace near downtown Tegucigalpa, a man sits behind a long wooden desk claiming to be the country's president.

But in the eyes of the international community, Roberto Micheletti took charge through an old-fashioned coup.

Nearly two weeks ago, on June 28, his predecessor, Manuel "Mel" Zelaya, was rousted from bed by soldiers and sent out of the country in his pajamas.

Micheletti, next in line for the presidency as head of congress, was sworn in later that day.

Tied to wealthy business interests and brought to power by the military, the provisional government brings back memories of the coup in which Chilean Augusto Pinochet tore down the Socialist project of Salvador Allende in 1973.

On the streets of Tegucigalpa nowadays, some protesters have scrawled graffiti that merges the names of Pinochet and their new, unelected leader: "Pinocheletti."

In Micheletti's take on events, it was his government who avoided another, slow-motion coup — by Zelaya himself.

Micheletti's supporters say Zelaya was a dictator in the making, a modern-day caudillo, or strongman, who wanted to rewrite Honduran law to stay in power, perhaps indefinitely.

To understand what is happening in Honduras today, it helps to know a bit more about Latin America's long love affair with caudillos, how these larger-than-life but power-hungry men damaged their countries, and why so many people are terrified that they are making a comeback.

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