As Honduras Officials Meet for Second Day of Peace Talks, attorney Miguel Estrada, born and raised in Honduras, writes: Honduras’ non-coup
Under the country’s Constitution, the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya was legal.
Something clearly has gone awry with the rule of law in Honduras — but it is not necessarily what you think. Begin with Zelaya’s arrest. The Supreme Court of Honduras, as it turns out, had ordered the military to arrest Zelaya two days earlier. A second order (issued on the same day) authorized the military to enter Zelaya’s home to execute the arrest. These orders were issued at the urgent request of the country’s attorney general. All the relevant legal documents can be accessed (in Spanish) on the Supreme Court’s website. They make for interesting reading.
What you’ll learn is that the Honduran Constitution may be amended in any way except three. No amendment can ever change (1) the country’s borders, (2) the rules that limit a president to a single four-year term and (3) the requirement that presidential administrations must “succeed one another” in a “republican form of government.”
In addition, Article 239 specifically states that any president who so much as proposes the permissibility of reelection “shall cease forthwith” in his duties, and Article 4 provides that any “infraction” of the succession rules constitutes treason. The rules are so tight because these are terribly serious issues for Honduras, which lived under decades of military rule.
Estrada’s article goes into details I have also explained in my prior posts,
The attorney general filed suit and secured a court order halting the referendum. Zelaya then announced that the voting would go forward just the same, but it would be called an “opinion survey.” The courts again ruled this illegal. Undeterred, Zelaya directed the head of the armed forces, Gen. Romeo Vasquez, to proceed with the “survey” — and “fired” him when he declined. The Supreme Court ruled the firing illegal and ordered Vasquez reinstated.
Zelaya had the ballots printed in Venezuela, but these were impounded by customs when they were brought back to Honduras. On June 25 — three days before he was ousted — Zelaya personally gathered a group of “supporters” and led it to seize the ballots, restating his intent to conduct the “survey” on June 28. That was the breaking point for the attorney general, who immediately sought a warrant from the Supreme Court for Zelaya’s arrest on charges of treason, abuse of authority and other crimes. In response, the court ordered Zelaya’s arrest by the country’s army, which under Article 272 must enforce compliance with the Constitution, particularly with respect to presidential succession. The military executed the court’s order on the morning of the proposed survey.
Then, after Zelaya was deposed,
It cannot be right to call this a “coup.” Micheletti was lawfully made president by the country’s elected Congress. The president is a civilian. The Honduran Congress and courts continue to function as before. The armed forces are under civilian control. The elections scheduled for November are still scheduled for November. Indeed, after reviewing the Constitution and consulting with the Supreme Court, the Congress and the electoral tribunal, respected Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga recently stated that the only possible conclusion is that Zelaya had lawfully been ousted under Article 239 before he was arrested, and that democracy in Honduras continues fully to operate in accordance with law. All Honduran bishops joined Rodriguez in this pronouncement.
Or, as Andy McCarthy put it,
Bottom line: Hugo Chavez wants Zelaya in, the law of Honduras says Zelaya must be out; Obama sided with Chavez.
Why is the Obama administration insisting that Zelaya be reinstated?
It is difficult for Hondurans and other democrats within the region to understand the full significance of President Zelaya’s expulsion from Honduras. Up until this point, there has not been any significant voice in the opposition to the dismantling of democratic institutions and free societies in Venezuela, Bolivia–and as Honduras was going down the path, you might also add Nicaragua to that, to name only a few of the most visible cases.
It is also hard to explain why there was this silence in the face of President Zelaya’s earlier unconstitutional actions, especially the event that appeared to precipitate his ousting: the storming of a military base to seize and distribute ballots for a referendum that previously had been declared unconstitutional by the Honduran Supreme Court.
A fundamental tenet of democracy is the separation of powers. You have a President in the executive branch and then you have the judicial branch of government, a coequal and separate branch, and that branch told the President the referendum he was seeking to have to extend his rule beyond the constitutional term was illegal, it should not be done. He was undeterred and he was completely unrepentant as he sought to continue his plan to have a referendum, even though the Congress, even though the judiciary had already told him that was in contravention of the Constitution of their country.
Where was the region’s outrage over Hugo Chavez’s support for Mr. Zelaya’s unconstitutional actions in Honduras? Mr. Chavez supported Mr. Zelaya because they are kindred spirits, because Mr. Chavez had already been able to usurp every institution of democracy within his country of Venezuela and now rules as an autocrat. He wanted to have the same playbook applied in Honduras as he coached and shepherded to do some of the same things in Bolivia and to some degree in Nicaragua as well–and Nicaragua coming along.
The Honduran people decided this was not going to happen in their country, and the people in the Honduran Congress and in the Honduran Supreme Court decided it was not going to happen on their watch. But the region’s silence toward the assault on democracy in Honduras followed a pattern of acquiescence of Chavez’s dismantling of democratic institutions and civil liberties in Venezuela.
For instance, the OAS has said absolutely nothing about Chavez’s closing of independent media, his manipulation of elections, his erosion of independent branches of government, and his usurping of the authority of local elected officials. Leaders like Chavez, Ortega, and Zelaya have cloaked themselves in the language of democracy when it was convenient for them. Yet their actions ignored it when it did not further their personal ambitions.
This situation was compounded by the actions of the United States, including work behind the scenes to keep the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court from using the clearly legal means of Presidential impeachment. Some of us have wondered why wasn’t he impeached? Why didn’t the Congress go ahead and impeach President Zelaya? Our Embassy in Tegucigalpa counseled that the Hondurans should not use the tools of impeachment.
Today Zelaya is in the Dominican Republic, after yesterday Honduran Officials Begin Talks on Country’s Political Future
Even as negotiations over the future of Honduras’s government began in Costa Rica, however, hopes were dim for a quick solution. Mr. Zelaya has said the only solution is his return to power, while Roberto Micheletti, the man who replaced him as president, says everything can be discussed except Mr. Zelaya’s return as president.
The talks will test the diplomatic skills of mediator Óscar Arias, Costa Rica’s president, who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to ending civil wars in the region. When the Obama administration this week suggested Mr. Arias as a mediator for the crisis, the sides quickly agreed.
In separate sessions, Mr. Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti each met with Mr. Arias. The adversaries didn’t meet face-to-face. At the end of the first day of talks, Mr. Micheletti, saying he was “totally satisfied” with the progress, flew back to Honduras, leaving a four-man commission to continue the discussions.
Mr. Micheletti’s departure was “not too auspicious,” said Michael Shifter, vice president for policy at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. “The talks are a positive development, and Arias is the right guy, but negotiating the end to Central American wars may seem easy compared to this.”
On one hand, Mr. Micheletti, head of the interim government, realizes he will have a hard time governing amid international condemnation for the coup and the suspension of international aid to Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere.
On the other hand, Mr. Zelaya has an uphill battle in his quest to return to power. He faces determined opposition from the Honduran congress, military, business and most of its political class.
Jim Hoft has a timeline on Ten Days that Shook Honduras at Pajamas Media, and posts on Zelaya Supporters Rally in Honduras– Carry Che Guevara, Hugo Chavez & Obama Signs that I mentioned yesterday.
Juan Forero at the WaPo reports on In Honduras, One-Sided News of Crisis
Critics Cite Slanted Local Coverage, Limits on Pro-Zelaya Outlets – an instance of Pot, meet kettle?
Further roundup at CDA Tracks the Crisis in Honduras
I’ll update this post with further news as they develop today. Emphasis added on all above.
Blog supporting Honduras, Support Free Honduras
At the BBC No breakthrough in Honduras talks
Well, that’s a good start: Chavez doesn’t like the negotiations: Chávez: el diálogo es “indigno”, The dialogue is “undignified”, and says it was a “grave mistake” on Hillary Clinton’s part. He wants the US to withdraw its Ambassador to Honduras, and political and economic sanctions against the country.
Coup? Israelis in Honduras say they aren’t worried
Foreign Ministry issues travel warning in light of recent troubles, but Israeli businessmen say there is no sign of violence so far. Ambassador: ‘I just spoke to a couple that was barbequing and planning to go out as usual’ (h/t GoV
Prior posts here.
Note: today there is utility work down the street and internet connections are iffy. Thank you for your patience.