Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Honduras: The (Military) Coup

U.S. aid is contingent on whether or not a coup is a "military coup." So we have this wording from a "Senior Administration Official." The funny thing is that he/she even reverts to Spanish ("golpe de estado") to avoid the term "military coup." Then it's all diplomatic dance.

QUESTION: And so this is properly classified as a military coup?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I mean, it’s a golpe de estado. The military moved against the president; they removed him from his home and they expelled him from a country, so the military participated in a coup. However, the transfer of leadership was not a military action. The transfer of leadership was done by the Honduran congress, and therefore the coup, while it had a military component, it has a larger – it is a larger event.

Then later:

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: In regard to the coup itself, I think it would just – it would be best to say that this was a coordinated effort between the military and some civilian political actors. Obviously, the military was the entity that conducted the forcible removal of the president and has acted as the securer of public order during this process. But for the coup to become more than an insurrection or a rebellion, you have to have an effort to transfer power. And in that regard, the congress – the congress’s decision to swear in its president, Micheletti, as the president of Honduras indicates that the congress and key members of that congress played an important role in this coup.


leftside 3:17 AM  

Sad. The US seems to be going out of its way to say the transfer of leadership was acceptable (because the Congress accepted a supposed resignation I guess we are supposed to believe?). They seem to want to keep open the option that Zelaya be arrested and left to rot in jail. This would be a travesty for Honduras on one hand, but also likely implode the 2 party system that has somehow managed to tame the 60% of poor Hondurans. The ancien regime would likely become as discredited as the old Venezuelan or Ecuadorean elites. Lam's party would be the only major one sticking up for democracy.

Anonymous,  1:27 PM  

This opinion piece was published on CSM.

It's the most coherent defense of the coup (it argues that it was not, in fact, a coup) that I've seen, but I of course don't buy it.

Greg Weeks 1:33 PM  

I love this quote from that article:

*He was detained and taken to Costa Rica. Why? Congress needed time to convene and remove him from office.*

So he was illegally removed from the presidency and the country so that Congress could vote to say his removal was legal.

Gabriel 1:50 PM  

it doesn't appear he was illegally detained. In fact both the AG and the SC claim the law was followed:

What does appear to be wrong, probably illegal, and definitely counterproductive was to kick him out of the country.

But based on what you linked to Greg it seems the military was worried there would be bloodshed if he stayed. Not an excuse though.

Gabriel 1:58 PM  

Thanks for the link Russell, that article is pretty good.

And it explains why the SC did what it did.

Greg Weeks 2:11 PM  

The other problem with the article is the idea that *assuming* Zelaya would reform the presidential part of the constitution is the same as doing it, even though the wording of the resolution did not mention it.

Gabriel 2:21 PM  

I don't think there is anything to *assume*. He signed and published the decree ordering the Sunday vote, and that's what led to his ouster. It seems that was what led the AG to ask the courts to order the military to arrest him.

Greg Weeks 2:26 PM  

Huh? He makes a big point about "intent" to change the presidential part of the constitution. The "intent" was based on their assumptions, not on anything Zelaya did. His proposed vote never mentioned the presidency.

To rephrase--at what point did Zelaya indicate the vote was intended to change the presidential part of the constitution?

Gabriel 2:30 PM  

Zelaya had made it quite clear that was what he was after. Are you saying that just because the language wasn't in the decree itself they should have ignored his very clear intentions?

Greg Weeks 2:40 PM  

Yes, because that is what he's charged with. Getting rid of a president is serious, and requires concrete evidence instead of assumption about intent.

Gabriel 2:47 PM  

Zelaya said himself that's what he was after. How much more evidence do you need? Plus the SC, Congress, and the AG al agreed the 'opinion poll' was illegal yet Zelaya ignored that. The AG has been investigating Zelaya for a while and Zelaya dared him to arrest him, saying the police would not follow the orders.

I really can't see how much more you need. I do agree he should not have been kicked out of the country, they should have arrested him and kept him in Honduras.

Greg Weeks 2:55 PM  

I need a link to a quote where he says the vote was intended to allow presidential re-election. (And not a link to a quote by someone else saying that is what he wanted).

Gabriel 2:59 PM  

Here's one from a few months ago:

I'm sure there are more.

I don't think anyone on Honduras, either pro or anti Zelaya, had any doubt of what he wanted.

Greg Weeks 3:42 PM  

In that quote he does not mention the presidency at all. Googling the phrase comes back only to that article (in an opposition paper) so no one else even reported it.

Gabriel 3:50 PM  


I'm not sure if you are making a technical point, but are you saying there is any doubt as to what Zelaya wanted? The article I linked to is pretty clear, it's the language all other presidents have used before ("I will bow to the will of the people if they want me to stay, we just need ask them").

Greg Weeks 3:56 PM  

This is getting old. What I think does not matter. Even if I was 100% sure he wanted to use this vote to stay in power, that would not constitute evidence. In the quote you give, he never mentions the presidency. And the quote you give does not appear in the article.

As of now, no one involved in the coup has provided that evidence.

Gabriel 3:56 PM  

It seems you can reform practically the whole Constitution in Honduras without a Constitutional Assembly. You only need the Assembly for the 'articulos petreos' which includes reelection.

If so, that explains why Zelaya was hell bent on this approach. It wasn't the rest of the Constitution he was worried about.

leftside 3:57 PM  

Gabriel, I hope you acknowledge that quote was hardly proof of anything except Zelaya's insistence on the Constitutional principle that the people rule and have the final say on Constitutional matters. That is particularly clear when you compare this quote with the numerous times he said quite clearly that he was not interested in re-election. Here's but one example. With lack of any evidence, they charged Zelaya with something less than a thought crime.

The second point is practicality. First off, changing that part of the Constitution is simply not allowed. So there would have to be a new Constitution. There is no way in hell that could have happened in the just 5 months before the November election. They would have needed to convince Congress to allow a real referendum. If that passed, there would have to be election of delegates or Assemblysts. Then all the haggling and debate would occur. Then the complete document would have to be ratified by the people - then by Congress. It is simply absurd...

I could see Zelaya being charged with a high crime if he tried to make the referendum binding, or if the referendum touched on the topic of Executive term limits. But those things did not happen.

Again, I encourage everyone to read the 2006 Law of Citizen Participation that explicitly states that "ANY power of the State can convene the general public... to issue opinions, formulate and propose solutions to collective problems affecting them. The results are not binding..."

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that this Supreme Court acted criminally as part of a conspiracy to oust the President. They disregarded Participation law and made up their own based on flase asumption and lies.

Gabriel 4:01 PM  


In any case his intent is irrelevant. The courts and Congress declared the referendum illegal and that should be that. Maybe that ruling was wrong but it was still the law of the land. The US has had many rulings we now consider wrong but that doesn't mean a president can unilaterally decide not to obey them.

The appropriate institutions ruled on the referendum and Zelaya decided to ignore them. That's really all that we need to know if we are focusing on the legal aspects.

If we want to understand why he did that then the fact that he wanted to be reelected and that this was the only way to do that is probably a good reason.

Greg Weeks 4:05 PM  

No, his intent is in fact the source of the charge against him. The vote was declared illegal because of intent!

Gabriel 4:10 PM  


I'm assuming you are at least partially joking. No one doubts what Zelaya was after. He made it abundantly clear. This whole "But he never explicitly said X' game is really not useful. All parties involved know what he wanted.

I don't know if the Supreme Court was corrupt or not. Knowing Central America I don't think there is any institution that isn't corrupt.

What I do know is that Zelaya was told in no uncertain terms, by the relevant legal and political bodies, that his course of action was illegal. And he ignored them.

So unless you want a system where the president by himself gets to decide which rulings and laws he will comply with, then it's pretty clear where this was headed.

Greg Weeks 4:21 PM  

FWIW, the day before the coup Zelaya said specifically that he would leave office.

At the very least, the question should be investigated rather than assuming his intent.

Gabriel 4:29 PM  


We may have moved to very technical legal aspects but I don't think the legal issue was what Zelaya himself wanted. The AG went to the courts to stop this referendum back in early May. Independent of whether Zelaya planned to stay or not the sole act of calling for a Constituyente was illegal, according to the courts. I think only Congress can do that. That was the key point, if I have understood it correctly.

Gabriel 4:39 PM  

Let's add to the mix. A good blog (in Spanish) covering Central America:

leftside 4:53 PM  

Gabriel, do you think it would have been practically possible to have a new Constitution before November? Does it not matter that the crime Zelaya was allegedly guilty of could not possibly have happened? I guess not. It seems all that matters is that the Court ruled... no matter if there is evidence of a criminal conspiracy??

I don't think it's relevant what the elites in Honduras thought they knew about Zelaya's intentions. As Greg implies, intent without proof does not rise to a crime in any democratic legal system.

Finally, Zelaya did not ignore the Courts decisions. He made the poll non-binding and then after another ruling saying the State could not fund the vote he followed that order by having the ballots shipped in from elsewhere and people volunteer their time to disburse the ballot boxes. He was not just thumbing his nose at decisions. The problem was that the goal posts kept moving.

Justin Delacour 4:55 PM  

As usual, Gabriel, you're grasping at straws.

Your logic doesn't make any sense. The non-binding poll was about whether people could vote on a constitutional referendum at the time of the next presidential election. How exactly would Zelaya have the constitutional alteration necessary to run for reelection if the vote on whether to change the constitution would be simultaneous with the presidential election itself?

Gabriel 5:00 PM  

leftside, Justin:

From what I have read it doesn't matter if it was binding or not, and it doesn't matter what you think Zelaya wanted. Yes, if the courts ruled that's that. What are you going to do, that's how modern countries work. What's the alternative letting Zelaya be the arbiter of which rulings he will follow and which he won't?

Once Congress and the courts said no he should have stopped. Period. If he wanted he could have created a new party supporting Constitutional reform and if he managed to control Congress would have been able to legally change it.

leftside 5:04 PM  

The larger, more complex point I am getting at is that there is always a Court somewhere to put their stamp on a coup or justify some heinous abuse of power. Hitler and Stalin's actions were "legal." We have every right to debate the facts and try to determine whether the Court was acting judiciously or maliciously.

Gabriel 5:09 PM  


That may very well be true but what's the alternative? How do you know that its not Zelaya who is the danger here? A system where the president decides what rulings he will follow and which he won't is a dictatorship.

It wasn't simply the Supreme Court. It was also his own political party, the Attorney General, the Electoral Tribunal, and even the armed forces. They all agreed Zelaya was breaking the law.

That should have been enough. In a country with such weak institutions what Zelaya did was terrible. He could have proposed any Constitutional changes he wanted without any referendum, the only thing he had to do was give up on the idea of reelection.

Justin Delacour 6:00 PM  

Any ruling based on a false pretext that Zelaya sought to end term limits has no legal standing.

Do the math, Gabriel. WOLA's Geoffrey Thale lays it all out for you.

Zelaya sought a non-binding vote in June that would permit a binding vote in the November federal elections, and set the stage for a constituent assembly next year that could have considered and approved a wide range of constitutional reforms.

The simple fact of the matter is that the non-binding referendum could not have been a basis for a reelection drive because the reform of the constitution wouldn't have taken place until after the upcoming presidential elections in November.

Gabriel 6:22 PM  


None of that is relevant. It doesn't matter what Zelaya's ultimate goals were. It doesn't matter if it was binding or not and no matter how many times you bring up that it was non-binding, it still won't matter. All that matters is that the courts ruled against him. He should have stopped right there.

I certainly did not agree with Bush vs Gore but it was what the SC decided. If Clinton had decided to ignore the ruling and somehow try to get Gore as president I would have been the first to ask for him to be arrested.

As usual with legal rulings it's easy to come up with alternative opinions. But the only opinion that matters is that of the relevant authorities. That's not me or you Thale.

Zelaya broke the law as interpreted by the relevant institutions in Honduras. He was repeatedly warned against what he was doing, not just by the SC but even by his own party members.

Justin Delacour 8:09 PM  

No, Gabriel, it most certainly does matter if the court's ruling is based on a false pretext because, if that's the case, the ruling has no legal standing.

Gabriel 8:16 PM  


That makes no sense. I happen to think plenty of SC rulings in the US are based on a 'false pretext' and who knows, I may even be right.

But they still remain the law of the land.

President Zelaya doesn't have a "I think the SC ruling is wrong so I'll simply ignore it" right.

Once the judiciary ruled that was it. Period. End of story. Zelaya could complain but he did not have the right to ignore.

Marcos El Malo 9:04 PM  


Thanks for your perspective on this. I get what you are saying, and it seems that both sides have acted unlawfully, first Zelaya for not heeding the SC and second the generals for banishing him to CR.

The question is what will happen next. It is clear that a compromise solution will need to be negotiated, perhaps by OAS diplomacy.

Justin Delacour 9:17 PM  

No, Gabriel, I'm not talking about the conflict between the presidency and the courts over the non-binding referendum. I'm talking about the court's decision to order the apprehension and expulsion of Zelaya on the basis of a false pretext (Zelaya's alleged intent to run for reelection). Any ruling to expel the duly elected president on a false or unsubstantiated pretext has no legal standing. This is the problem with a politicized court.

Gabriel 11:47 PM  


At this point a wiki on all of this would be useful but

a) I don't think the SC ordered Zelaya kicked out of the country, that appears to have been done by the military on its own and

b) The ruling has nothing to do (AFAIK) with any pretext. Remember that Congress passed a law prohibiting this referendum, not matter what the purpose was. It was flatly prohibited. That's the problem with your argument, intent is not relevant. Once the courts ruled, no matter what you think about them, it should have been over.

Anonymous,  2:28 AM  

Checking back I'm glad I didn't click the "Email follow-up comments" box... My inbox would have been flooded.

Anonymous,  5:13 AM  

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