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Article 42, Section five of the Honduras Constitution states (roughly translated) that any person “inciting, promoting, or supporting the continuation or re-election of the President” may lose his/her citizenship, by court order.
This past weekend, the Supreme Court of Honduras rejected former President Zelaya’s effort to hold a "national poll", an effort to open the door for a constitutional assembly to eliminate the restriction against a President only being able to serve a single term. Modeled after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ successful endeavor, this action was rejected unanimously by Congress (62 voting members being from the President’s own party), deemed illegal by the Supreme Court, and refused by top military commanders. In other words, in the other two branches of government and within the executive branch itself, there was strong and deep resistance to the President’s extra-Constitutional push for change. But there is more to this issue than the poll itself:
According to reports from the Honduran daily La Prensa, the legislature considered a list of illegal acts undertaken by Mr. Zelaya and concluded that he “carried out unfortunate acts, showing contempt for the legal authorities and failing to carry out his legal and constitutional duties which, in one way or another contribute to the normal development of the activity of the nation’s life.” Included among those were his failure to enforce at least 96 laws enacted by the Congress, and to submit a budget, which he was required to do by September 15 of last year. It is also reported that the ex-President intended to dissolve the Congress as soon as his rogue referendum took place, thus paving the way to enforce it through Executive fiat.
Having spent two years in Honduras as an LDS missionary, I can attest to the people’s strong resistance towards executive usurpation of power. The juntas of the past have instilled in the common citizen a distaste for Chavez-esque reincarnation of domestic tyranny. Currently there is strong support in Honduras for the recent actions of the government in ejecting former President Zelaya.
However, the past few days have not gone by without commentary and official statements from all across the world. Chavez himself has promised an invasion of Honduras unless Zelaya is restored to power. President Obama has called the ejection of Zelaya a “coup”, ignoring the fact that the military’s actions came from orders of the Court and Congress. The UN and other multi-national organizations have strongly condemned the new Honduran government’s actions, and refuse to acknowledge their legitimacy.
So why in the world does President Obama find himself on the same side of an issue as Hugo Chavez (ignoring the fact that both seemingly love to nationalize private industry…)? He and other leaders of nations fear one thing in this Honduran controversy: precedent.
While technicalities of the Honduran government’s actions may be up for dispute on constitutionality, it is absolutely clear that Zelaya’s efforts were specifically unconstitutional. The other branches of government declared as much, and acted accordingly. Now, imagine if in coming days this action stands, and that Zelaya fades into history as an example of another corrupt politician. Precedent having then been established, other countries might be inspired to act likewise under any similar circumstances, and rise up against their own leaders for so brazenly taking actions which have no constitutional validity.
For this simple reason alone, the governments of the world find themselves speaking out against the majority of the Honduran government for removing from office a man who on several counts pursued actions clearly barred by law. President Obama’s ability to create and promote policy that has no constitutional authority without fear of an uprising from the other branches of government and from the people relies upon the general belief that coups, impeachments, votes of no confidence, and other direct attacks upon the executive are unwise, impractical, and contrary to “democracy” (a reverenced, hollow term if ever there was one). This is no far-fetched assumption of another person’s thoughts on the matter—Obama said it himself:
It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition, rather than democratic elections.
What this stance fails to take into account is the imminent illegal actions of an elected official to unconstitutionally alter the form of government. This is not some simple policy disagreement that can be settled at the next ballot box through popular vote, but rather a proactive effort (with Chavez’ eager support, both materially in the form of ballots, and ideologically) to make permanent changes to the Constitution that go against the established method for its alteration, and which promote an activity explicitly prohibited by said document (that of “inciting, promoting, or supporting the continuation or re-election of the President”).
I’m with the majority of Honduras on this issue: Zelaya was and is a reckless, power-crazed individual seeking to illegally alter the form of government with no care for the rule of law, public opinion, or the unanimous voice of the other branches of government. Domestic enemies of the Constitution have to be dealt with before their plans are carried out, and while there may be nuances of the government’s actions that were not proper, the general initiative to remove Zelaya from office was and is the right decision for the Republic of Honduras and the continuity of their Constitution and government.