July 1st, 2009

It’s Not a Coup: Constitutional Government in Honduras


photo credit: G.I Joe Headquarters

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.

21 Responses to “It’s Not a Coup: Constitutional Government in Honduras”

  1. Connor
    July 1, 2009 at 10:14 am #

    Just came across this excellent article discussing the same issues:

    Here’s a question for all these new-found defenders of Honduran democracy: Where were you last week? Perhaps if some of these warnings about sticking to the constitution had been addressed to President Zelaya, the Honduran army would still be in the barracks where it belongs.

    His actions have been repudiated by the country’s supreme court, its congress, its attorney-general, its chief human-rights advocate, all its major churches, its main business association, his own political party (which recently began debating an inquiry into Zelaya’s sanity) and most Hondurans: Recent polls have shown his approval rating down below 30 percent.

    In fact, about the only people who didn’t condemn Zelaya’s political gangsterism were the foreign leaders and diplomats who now primly lecture Hondurans about the importance of constitutional law.

    The Honduran army clearly did not act on its own when it arrested Zelaya and sent him packing. The supreme court says the generals acted on its orders, and almost every Honduran politician of any note — regardless of party — has voiced approval.

  2. David
    July 1, 2009 at 10:19 am #

    I really liked that article – especially in conjunction with what you had to say about precedent.

  3. Carborendum
    July 1, 2009 at 10:38 am #

    . . . That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it . . . and to provide new Guards for their future security.

  4. James
    July 1, 2009 at 1:56 pm #

    Unbelievable. You wonder where Obama and the ‘team’ get their news from? Do they even really know what happened?

    When I lived in Venezuela, and Chavez was running for president, virtually every educated person I spoke to greatly feared his win, while the uneducated and impoverished just went along with the emotion and believed his lies and propaganda. Those who understood his platform could see what path he would lead them down, but they were unfortunately the (apparent) minority.

  5. jarvie
    July 2, 2009 at 7:33 pm #

    Thanks Connor… I was searching the news a bit and was trying to find out what was really going on but really couldn’t find a source (quickly) telling me what was really happening in Honduras.
    Thanks for educating me… I hope I can pass it on.

  6. Clumpy
    July 4, 2009 at 8:21 pm #

    I’m glad to see both conservatives and liberals finally agreeing on something. I read a few leftist blogs as well as your standard constitutionalist/libertarian/pinko stuff, and the consensus of both the writers and readers is pretty much what you said above. As easy as it is to misrepresent this issue I’m glad so many people have gotten it right :).

  7. Krista
    July 6, 2009 at 2:38 pm #

    Thank you for the excellent write-up! :) With the media’s generally-glaringly-wrong coverage of what’s going on in Honduras, it is SO nice to see/hear more people speaking up about what’s actually happening there!!!

    Chatting with my dad this weekend, he suggested an NPR interview with their (former?) US Envoy. (It’s here if you’d like a listen.) The NPR lady questioning him sounded like she couldn’t quite get the word “coup” out of her mind (likely because it involved the military, and you know, guns and stuff); but Ambassador Bermudez made it very clear that it was a completely consitutional procedure.

    Interesting how much the mass media has been “getting wrong” lately… but anyway, thanks again for the great post! :-)

  8. Carborendum
    July 6, 2009 at 4:05 pm #

    Krista,

    I’ve been listening to NPR for a while now just so I can see what the arguments are on the other side. They have to have some reasons right? Well sometimes they do. But the primary tools they have are:

    1) Ad homenim attacks combined with rhetoric and condescension.
    2) Ignoring any facts that they don’t like and continuing in their course of action.

    #1 is inexcuseable in a public debate forum. & #2 is a sign of a weak argument –however, it is a sign of a weak argument on either side. Only judgement and time will tell which is right.

    In this particular situation with the envoy interview, it is quite easy to see which side had the weaker argument.

  9. Brennan
    July 7, 2009 at 3:26 pm #

    Understood all the same details the same way. But what you said about precedent is dead on! Our “leaders” are shaking in their boots! Viva Honduras!

  10. Connor
    July 8, 2009 at 10:25 am #

    Reviewing the events in Honduras w/ the same analysis I’ve offered here, this article postulates what might be in the near future for the country:

    In these circumstances, it seems unlikely that either side would back down. This would set the stage for a military confrontation at the border, during which it is conceivable that Mr. Zelaya and others would be killed.

    That’s what may happen. What I think should happen is rather different. Panamá has it right, and foreign countries should keep their noses out of Honduras’ internal affairs. The early elections proposed by the interim Honduran government would very likely defuse the explosive situation there and, like the vote a few years ago when Mr. Zelaya was elected, would be fair and transparent. Honduras would most likely welcome international observers, should they be prepared to observe but not to interfere.

    Unfortunately, the “international community” has already said and done too much. If it continues on that ill-fated course, Honduras’ willingness to advance its November election may well diminish and Honduras may well become a locus of military confrontation in Central America.

  11. rachel
    July 8, 2009 at 11:55 pm #

    Is there anyone in our federal government saying that we should stay out of it? If there is, I haven’t heard anything about it in the news reports.

  12. Connor
    July 9, 2009 at 9:04 am #

    Is there anyone in our federal government saying that we should stay out of it?

    The only person I’m aware of so far is Senator DeMint.

  13. Connor
    July 10, 2009 at 10:41 pm #

    This LA Times article elaborates on many of the same points I’ve made here.

  14. loquaciousmomma
    July 11, 2009 at 10:25 pm #

    Mr. Zelaya spoke to Amy Goodman at Democracy Now on July 9th. He claimed that the referendum was only an opinion survey, and that he was not trying to change the constitution. this piqued my interest so I did a little more research, and found an excellent article that further discusses this situation.

    There was a very telling quote from him in the article:

    “with or without an order the referendum will be held, and it will be on Sunday Jun. 28. Everything is ready and we are going ahead because it is what the people are calling for, and we have collected signatures to legitimate it; and rather than legality, this is about legitimacy,” he said.

    (emphases added)

    What I see is that Mr. Zelaya was carefully manipulating the poor people of Honduras, using class warfare language, to change the government. From what I see, the Honduran government was trying desperately to stop a socialist revolution.

    Another article has a perfect example of this language:

    The court, which only imparts justice for the powerful, the rich and the bankers, only causes problems for democracy,

    This use of the word democracy really irks me. It is a favorite form of doublespeak for socialists. Socialism takes away the freedoms of would be business owners and ultimately the freedoms of all citizens, and yet it is pushed on people by making them think they are being given more freedoms rather than less.

    in any event the best quote of all, and a real eye opener in trying to understand Mr. Zelaya’s intentions is this:

    “I’m taking the people on a mission to guarantee the democracy and rule of law,” said Zelaya. “Nobody is going to take away my legal authority because the people, who are the voice of God, are with me.”

  15. Greg
    August 10, 2009 at 2:55 pm #

    Thanks for the article. It seems clear that there are forces at work in Honduras that are seeking to spread Chavez’ form of fascism. Whatever happened to the Monroe Doctrine, huh?

    Obama’s position – and the various quotes above by loquaciousmomma – suggest that the rhetoric of Collectivism is a powerful weapon in forming “public opinion”.

  16. jorge w. Robles
    August 21, 2009 at 12:50 pm #

    so a constitution without means to change it by the people?

  17. Connor
    September 24, 2009 at 1:50 pm #

    Nice to see the Congressional Research Service backing up my initial analysis:

    In response to the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, the U.S. State Department cut off foreign aid to Honduras and stopped approving visas for government officials. The U.S. is even threatening now to de-legitimize that nation’s upcoming November elections, and has been treating the interim government of Roberto Micheletti as a rogue regime.

    But State’s is not the only opinion. By way of contrast, a new report from the Congressional Research Service bears out what our editorial board has been pointing out for months now: The situation in Honduras should not be a cause for concern in Washington. It should a relief.

    President Zelaya, who was attempting to subvert the constitutional order of Honduras by seeking re-election (considered a crime there) was removed from office by the order of civilian authorities, and the constitutional order of succession was honored afterward.

  18. Curtis
    October 7, 2009 at 8:41 pm #

    Your premise is all mixed up here Connor. Zelaya wasn’t seeking for reelection. He was seeking to have a vote for the opinion of the people, a sort of opinion poll (an expensive one) to see if the Honduran people supported the concept of a future constitutional referendum in which all of the tenets of the constitution would be up for discussion and not just the President single term issue. Zelaya would have been well out of office by then and there is no chance that he was trying to be president for life. That is a very superficial viewpoint that the opposition down there has been trumpeting as an excuse for ousting a President that has not been exactly friendly to the business interests of the elite of the Honduras. He raised the minimum wage 60% and has taken other measures that favor the poor and working class folks in this nation that is one of the poorest in this hemisphere. The constitution of the Honduras is a very imperfect constitution and has not been pronounced as being inspired by God as has the constitution of the United States. Thus, it should be entirely subject to alteration by the vote of the people so that it serves the interests of the people rather than the interests of the past remnants of military power and all of the grief it has brought in that country. I am surprised at the superficial handling of this issue on this site, which is usually more thoughtful and not reactionary to anything that smells like Chavez. The senate and judiciary in Honduras has united as a secret combination so that the rich can continue to prosper at the expense of the poor. They have used brutal tactics to repress the opposition rallies down there, which have been peaceful. The press has been silenced by the coup usurpers and a rigid curfew is in effect. There is no consitutional order in the Honduras thanks to the criminal Gadiantonites who seek to hang on to their riches.

  19. rachel
    October 8, 2009 at 11:53 pm #

    Curtis, you sound pretty sure of your information. May I ask what your sources are? I read everything I could find on this subject after Connor’s post, and I felt that his take on it was accurate. I’d like to know if you have another source that I could look into.

  20. Curtis
    October 10, 2009 at 12:16 am #

    Rachel,
    Glad to provide. There is a wealth of information out there on the various machinations involved in this coup. Lanny Davis, a friend of the Clintons, has been receiving big money from business interests in the Honduras to lobby the White House and Congress against the democratically elected leader of Honduras. Remember, that Chiquita Banana (formerly the United Fruit Co.) had the US government run aa coup in Guatemala in the 50′s when the government there began to care about the poor. It turns out that Chiquita was severely critical of Zelaya’s policy of a 60% minimum wage increase for this nation which is the second poorest in this hemisphere.

    Anyway, a lot of information on what really happened with the constitution etc. in the Honduras recently, is also provided on the following link. This a google search via the Information Clearinghouse and there are a ton of articles to sift through, but it’s all there. You should be able to see the difference in what is really happening and what the US press prints. The news we get in the US is not worth the paper it’s printed on. Enjoy the following link:

    http://www.google.com/custom?domains=informationclearinghouse.info&client=pub-5174720432180771&forid=1&ie=ISO-8859-1&oe=ISO-8859-1&cof=GALT%3A%23008000%3BGL%3A1%3BDIV%3A%23336699%3BVLC%3A663399%3BAH%3Acenter%3BBGC%3AFFFFFF%3BLBGC%3A336699%3BALC%3A0000FF%3BLC%3A0000FF%3BT%3A000000%3BGFNT%3A0000FF%3BGIMP%3A0000FF%3BFORID%3A1%3B&hl=en&q=honduras&sa=Search&sitesearch=informationclearinghouse.info

  21. Alan
    October 13, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    (This is old news, but I thought somebody might stumble onto it like I did and wanted to add some information for their sake.)

    I followed this very closely in 2009 because my wife is from Honduras and I hoped to retire there, and did not like what it might become at all. Easily 80% of Hondurans hated what he was doing, they did NOT elect him for that. Even the poor were against him. Almost the only support he had was from the teachers’ union, and ideological Communists took them over long ago and are trying to make the populace dumb by going on strikes all the time, every time a Congressman sneezes.

    He violated the only three mandates in the Constitution –that he swore to obey and support– that are unchangeable and immune from change: (1) territorial sovereignty (he gave away an island to Nicaragua; (2) the republican form of government (he was a dictator, disobeying the laws passed by Congress and court orders), and (3) promised presidential re-election in the new constitution they were planning, we saw him in a youtube of the video of that promise.

    Item (3) automatically and instantly removed him from office and instantly made it a coup d’etat –by Zelaya. So yeah, there WAS a coup, and it was Zelaya’s auto-coup against his own government. Their equivalent of attorney general Luis Rubi in fact is the one who brought numerous charges against him for all that, charges which the courts sustained and were basis for ordering him arrested, finally.

    Luis Rubi during that time was the target of a very professional, well-paid, well-financed very obvious assassination attempt in which his chief bodyguard was killed.

    Karol Cabrera was one of the most effective journalist and media personality in her exposure of Zelaya’s follies and crimes against humanity and his crimes against the poor of Honduras, and she survived two assassination attempts, that killed a professional colleague, and in another, her daughter.

    These international organizations that say their purpose is to protect human rights are LIARS. Like Reporters Without Borders said that nobody should make political points from the attempts on Karol Cabrera. Never mind that it should be said that it WAS a political point somebody (Hondurans know who) was trying to make. They NEVER say that when it is a union leader preaching fascism dressed in socialist language who is killed.

    On thing Hondurans did NOT want is to become another Cuba or Venezuela. If anything, more like the American economy. One of President Lobo’s first acts before and just after his inauguration was to get a bunch of representatives from different sectors of the country together to take suggestions about how to get the country out of poverty.

    Mine, made through an ex-pat, was to investigate seriously what Chile did to become a developed country, and how South Korea did it, and how Germany rose from the ashes after World War II. Months later they had people coming up from Chile and other places, and free-market thinkers from the States and elsewhere, conferencing and learning, and it now looks like they’re jumping in. Hooray!

    May they follow through as apparently planned with their model cities project. Good people are involved, looks like, and it looks like keeping out corruption is big on their list.

    A Google search that brings up some of my articles from 2009 on this subject:
    https://www.google.com/search?q=trutherator+zelaya+coup+constitution+&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

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