Friday, July 03, 2009

Exile and illegality in Honduras

For the past few days, the Honduran military has been surprisingly forthcoming. It is not terribly common for top military brass to admit to criminal wrongdoing, yet now they have. As I noted yesterday, it was entirely illegal to remove Zelaya from the country, and the military's lawyer now acknowledges that fact (h/t Steven Taylor). That's good.

But there is more to Colonel Bayardo's interview.

First, no one knows why no one ever considered even taking Zelaya to court. The decision to get him out of the country was a last minute one taken by the military authorities. The civilian authorities seem to have had no idea what they were doing, and allowed the military to do whatever it wanted. The Attorney General's office has to launch an investigation to even know why a trial was not considered.

This week, Deputy Attorney General Roy David Urtecho told reporters that he launched an investigation into why Zelaya was removed by force instead of taken to court.

Thus, the argument that normal institutional channels were followed is really unraveling.

Second, Bayardo says he (and many other officers) did not like Zelaya only because he was leftist, making reference to the Cold War.

''We fought the subversive movements here and we were the only country that did not have a fratricidal war like the others,'' he said. ``It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That's impossible. I personally would have retired, because my thinking, my principles, would not have allowed me to participate in that.''

So all these years later, "leftist" is still seen as synonymous with "subversive," despite elections.


D. Blodgett,  3:49 PM  

You say:
First, no one knows why no one ever considered even taking Zelaya to court.

But in the interview with the military lawyer that you link, he says by way of explanation:

''What was more beneficial, remove this gentleman from Honduras or present him to prosecutors and have a mob assault and burn and destroy and for us to have to shoot?'' he said. ``If we had left him here, right now we would be burying a pile of people.''

Maybe you don't believe this...but an explanation you find not credible is a little bit different from no explanation at all wouldn't you agree?

Greg Weeks 3:57 PM  

I understand your logic, but only civilian institutions have the authority to take him to court, and no one knows why they did not do so. That is why they need an investigation.

The military, on the other hand, were told only to detain him (at least that is what they have said--no one has seen the text of any order). Instead, they took him out of the country, and we now know their rationale.

Gabriel 6:36 PM  

Thanks Greg, this has become the place to read on this crisis.

Some comments:

1) I think you are being way too harsh on the 'leftist' comment. Look at the rest of what the military lawyer says:

''I am 54 years years old,'' Inestroza said. ``I left my youth, my adolescence and part of my adulthood here -- an entire lifetime. You should understand it's very difficult for someone who has dedicated his whole life to a country and an institution to see, from one day to another, a person who is not normal come and want to change the way of life in the country without following the steps the law indicates,.''

He is saying that he can't accept a president that will so willingly break the law.

2) It's pretty clear by now that this was not a military coup, at least not in the traditional sense. We now know there were clear orders from the SC for the military to act and the military did not depose the president to assume power. It's a mess but it's no ordinary coup.

3) Romer, the head of Obama's CEA, recently said she realized she had been way too harsh on policymakers during the Great Depression, now that she is in policy role herself in a not-so-different situation. Paul Krugman said the same about Japan's policymakers during the lost decade of the 1990s.

It's easy to point out that the military 'should have' simply arrested him and not kicked him out of office, but we are not in the ground in Tegucigalpa. It's clear by now that Zelaya was completely out of control and respected no legal boundaries. He was perfectly willing to use mob rule to further his illegal acts, as we saw in his storming a military base to get the ballots despite legal rulings. The military had to consider that. If he had been arrested and jailed, Zelaya would most likely have mobilized supporters to free him.

4) In the end it's become clear that no one has clean hands but that Zelaya is, by far, the main culprit of this mess. He alone could have stopped it if he had simply followed the law and accepted the judicial rulings. But he didn't.

5) Finally, I am beginning to agree with Chavez. Let's close the OAS down. It's borderline useless and taken over by idiots.

Justin Delacour 6:53 PM  

Let's close the OAS down.

Better yet, why don't we appoint Gabriel the new Secretary General of the OAS? That way we could reestablish the precedent that extra-legal overthrows of democratically-elected presidents are a-okay for the region.

Gabriel 7:01 PM  


The overthrow wasn't illegal. It was sanctioned by the SC (yes I know you have a different view but you don't get to decide what is legal in Honduras, the SC does).

What was illegal was kicking him out of the country.

Justin Delacour 7:20 PM  

Simple question for you, Gabriel.

Can you name me one example of a liberal-democratic regime that has summarily deposed its duly elected president without so much as an exhaustive set of impeachment proceedings and/or court hearings in which the accused has a right to a legal defense?

Name me one example.

Gabriel 7:25 PM  


I never pretended this was well handled. And I don't think anyone considers Honduras an example of a liberal-democratic regime.

These are very poor countries, with very weak institutions. It's a little like the US in the 1870s, right after the Civil war. We readily talk about economic development but there are also countries in different stages of political development. Honduras is decades behind the US in this respect.

Still, however weak the institutions, it's what they have. And the SC decided. Zelaya disobeyed and resorted to mob rule and now here we are.

Justin Delacour 8:31 PM  

I never pretended this was well handled.

But somehow you adopt the view that the OAS is just supposed to sit back and watch as the Honduran establishment summarily deposes the country's duly elected president.

Fortunately, a Chilean like Insulza understands the dangers of the precedent.

Gabriel 8:38 PM  

I think the OAS is useless because it has no credibility. How can an organization that wants Cuba, the longest-running dictatorship in the the Americas, to join be bothered by what happens in Honduras?

I do think the OAS would have been well advised to ask a bit before barging in. If they aren't going to stand up for democracy in Cuba or Venezuela or Nicaragua, OK. But don't make things worse when you are not needed. It's better to be useless than someone else's tool.

Gabriel 9:20 PM  

What appears to be the full interview, in Spanish:

Anonymous,  9:24 PM  


What is the legal basis for the OAS to act as the court of appeal to decisions made by the SCJ of Honduras regarding constitutional matters?

I am asking because I have a friend in Guantanamo who was denied due process, so if you tell me maybe they can help him.

RAJ 10:15 PM  

On the question of why there was no civil action taken to remove Zelaya from his position: there actually was such a decree under construction in Congress late Wednesday evening and into early Thursday morning.

The Honduran social scientist, Leticia Saloman, in her excellent overview of the factors behind the confrontation, notes that the declaration being created in Congress was to have served as the basis to remove the President from office then.

But the committee of Congress engaged in putting it together stopped doing so, reportedly partly due to US political pressure against contemplating even such a technical coup d'etat.

I was in Honduras, where I have conducted research for more than thirty years, throughout that week. On the basis of the news reporting in the country from Wednesday night through Thursday, I expected a government confrontation-- but I expected one cloaked in legalistic forms.

Saloman explains, by the way, why the actions of the judicial branch in this crisis cannot be treated as if they were completely objective. Spanish speakers can read her article at

I find it interesting that so many commentators have now focused on whether or not the action that took place was or was not a coup d'etat.

The kidnapping and violent removal from the country violated Honduran law, whether you want to use that term or another, whether you accept the arguments that mere intentions to consult the broader public about interest in a constitutional convention violated a law against binding referenda. The constitution guarantees due process, and there is no legal basis for deporting Honduran subjects-- quite the opposite, in fact.

I also would note that arguments saying the actions are somehow post-facto OK because a large (but unknown and unknowable) number of Hondurans are expressing support for them miss two points. First, the rule of law is based on protecting the rights of minorities, not on some form of mob rule. Zelaya was the top vote recipient in 2005 and he had seven months to serve. Second, the Honduran media have engaged in a campaign to scare the public, and what the public is celebrating is being saved from something that they were encouraged to believe was being planned, rather than celebrating the destruction of democratic institutions and the lasting damage done to democratic process.

Justin Delacour 10:15 PM  

What is the legal basis for the OAS to act as the court of appeal to decisions made by the SCJ of Honduras regarding constitutional matters?

This has nothing to do with being a "court of appeal." To summarily depose a democratically-elected president is against the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The OAS simply seeks to uphold the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Anybody with the vaguest notion of democratic procedures understands that a country's political establishment can't summarily depose the country's elected president and then call itself democratic.

How can an organization that wants Cuba, the longest-running dictatorship in the the Americas, to join be bothered by what happens in Honduras?

That's not even an argument. The whole reason that Cuba won't join is that it knows that there would be a bunch of strings attached to joining the OAS. If Cuba were to sign onto the OAS, the Cuban opposition could start using OAS bodies to sanction Cuba for not upholding hemispheric standards. That's why Cuba won't join.

Gabriel 10:29 PM  


I don't care why Cube won't join. I care why the OAS is willing to let them in, but has problems with Honduras.

BTW, you are simply incorrect that Zelaya can't be summarily deposed. The SC can do it and ordered it. That you disagree with the order does not change its legality. The only illegal action here is having kicked him out of the country. If you haven't read Bayardo's full interview. it's fascinating and it lays out how the legal aspects were being considered for weeks now.

Gabriel 10:41 PM  


I don't think anyone here questions the illegality of kicking Zelaya out of the country.

Justin Delacour 10:59 PM  

BTW, you are simply incorrect that Zelaya can't be summarily deposed.

No, Gabriel, you are incorrect to maintain that an OAS member state can summarily depose an elected president and still be operating within the rules of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, to which Honduras is a signatory.

If people like you were to have your way, Latin America would be heading back to the days of military juntas and dirty wars within the decade.

Gabriel 11:06 PM  


I'm not sure what your point is. The Charter is not the court of appeals to the Honduras SC, so while I'm sure that someone can write a nice article about all of it, the fact that it goes against the Charter means nothing in terms of the SC's decisions.

Once again, the ultimate arbiter of what is legal or not in Honduras is their SC.

Nell 12:59 PM  

Greg, it's worth noting that the interview was published by El Faro on day two of the coup, June 29. It only got attention here when the Miami Herald reported on it in English.

It might have stopped some of the "it's a democratic transition, not a coup" talk had it gotten wider play on Monday. Or not.

In that vein, I'd also encourage those following the issue to take note of a letter written by Edmundo Orellana Mercado, the former defense minister (until his resignation on 6/26), which accuses the Congress of perpetrating a coup.

It was reported by El Tiempo on July 2 or 3, I think (one of those web sites that doesn't attach the date clearly). The link and an English translation are in a Daily Kos diary from yesterday.

Nell 1:09 PM  

Sorry, I was wrong: the interview was conducted on June 29 but only published (by the Herald and by El Faro) on July 2.

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