Monday, June 29, 2009

Coup Ousts Honduran President

Manuel Zelaya (pictured) has been the president of Honduras since 2006, but that ended this last weekend in a political coup. The Honduran congress voted to oust him, and just before dawn on Sunday, the military took him into custody and flew him to Costa Rica.

The congress said they had removed him because of "repeated violations of the constitution and the law and disregard of orders and judgments of the institutions". However the timing of the ouster makes that a bit suspicious. He was removed by the military just hours before a constitutional election was scheduled to be held.

The election would have authorized constitutional reforms, and could have given Zelaya the right to extend his presidency (his four year term was to end in January 2010). Zelaya says he was ousted by "a plot by a very voracious elite, an elite which wants only to keep this country isolated, in an extreme level of poverty".

The timing of the ouster lends credence to Zelaya's accusations. Why not wait a couple of days and see how the constitutional election came out? Could it be that the power elite knew how it would come out? Did they know the people supported Zelaya and the reforms he was trying to bring -- reforms that the rich and powerful feared?

The United States and most of Latin America are condemning the coup. President Obama has called for Honduras to "respect the rule of law." The U.S. State Department says the U.S. recognizes Manuel Zelaya as the duly elected president of Honduras.

I applaud the action of President Obama and others in opposing the coup. South and Central America has many new democracies, and these democracies must be supported to give the people of these countries a voice in their government.

The coup signals a troubling return to the past, when the rich elite of these countries used military coups to keep their wealth and power, and to deny any change that might empower the poor. These people fear the ballot box and anything approaching a real democracy.

The congress says the new "president" will only rule until elections can be held. But what if the people elect someone else the political elite doesn't like? Will there be another coup? Is this the end of any real democracy in Honduras?


  1. Let me pose a hypothetical: It's early 2016, and President Obama, not having accomplished everything he wanted to in just two terms, declares that a referendum will be held, asking the People to decide whether or not he can run for a third term.

    The Supreme Court, citing the Twenty-second Amendment to the Constitution, rules that such a referendum is unconstitutional; only another amendment to the Constitution, repealing Amendment XXII, can extend presidential term limits beyond two.

    President Obama says, "The Supreme Court be damned; I'm the President of the United States, and the People will vote on whether I can run a third time."

    Congress in turn impeaches and convicts President Obama, thereby making Vice President Biden the 45th President of the United States.

    Now Ex-President Obama says, "Congress be damned; I'm still the President of the United States, and the People will vote on whether I can run for a third time."

    Who would you support?

  2. I don't buy the analogy. Our constitution can't be changed by referendum. Can theirs be changed that way? If so, then your analogy doesn't work.
    Zelaya is still the president until January, or do you believe in secret impeachments without giving the accused a chance to defend himself?
    And don't you think the timing of this coup is more than a little suspicious?

  3. "Our constitution can't be changed by referendum. Can theirs be changed that way?"

    According to the Honduran Supreme Court, not by presidential edict.

    "Critics said it was part of an illegal attempt by Mr. Zelaya to defy the Constitution’s limit of a single four-year term for the president."

    "Early this month, the Supreme Court agreed, declaring the referendum unconstitutional, and Congress followed suit last week."

    Source: New York Times

    "While Honduran law allows for a constitutional rewrite, the power to open that door does not lie with the president. A constituent assembly can only be called through a national referendum approved by its Congress."

    "But Mr. Zelaya declared the vote on his own and had Mr. Chávez ship him the necessary ballots from Venezuela. The Supreme Court ruled his referendum unconstitutional, and it instructed the military not to carry out the logistics of the vote as it normally would do."

    Source: Wall Street Journal

    "And don't you think the timing of this coup is more than a little suspicious?"

    When would you have stopped Zelaya from violating the Constitution? After the illegal referendum was held?

  4. That's exactly what I would expect his critics to say! So the constitution can be changed by referendum. The only question is who can call the referendum then.

    I still say it's very suspicious to wait until the day before the referendum to illegally seize the presidency.

    If the referendum was illegal (and I have my doubts), wasn't it illegal earlier than the day before the election?

  5. "If the referendum was illegal (and I have my doubts)..."

    Based on what?

    "...wasn't it illegal earlier than the day before the election?"

    I like how you you change terms from "referendum" to the less pejorative "election." The referendum was to legitimize Zelaya's running for an illegal second term.

    I'm no expert on the Honduran Constitution, but it seems to me that that country's Supreme Court would be. Whether the President can or cannot call a referendum to rewrite the Constitution is a matter of black-letter law, not some esoteric interpretation of the "emanations and penumbra" of the Constitution.

    As far as the timing of the military's action, waiting until the eleventh hour, thereby giving Zelaya the chance to reverse himself before violating the Constitution, seems like the more reasonable response.

    Would you have preferred that the military seize him before his illegal act was imminent? That's like arresting someone for thinking about committing a crime.

  6. I would have preferred the military stay out of this and not seize him illegally at all.

    Why are you so anti-democracy? What's so bad about letting the people decide?

    Did the elite know they would lose a free election? Is that why they used their lackeys on the Court to subvert the law and perpetrate a coup?

  7. "I would have preferred the military stay out of this and not seize him illegally at all."

    I would have preferred that Zelaya honor the law and simply leave office in January, making any seizure by the military unnecessary.

    "Why are you so anti-democracy? What's so bad about letting the people decide?"

    I believe in the rule of law. The fact that you're so enamored with South American dictators like Castro, Chavez and Zelaya, along with the fact that you never gave a straight answer to my hypothetical, makes me wonder if you share that belief.

    Honduras has a one-term law for a reason: decades of dictatorships have made the Hondurans wary of so-called "Presidents for life."

    "Democracy" in the absence of the rule of law is nothing more than mob rule.


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