Tuesday, June 30, 2009

U.S. aid and Honduras

The question of whether to call the situation in Honduras a coup keeps popping up. In comments to a previous post, Matthew Shugart mentioned seeing the importance of the term "military coup." The specific wording comes from section 508 of the Foreign Operations Appropriation Act (see here for a U.S. embassy site discussing it). Anyone can call it a coup, which makes no difference. Apparently adding "military" is the key. I suppose someone could argue it is not a "military" coup if the military does not rule, even if the military was responsible for the physical act of overthrowing the president.

"None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree: Provided, That assistance may be resumed to such government if the President determines and certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that subsequent to the termination of assistance a democratically elected government has taken office: Provided further, That the provisions of this section shall not apply to assistance to promote democratic elections or public participation in democratic processes: Provided further, That funds made available pursuant to the previous provisos shall be subject to the regular notification procedures of the Committees on Appropriations."


boz 4:30 PM  

That is an interesting distinction.

Another potential issue is that in order for us to legally start down this path, we could no longer recognize Zelaya as the legitimate president of Honduras. If we legally recognize the military coup, then power has transferred undemocratically and Zelaya is the "former president." He loses significant diplomatic standing at that point. Zelaya wants countries to say he is the current president of Honduras. If the official stance of the US is that Zelaya remains the president, then legally he hasn't been deposed.

This act really doesn't leave room for recognized governments in exile.

Gabriel 4:36 PM  

What happens if Zelaya returns and is arrested and goes to trial? Does everyone accept this?

boz 4:40 PM  

The first step is Zelaya has to be recognized as president (which means Micheletti is not). Otherwise, no, countries will not recognize it.

If Zelaya is reinstated as president and then legal action is taken against him, then we might have a debate.

The example I'm looking at is Venezuelan President Perez. Some lieutenant colonel tried a coup against him in 1992, failed, but Perez was later impeached on corruption charges. It's possible Zelaya could face a similar fate if this coup fails this week and Zelaya returns to the presidency.

Greg Weeks 4:45 PM  

I would think that anything the AG does under Micheletti is not legitimate.

The question is whether they will try to arrest Zelaya when he's part of a large international group. Talk about a PR disaster.

boz 4:53 PM  

I would think that anything the AG does under Micheletti is not legitimate.

Just to play legal semantics (meaning I'm doing this as a thought exercise, don't take it too seriously), the Attorney General was appointed by Mel Zelaya, not Micheletti. Mel Zelaya remains the recognized president of Honduras according to the US, UN and others. Zelaya never took the step to fire his cabinet.

Why aren't the AG's actions legitimate? Why shouldn't Interpol act on the warrant, being that it comes from the AG of the internationally recognized Zelaya government?

Gabriel 4:54 PM  

Also, I think the AG in Honduras is formally more independent than in the US. Is that correct?

Justin Delacour 5:13 PM  

By the way, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly just said the United States is considering cutting off aid to Honduras.

Greg Weeks 5:16 PM  

I am not a legal scholar, but common sense would tell me that decisions made by an illegitimate government should not be considered legitimate. Doesn't matter who named the AG--rule of law does not currently hold in Honduras.

leftside 5:54 PM  

Boz, you seem to be implying that outside powers (the US, UN, etc.) have some standing in determining who is the legitimiate President of Honduras is or not? Where is that argument coming from?

Gabriel, it is true the AG in Honduras is independent of the Executive. The previous AG was removed a month or two ago, I think.

Gabriel 8:01 PM  

From what I have read the AG has been in place since last February. He was not nominated by Zelaya, apparently Congress receives various nominations for AG and chooses between them.

If this is correct then I think Greg is wrong since no matter who is the president the AG remains the same. The AG in Honduras is part of the Minsterio Publico, which is independent of all three branches of government. It appears to be a sort of branch onto itself.

Greg Weeks 8:10 PM  

I would deem any decision from any branch illegitimate while rule of law is clearly not functioning. The executive is exiled, the media is censored, etc.

Gabriel 8:16 PM  

Even in a coup life goes on and decisions are made. The OAS and others claim Zelaya is the legitimate president but no one doubts who is the legitimate AG.

But even if Zelaya is reinstated he still needs to deal with the fact that he is under legal investigation. Turns out Zelaya has been taunting the AG for a while:


The more I read about what's been going on for the last few moths the clearer it becomes this Zelaya was completely out of control.

Greg Weeks 8:39 PM  

I doubt, especially with sudden new accusations appearing magically.

Gabriel,  8:54 PM  

The accusations have been building up for some time as you can see from Zelaya's "I dare you to arrest me" comment a few weeks ago. I don't think these are new accusations.

Zelaya gambled he could utilize the power of the police and military to carry out his orders, no matter their legality, and lost that gamble. And now we have this mess.

Greg Weeks 9:02 PM  

If they were real, why did they not make accusations before kidnapping him and flying him to Costa Rica? If these things were real, he should have been charged in Honduras.

Gabriel,  9:17 PM  

They made the accusations, hence the "You can't arrest me" taunt.

What appears to have driven this to its crazy extreme is Zelaya's total unwillingness to respect judicial rulings and Congress and his decree last Saturday was the last straw. If you read the timeline this began building up months ago but in the last few weeks it exploded out of control.

Greg Weeks 9:21 PM  

Why was he not arrested, then?

Gabriel 9:25 PM  

That's a good question and I don't have a good (or eve bad) answer.

I suspect that as the crisis got worse most thought it wouldn't reach this level, but in the last week Congress and the military panicked and didn't think this carefully. After all they could have accomplished what they wanted (stopping Zelaya's illegal actions) in other ways. If they were willing to kick him out of the country it would have been easier to just arrest and try him. They seem to have the votes for that in any case.

leftside 10:31 PM  

Sorry, I can not stop dwelling on the small point that this great affront to the Constitution, to the Supreme Court, to Congress - was a stupid public opinion poll that meant absolutely nothing. If Zelaya didn't care about the Supreme Court, he would have made the referendum results binding and said screw it. He didn't. He back tracked. But not to the point of abandoning and denying the 800,000 (almost 1/3 of) voters who signed their name demanding a vote on Constitutional reform. He picked a nice middle route. If the results really were against him, there's little doubt the Reform would have waited until he left (in 7 stinking months). They couldn't wait that long? Really stupid pathetic thinking. Now it was to save lives? Provoking this level of division and hatred, as the military has done with this violent act, will never sow cooperation.

leftside 3:01 AM  

I now read (in the Venezuelan press) that the number of signatures wanting a referendum was 500,000 - not 8. Still that is the equivalent of about 35 million Americans. Responding to popular initiatives is called for in the Law of Citizen Participation.

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