Monday, July 06, 2009

Summing things up in one sentence

Reading an Associated Press article on Honduras, which is being widely circulated, one sentence jumped out at me because it seemed to really sum things up. It notes all the accusations against Zelaya, and his refusal to obey orders not to hold the referendum, and then states:

But instead of prosecuting him or trying to defeat him at the ballot box, masked soldiers flew the president out of the country at gunpoint, and Congress installed Mr. Micheletti in his place.

That just nails it.


leftside 5:18 PM  

Unfortunately, the AP interactive graphic that accompanies the piece repeats the original lie that Gabriel and the putschists are claiming. That is that Zelaya (on March 25th) called for a referendum on "Constitutional changes that would let him run for a second term." We have still seen no proof that he actually called for anything regarding term limits and, even if he did, the actual scheduled poll said nothing about term limits, and even if it did, it was non-binding, and even if it weren't a re-election for Zelaya in November would have been completely 100% practically impossible...

Nell 5:21 PM  

Where was that simple summing-up sentence in all the stories a week ago, when it might have helped put things in perspective for hostile "liberals"? (The right-wingers were always going to screech about socialism and Chavez. Heck, Jim DeMint and Limbaugh are enthusiastically supporting the coup.)

Gabriel,  6:27 PM  


maybe we should continue the debate in this post.

Let me ask again, since I never get a response. What do you think Zelaya was trying to do, if it wasn't term limits? Leave aside for a second that zelaya has admitted in the past that was his goal. Let's pretend he never said that. What do you thInk he was trying to do?

In case you don't know Honduras' constitution can be reformed and there are clear mechansms to do so. Since 1982 it has been reformed many times. What can't be reformed are the 'articulos petreos', the articles 'set in stone'. This includes the term limits.

RAJ 7:38 PM  

Gabriel asks, "What do you think Zelaya was trying to do, if it wasn't term limits?"

In an interview with Spain's El Pais before Sunday June 28, Zelaya himself reiterated that it was not about changing term limits. But you are right, he has not articulated any other reasons to open a constitutional convention.

But in an editorial in Honduras' El Tiempo, Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, the Minister of Culture of the Zelaya government provided an explicit set of goals, including noting that he personally would have argued for maintaining the term limit on the presidency.

Pastor Fasquelle notes that one reason for the Zelaya government not to define specific goals was precisely because there needed to be broad public debate about what the constitution should contain.

He and other scholars writing in Honduras note that fundamentally, the Zelaya government was seeking to move from a representative democracy in which there was very limited public input and consultation-- which Pastor Fasquelle argues led to general loss of legitimacy of the government-- to a more participatory democratic government.

This is part of what was at stake in holding a non-binding poll to gather public sentiment. Since access to telephones in Honduras is highly correlated with wealth and social status, a poll that hoped to be representative really needed to be via direct ballot near the homes of even the rural population.

The repetition of a claim that Zelaya really would just have suspended the constitution and seized power should have no weight as an argument precisely because the events of June 28 and after show that he had no capacity to enforce such an action, even if he had the will: the army clearly would not have supported him. There is no reason to think the Zelaya government was under any illusions about that either.

The mechanism for constitutional reform to which you refer, which has been used continuously, gives all the power to reform the constitution to the Congress. It is one of the best examples of the problem of the entrenchment of representative, not participatory, democracy in Honduran institutions that were engineered in the 1980s, a very different time in world history.

Pastor Fasquelle's comments are translated


The original Tiempo editorial in Spanish can be read here

leftside 7:53 PM  

Nice one Raj. I had basically responded to Gabriel in the other post saying the same thing in much more abbreviated, summarized, non-sourced fashion.

Gabriel 8:15 PM  

Thanks RAJ, interesting points. My comments

1) Since there already are mechanisms to reform practically the totality of the Constitution and Zelaya insisted on this particular route, the logical explanation is that he wanted something he could not get otherwise. And that only leaves term limits. As for your claim that the process is controlled by Congress, so what? Every constitution has a different process for reforms and that happens to be how Honduras' works. Your argument that Zelaya wanted a broad based discussion is also irrelevant, If he had announced proposals and they had been rejected by Congress, at least there would be an argument that he needed the alternative route because he was being stopped (it would still be illegal if so declared by the judiciary though). But he didn't eve do that.

Given all of this arguing that Zelaya wanted anything else other than reelection has no support on the facts. And to top it all we have his own declarations saying that's what he wanted.

2) As someone who has worked doing polling in Latin America I can categorically tell you that you are wrong on the telephones. There is ample experience of pollsters in Latin America, they've been doing it for decades, and very few, if any, are done using telephones (Maybe some in a city like Buenos Aires, but that's it). So no, your argument that this was the only way to measure public opinion is factually wrong. What's worse is how Zelaya had planned to carry out this 'opinion poll', completely under his control, without the involvement of the independent authorities that normally do such things in Honduras. Hmmmm... I wonder why? Do we really need to spell ii out?

3) The events of June 28 show he did not have the power. You are correct on that and we should be grateful. But the available evidence directly contradicts your contention that Zelaya did not think he could rely on the security forces. First, he openly dared the Attorney General to arrest him and told him publicly the police would not obey anything from the AG. That's the sign of a man that thinks he is in control. A quick read of what the military have said since the coup shows they were pretty close to him for quite a while. The head of the army even called him a friend. But what Zelaya wasn't counting on was on the security forces' unwillingness to carry out his orders, once they were declared illegal by the SC.

4) Finally, all this finding excuses as to why Zelaya did what he did is fun as an analytical exercise but not much more. Once the SC ruled that should have been that. Period. The strength of a country's institutions is one of the main factors determining long term growth. Strong institutions doesn't mean we always agree, or that the rulings of the judiciary are always right. But it does mean we respect them. Zelaya had all the right to be upset with the rulings and disagree with them. What he could not do was ignore them.

If you are unwilling to say that the SC, Congress, the Electoral Tribunal, and even the Attorney General were all wrong and their decisions could be ignored, you are only left with Zelaya deciding which rulings he will respect and which he won't.

Kudos to you for such a spirited defense, you must be a great lawyer!

In the end Honduras managed to rid itself of a pretty dangerous man that has managed to seriously damage Honduras' already weak institutions. Not a small feat, if they manage to keep it. Ideally, they would have done so in a more institutional manner, without kicking him out. But too many times we have to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Justin Delacour 8:33 PM  

What do you think Zelaya was trying to do, if it wasn't term limits?

It doesn't matter what you think Zelaya was tring to do, Gabriel. What matters is whether the Honduran establishment had any legal basis for summarily deposing the country's democratically-elected president.

Gabriel 8:35 PM  


If you want others to take you seriously you need to control yourself and stop insulting those that disagree with you. Remember that, even if virtually, we are in someone else's house.

Gabriel 8:39 PM  

As for your points Justin, Zalaya was the duly elected president. But so was Congress. And the Supreme Court, the Eelctoral Tribunal, and the Attorney General all were legitimate institutions. In fact, they still are.

These institutions, ruling on the topics that they are responsible for, declared Zelaya's actions illegal. That should have been that.

Justin Delacour 8:58 PM  

you need to control yourself and stop insulting those that disagree with you


Here's what I just wrote to you, Gabriel.

It doesn't matter what you think Zelaya was trying to do, Gabriel. What matters is whether the Honduran establishment had any legal basis for summarily deposing the country's democratically-elected president.

Now, how exactly is that paragraph indicative of a person who has lost control of himself? How exactly am I "insulting" you by stating the obvious fact that your speculations about Zelaya's intentions don't make for a legal case?

Gabriel 9:01 PM  

You know you've written several other things Justin. Do I need to cut and paste?

Just focus on the debate and keep your insults to yourself.

Justin Delacour 9:15 PM  

You know you've written several other things Justin.

Well, if you think I've written something insulting, you're more than welcome to say so in the thread in question.

But don't start screaming about "insults" just to divert attention from the fact that your speculations about Zelaya's intentions are not relevant to the question of whether the Honduran establishment had any legal basis for summarily deposing the country's democratically-elected president.

Gabriel 9:23 PM  


I'm aware this is isn't our blog, so just behave and let's leave it at that.

As for your analytical point, I've already explained, several times that Zelaya's intentions are irrelevant to the ultimate point, which is that Honduras' judiciary ruled and that should have been that.

We can debate what Zelaya really wanted (RAJ and I are doing so in this post) but the KEY crucial point is that Honduras institutions spoke and Zelaya ignored. He had no right to do so.

One more time. It doesn't matter if Honduras' SC ruling was wrong, if the Attorney General was wrong, if the Electoral Tribunal was wrong. They spoke and Zelaya had to obey. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Justin Delacour 9:33 PM  

It doesn't matter if Honduras' SC ruling was wrong, if the Attorney General was wrong, if the Electoral Tribunal was wrong.

No, Gabriel, the rule of law does matter. It most certainly does matter whether Honduras' institutions had a legal basis for summarily deposing the country's president.

Gabriel 9:42 PM  


The SC determines the rule of law. Not you. Not Zelaya.

One more time, once the SC ruled that was IT. Zelaya could hate but he could not legally ignore it.

Again, it's just like Bush v Gore. It doesn't matter if SCOTUS was wrong. Once they ruled all obeyed.

That's what makes a country work, respect for the institutions.

Justin Delacour 10:06 PM  

The SC determines the rule of law.

Courts interpret the law, but the law exists independently of the courts. If a court's interpretations of the law are so politicized as to have no recognizable resemblance to any established body of law, we have ourselves a very serious problem. And it becomes all the more serious when politicized interpretations of the law are used to summarily depose a democratically-elected president.

Gabriel 10:12 PM  

Yes, if that happens, we do have a serious problem.

But it's not up to Zelaya to unilaterally ignore the SC's rulings. As I recall Honduras' constitution has mechanisms that can address a SC gone rogue. They don't include Zelaya picking and choosing what rulings he will follow.

Once again. Zelaya was legitimate. But so were all the other institutions that considered he broke the law.

Justin Delacour 10:15 PM  

That's what makes a country work, respect for the institutions.

Indeed, but the law itself is the most important institution of all. If a court can't show that it has a genuinely legal basis for its decisions, the court itself cannot be said to respect the country's institutions.

Justin Delacour 10:31 PM  

At the end of the day, the most relevant question is this:

Is there any legal basis for summarily deposing a Honduran president according to Honduran law?

If nobody can show a legal basis for summarily deposing Zelaya, then the apologists for this coup have no constitutional leg to stand on.

leftside 10:37 PM  

Gabriel still has not answered a critical question. Was there any POSSIBLE MEANS for Zelaya to be re-elected in November? Could it have really happened? How? Because if there is no way it could have happened, and no evidence that it was even intended to happen, then why are we supposed to bow down to a legal decision founded on those two false assumptions?

RAJ 1:04 AM  

I hesitate to enter what has become a nonproductive back and forth. But I truly do believe that knowledge leads to truth (and from that you will know I am a university professor, not a lawyer).

Gabriel keeps insisting that the Supreme Court and Congress had the right to remove Zelaya from office without trial or defense. I have seen no one who has provided a citation of a legal or constitutional basis for this. Honduras, under the rule of law, reqires trials to determine guilt. Want to know who says that? The Minister of Defense under Zelaya, a lawyer and professor at the National University, who resigned because he did not want to follow Zelaya's instructions that the poll be carried out, even though in his legal opinion, the judicial ruling on Tuesday of the week before the coup that declared it illegal was itself legally questionable.

This same man was reinstated as a member of Congress when he resigned rather than aid in what he felt was the commission of an act contrary to the judicial ruling. But the day after the coup, he notified the head of the Congress that in his legal opinion, the actions taken on June 28 by the Congress were illegal, and he would therefore not participate in Congress until they were reversed and Zelaya was restored.

Zelaya could have been charged with the same crimes and held accountable without seizing him, and taking him out of the country. But the minute that was done, the constitution of the country was violated.

Chapter 2, on individual rights, declares in Article 82 says the right of defense is inviolable. Unlike some other guarantees that many argue were violated (such as article 99, that holds that the residence is inviolable, but allows entry without permission if authorized) this one does not have an exception. Zelaya was not charged nor allowed his defense.

Article 90 guarantees a trial. Again, it allows no exceptions other than military courts-martial. It specifically excludes military courts from extending their power to civilians.

Article 102 says, in its entirety,

"Ningún hondureño podrá ser expatriado ni entregado por las autoridades a un Estado extranjero."

(No Honduran can be expatriated nor sent to the authorities of a foreign State)

This one clearly does not permit what was done to Zelaya. You can dislike his policies, you can even propose to read his mind, but you cannot make a series of unconstitutional actions constitutional by liking the effect they produce.

Justin Delacour 2:54 AM  

Good post, RAJ. At least somebody around here is doing some homework.

Gabriel,  8:41 AM  


thanks again for your comments.

It's obvious I am not making myself clear. I never claimed that " the Supreme Court and Congress had the right to remove Zelaya from office without trial or defense."

and if I wasn't clear, let me be clear now. I know and accept that expelling Zelaya was illegal. Among others, the top military lawyer has publicly acknowledged that.

So let's stop bringing that up, OK?

What I did say is that:

1) Zelaya repeatedly ignored judicial rulings, even resorting to mob rule

2) Zelaya had the right to disagree with the rulings. But once he ignored them it became an illegal act.

There are also other points I made, including addresing your mistaken assumption that this was the only way to carry out an opinion poll. But they are minor points compared to 1) and 2) above.

Justin Delacour 3:07 PM  

I never claimed that "the Supreme Court and Congress had the right to remove Zelaya from office without trial or defense."

Then by what logic do you expect the OAS not to condemn the coup, Gabriel?

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