Showdown in Tegucigalpa

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zelaya.jpg Recently ousted President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras has vowed to return to his country this weekend to reclaim his position as President of the Republic. Zelaya will be escorted by an unrivaled posse of regional leaders, including Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina and Jose Miguel Insulza of the Organization of American States (OAS), to ensure he is peacefully reinstated. Zelaya and his supporters are in for quite a showdown as hardened resolve awaits them in Tegucigalpa.
Roberto Micheletti, the new, temporary, or illegal (take your pick) president of Honduras was interviewed on Univision last night and calmly, but firmly defended the actions of his nation’s military which he insists was under the direction of the Supreme Court. With hardened resolve Micheletti vowed to arrest Zelaya upon his return for his flagrant crimes against the constitution.
I’d like to offer a quick recap of the crimes Zelaya is charged with committing against the Honduran Constitution. The current version of the Honduran Constitution was written just as the country emerged from twenty years of dictators and military rule and it includes an article (374) specifically prohibiting any attempt to alter presidential term limits. Zelaya’s referendum was an attempt to gain popular support for constitutional alteration of term limits. Article 373 of the Honduran constitution lays out the way in which the constitution can be altered and that is through the National Congress, not through referendums. When Zelaya’s referendum was declared unconstitutional by the Congress and the Supreme Court he ordered the head of the army to assist him in carrying out this election. The head of the army refused and was immediately fired by Zelaya; unfortunately for Zelaya the head of the army can only be removed from office by Congress (article 279).
Despite these charges Zelaya is encouraged to reclaim his presidential position by a unanimous UN resolution condemning the coup d’état and demanding Honduras unconditionally reinstate him as president. The OAS issued a similar statement this morning in which they threatened to suspend Honduras’ membership if Zelaya wasn’t reinstated in 72 hours.
And so the showdown begins. On one side we have Zelaya backed by the international community and on the other is the government of Honduras backed by the majority of its 7.5 million citizens; an unfair fight for sure. According to Honduras’ new president, the country will not reinstate Zelaya unless pressured by military force. The only party to have threatened said force is Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez who has happily injected himself into the center of the Honduran crisis playing the role of champion for democracy. Would Latin America allow a Venezuelan military invasion to re-seat an unpopular lame duck president? Doubtful.
That leaves economic and political pressure as the strongest negotiating tools. The resolve of the Honduran government may be able to withstand temporarily losing its membership in the OAS, but their economy is in no condition to withstand harsh economic sanctions. The Obama administration has condemned the coup, but they have yet to impose economic sanctions or withdraw U.S. ambassadors from Honduras as other regional leaders have. Latin America waits to see if President Obama will apply the added pressure to Honduras and I’m sure Obama wishes he didn’t have to take a stand for a leader such as Zelaya.
I’ll be following the situation in Honduras as it unfolds.
— Faith Smith

Comments

40 comments on “Showdown in Tegucigalpa

  1. mike/ says:

    he ASKED a question.
    how can Zelaya, if he returns, have any effect given he seems to
    have little support?
    that he works for Gallup and bases his statistics on a poll that
    was administered in all Central American countries about Chavez
    last year, to me, is a reason of why he’s asking the question.
    combined with what most are observing in Honduras of the
    demonstrations asking the “Mel” not reurn, it’s an important
    question no matter who it comes from.
    friends and family in Honduras are telling us that everything is
    relatively calm and the demonstrations are organized and
    peaceful. their fear is if Zelaya returns, there will be violence.

    Reply

  2. arthurdecco says:

    I should have typed: “Right, Mike…Pollsters Never Lie……or ever manipulate data in the interests of their clients…”

    Reply

  3. arthurdecco says:

    Right, Mike…Pollsters Never Lie…

    Reply

  4. mike/ says:

    with all the back and forth about the legality/illegality of what
    happened in Honduras, someone has finally asked THE most
    important questions.
    Jesus Rios, with Gallop World Poll:
    “So, if Zelaya does in fact return to power before the November
    presidential election, the question then becomes: how will he
    manage to govern amidst an adverse public opinion
    environment and among institutions that backed his ousting,
    including his own political party? And, what role, if any, will
    Chavez play in Honduran politics from now on? Will Zelaya drop
    or moderate his pro-Chavez stance to regain political support?
    According to the 2008 Gallup survey, just 20% of Hondurans
    approve of President Hugo Chavez.”
    reality. what a concept!

    Reply

  5. Henry Contreras says:

    I would like to read the section of the constitution that authorizes the military to abduct and overthrow an elected president. If they were acting legally then they would have conducted him to trial.
    It’s a military coup and whoever wants to support them has to admit it first.

    Reply

  6. Nobcentral says:

    Chris – Read the last section entitled: TITULO VII:
    DE LA REFORMA Y LA INVIOLABILIDAD DE LA CONSTITUCION
    Article 373 says only the Congress with 2/3 majority
    can change the constitution.
    Article 374, among other things, says that
    presidential term limits can not be altered.
    http://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Honduras/ho
    nd82.html

    Reply

  7. Chris Brown says:

    Article 2 of the Honduran Constitution of 1982 provides (my translation)
    “The sovereignty corresponds to the people from which all powers of the state emanate and which are exerted through representation.”
    So again, I ask, how could any referendum to the people, from whom the powers of the state (supreme court, congress, military, and etc.) emanate, be considered to be unconstitutional or extra constitutional.
    If the people of Honduras express, through a referendum, their wish to amend their constitution to provide for multiple presidential terms, then it should be.

    Reply

  8. Nobcentral says:

    Franklin,
    I completely agree. They could have easily waited
    for his term to expire and then the problem would
    have been dealt with. Or the Congress could have
    gone through the rather complex process of
    altering the constitution to add articles of
    impeachment. That’s why this looks like a power
    grab in the name of democracy, ironically, what
    Zelaya intended with his plan to modify the
    constitution.
    At any rate, the claim that it was necessary to do
    this is dubious as any referendum would have been
    struck down by the Supreme Court in any event. The
    president can’t change the constitution through
    referendum, period. I fail to see the necessity
    of removing by force at this point and once that
    claim expires, the rest of their justification
    falls apart as well.

    Reply

  9. erichwwk says:

    hmmm… error above?
    link to above article:
    http://tiny.cc/lgm00

    Reply

  10. erichwwk says:

    From the WSWS:
    There is ample evidence that the Obama administration was deeply involved in plans by Zelaya’s opponents within the Honduran ruling elite—sections of business, the military, the political establishment and the Church—to destabilize or topple his government. The New York Times on Tuesday cited an unnamed US official as saying that US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon and US Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens spoke to “military officials and opposition leaders” in the days before the coup. He said, “There was talk of how they might remove the president from office, how he could be arrested, on whose authority they could do that.”
    http://tiny.cc/JpRZw

    Reply

  11. Franklin says:

    Nobcentral,
    Well the first and most obvious Constitutional means of removal would seem to be the term limit itself, correct?
    If Zelaya refused to move out at the end of his term, then it would make sense for the other political figures to start looking at extra-Constitutional options.
    Alternatively, within the Honduran Constitution, doesn’t the Congress — and only the Congress — have the ability to amend the Constitution?
    Couldn’t they simply have added articles of impeachment and then proceeded accordingly?

    Reply

  12. Vigilante says:

    Yeah. Obama should support this military coup!

    Reply

  13. Nobcentral says:

    There is broad latitude in the Honduran
    constitution for interpreting the President’s
    responsibility to “Uphold the constitution.” While
    no one here is an expert in Honduran law, it seems
    fairly clear that President Zelaya was, at the
    least, on course to attempt to change the
    constitution to enable him to run for a second
    term or more. This is the latest fad in Latin
    America – using democratic means to erode
    democracy. It’s certainly true that the Supreme
    Court and the Congress disapproved of the
    referendum (the SC holding it unconstitutional)
    and there can be no doubt that Zelaya’s goal was
    fundamentally in violation of the constitution.
    What is less clear, to anyone who actually reads
    the constitution, is what the legal remedies are
    for removing a sitting president from office. In
    the US, like many western democracy, we are
    accustomed to the idea of impeachment.
    Unfortunately, there are no such provisions
    contained in the Honduran constitution. That
    doesn’t mean that procedures are lacking. The
    constitution makes clear that each branch has a
    responsibility to defend the constitution and the
    laws of the state. It’s quite possible that
    secondary legislation was passed spelling out the
    process for removing a president from office.
    It does seem suspicious that the Congress or Court
    didn’t revert to legal means to remove Zelaya from
    office. Abduction and forced deportation is the
    nuclear option and you don’t generally go there
    first. I suspect that they were simply being
    opportunistic. They wanted Zelaya out and this
    was as good an excuse as any. It’s a strange idea
    since the new president is from Zelaya’s own
    political party. Imagine Harry Reid ordering the
    kidnapping of Obama and then assuming the
    presidency.
    As to public opinion polls, like in much of Latin
    America, polls tend to reach those who live in
    cities and have higher incomes. Poll data is
    always suspect because the vast majority is
    impoverished and the impoverished generally
    support the left. We should also remember that
    the state run media is exclusively backing the new
    president and ignoring coverage of opposition
    protests (the Iranian playbook, step by step).
    Finally, no matter how wrong Zelaya was or how bad
    a president he was, I don’t believe it is possible
    to justify kidnapping him and evicting him from
    the country in his pajamas. The appropriate remedy
    to a president mad with power (assuming he was) is
    arrest, trial, and conviction.

    Reply

  14. Anonymous says:

    More Honduaras information from outside the box of the ‘Young
    Professionals in Foreign Policy’:
    http://narcosphere.narconews.com/thefield/

    Reply

  15. Anonymous says:

    Some background on the coup:
    http://www.senorchichero.blogspot.com/

    Reply

  16. arthurdecco says:

    “In fact, Bush used his popularity to seize extraordinary executive powers (often explicitly illegal) to the ultimate detriment of the country. Chavez did the same in Venezuela.” Jinchi
    Name one “extraordinary executive power” seized by President Chavez.

    Reply

  17. Jinchi says:

    “Can you imagine the USA fearing George W. Bush trying to get a referendum for a third term when he was Mr. 28%.”
    You’re thinking backwards. Can you imagine the USA fearing George W. Bush trying to get a referendum for a third term when he was Mr. 88%.
    In fact, Bush used his popularity to seize extraordinary executive powers (often explicitly illegal) to the ultimate detriment of the country. Chavez did the same in Venezuela.

    Reply

  18. Per Kurowski says:

    In order to understand why this re-election issue is almost an existential issue in Honduras let me point to article 42 in their Constitution that though sounding a bit crazy nonetheless clearly states that you will “lose your conditions as a citizen if inciting, promoting or supporting continuance or the re-election of the President.”

    Reply

  19. Daivid says:

    My guess: it’s going to turn out to be an oligarchic pushback against the reformist populism spreading across the Americas. What I cannot tell, since Obama was hands off in the elections in El Salvador, is what his real instincts are in this crisis. I know what the Washington establishment’s instincts are, and have been since George Washington, as the first POTUS, was the first POTUS to wage war against native Americans, which was made possible in part by recognizing their nationhood. The only reason for treaties with native American tribes was as part of the separate nation notion.
    Oligarchs (and religious zealots) have about as much use for popular democracy as they do for land reform and appropriate taxation for the common good.

    Reply

  20. Doubting says:

    (typo) Act does just that –> Act allows such a thing

    Reply

  21. Doubting says:

    Mike: The articles you and Faith point to have nothing to do with public consultations whatsoever. Nowhere in the constitution does it say that a public consultation about the creation of a constituent assembly needs permission from the NC or the SC. On the other hand, article 5 of the 2006 Public Participation Act does just that. Furthermore the nonbinding version of Zelaya’s referendum was not rejected by either body. Show me any evidence that it was.
    What happened is that after Vasquez (oops, famed two-time SOA grad, Romeo Orlando Vasquez Velasquez,) was fired, Zelaya was kidnapped in his pajamas. So picture Obama firing Admiral Mullen and a few hours later finding himself shipped to Canada in his pajamas.
    But fine if you want to defend military dictatorships, please go ahead. The Dems have a long record of doing just that. Tradition, tradition. But please get your facts right, or you’ll just bin yourself with Hannity, Beck, and their ilk. You get to pick your authoritarian/colonial tendencies. But you don’t get to pick your facts.
    As for you, Faith Smith, I hope your next dispatch will enlighten all of us about Battalion 3-16 (mentioned above) and its connection to the coup leaders. And if you can spare a few words for the memory of Father James Carney, that’ll be lovely. Thanks.
    >> I’m sure Obama wishes he didn’t have to take a stand for a leader such as Zelaya.
    Such a leader… yeah, a guy who dares to ask for a survey. The audacity. Thank God the jackbooted thugs are back in charge.
    What an impressive bunch you are.

    Reply

  22. JohnH says:

    “The coup government in Honduras announced this evening that the congress has passed a decree suspending all constitutional rights in the country indefinitely.” Yep, looks like the return of democratic processes all right. Good job, Hillary!
    Meanwhile, “All member nations of the European Union have withdrawn their ambassadors in Honduras.” But what is Obama doing? Just words and more words. Obama’s problem is that he simply doesn’t mean what he says.
    “Thousands are protesting in the streets throughout Honduras, facing repression and risking detention, or even worse, assassination.” But no pictures of protesters–I guess only Iranian protesters count here at TWN.
    http://www.chavezcode.com/2009/07/day-4-cnn-backs-coup-suspension-of.html

    Reply

  23. mike/ says:

    as far as the power of the president to call a referendum, i just
    read the Honduran Constitution, in Spanish yes but with some
    help from a translator.
    i also just wrote a long explanation of what i found in reading
    it. what i did then was say “screw it” and erased it all.
    whatever i discovered is going to be roundly contested. i
    thought that i was a great cynic, but… i can’t say any more.
    if you want to find out about what i read i direct you to the
    Constitución – Articulo 51, Articulo 319, Articulo 373, and
    Poder Judicial Seguimiento de Casos y Tramites for the
    Supreme Court ruling. the only thing that is not there is the
    sealed arrest warrant that the court issued on June 26. i would
    also direct you to the websites for La Pensa and La Tribuna the
    Honduran newspapers.
    Faith, i appreciate your help and i don’t think you’re doing any
    “spinning”. you’re reading the sources, just as i am.

    Reply

  24. Nell says:

    The usurpers yesterday named Billy Joya, one of the most notorious killers of the death squad Battalion 3-16, as a ministerial advisor.
    They’re attacking and arresting journalists, shutting down radio and TV stations, censoring others.
    Yeah, the country’s really uniting around this “democratic transition”.

    Reply

  25. Nell says:

    Love the “even-handedness” here from Faith Smith, who really shows her dedication to human rights.
    The supposed excuse for this coup was Zelaya’s terrible, scary violation of the constitution — letting people vote in what is functionally a straw poll. Today, the Honduran Congress, having illegally elected its speaker President after the legitimate president was taken from his home at gunpoint, just eliminated five major individual protections under that same sacred constitution.
    Read about it here:
    http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2009/07/200971222536394913.html

    Reply

  26. arthurdecco says:

    “I’ll be following the situation in Honduras as it unfolds.” Faith Smith
    Shouldn’t you have typed, “I’ll be spinning the situation in Honduras as it unfolds”, Ms. Smith?

    Reply

  27. Phil says:

    First, thank you Doubting. The fact that the constitution was formed during the height of US influence in Honduras through the funding of the Contras (and Negroponte was ambasssador)should be mentioned as a background for understanding the political system of Honduras. This constitution was intentionally structured to be anti-democratic and to legitimize the rule of the Honduran oligarchy. If you doubt the power of the US government and corporations, then consider the history of United Fruit and Dole in Latin America or the six previous military interventions over the past century.
    Second, just because a PRE-coup poll states that Zelaya was unpopular does not translate into support for the coup by the populace. By that logic, when Bush was at 20% popularity, it would follow that 80% of the population would have supported a coup against him. There is no logical entailment here.

    Reply

  28. Doubting says:

    Let me point out why reforming the Honduran constitution should be a priority.
    Which other democracy has single 4-year terms for presidents? Which other democracy has a constitution that requires 2/3 of congress to remove the army chief? What these 2 things ensures is that the military essentially controls the government. Which is why what just happened is a military coup with a civilian facade.
    If you thought Zelaya was wrong to inquire about popular support for rewriting the constitution, then go ahead and make your case. That’ll be delightful. But please stop spreading the canard that Zelaya wanted to run again in Nov. How in the world would adding a question to the ballot help him continue past January? That he might have wanted to run again much later is not out of the question but that’s exactly what Kirchner tried to do.

    Reply

  29. Doubting says:

    Mike: You’re wrong. This statement is false:
    >> National Congress has the constitutional authority to initiate a referendum, binding or not, not the president.
    If you think it’s right, give your sources.
    If you have no credible sources, please avoid spreading facts that are false.

    Reply

  30. David says:

    Thanks for the update and the clarifications, Faith. Much appreciated.

    Reply

  31. JohnH says:

    Franklin–if Chavez said that, then I’d say that he is as guilty of hypocrisy as Washington’s foreign policy mob. As you say, “in one case (Iran) the political process is worthy of respect, because it involves an ideological ally [or at least someone closer to Washington’s ideological preferences). In another, the political process can be discarded.” Last week the mob glorified the protesters in the name of ‘democratic elections,’ regardless of whether Moussavi won or not. This week they are all quietly supporting a coup.
    Chavez is extremely relevant in this situation, because he has taken the lead in explaining US behavior in the region. It seems that US behavior in Honduras will make his narrative even more believable, enhancing his own credibility and prestige. Leftist candidates will still be able to rail against to the Great Satan, and it will continue to resonate with Latin American voters.

    Reply

  32. Clay Thorp says:

    Ahh so the details become clearer.
    Zelaya isn’t such a poor, helpless victim of a military coup anymore, now is he?
    Why would Zelaya burden the people of Honduras with more seemingly dictator-ish behavior?
    Good luck winning that second election, buddy.

    Reply

  33. mike/ says:

    the real fear is of a return to the “banana republics” by coup era.
    other leaders in the area remember what they were like.
    Micheletti just let an ABC correspondent on ABC WorldNew, who
    was unannounced, into the presidential office and said
    emphatically that this was not a coup. it was a constitutional
    succession inaugurated by the Supreme Court and backed by
    the National Congress.
    the issue the Supreme Court dealt with is that only the National
    Congress has the constitutional authority to initiate a
    referendum, binding or not, not the president. Zelaya literally
    stole the ballots last week and said, we’re doing it anyway.
    Chavez printed the ballots for him. I don’t know if that was
    because no one in Honduras would do it or he didn’t trust
    them.

    Reply

  34. Franklin says:

    JohnH,
    Chavez is irrelevant in this equation given that every other leader in the hemisphere as well as many in the EU are largely on the same page against the coup.
    If it was just Chavez, Castro, and Evo Morales standing tall with Zelaya, Zelaya would have almost no chance of being reinstated.
    It is interesting though to witness the stunning hypocrisy of Chavez with respect to this situation and the situation in Iran.
    In one case the political process is worthy of respect, because it involves an ideological ally. In another, the political process can be discarded, because of the consequences for an ideological ally. Before the crisis in Iran I would not have classed myself as a “Chavez-hater”. Even after it, I don’t know if I’d class myself as a “Chavez-hater”. I’d just say that the man’s opinions are not worthy of respect. I don’t really understand the admiration that some have for him — they seem to buy into the hype and Chavez’s self-promotion, I guess.

    Reply

  35. JohnH says:

    Fox News (Krauthammer, Kristol, Liasson) have a pretty good synopsis of the foreign policy mob’s position.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ijx2ZkYHTJk
    As Mara Liasson says, the administration is “perfectly happy” this happened. Once again, the main difference between Obama and the neocons is the rhetoric.

    Reply

  36. Doubting says:

    Sorry but this post is factually wrong.
    The referendum was nonbinding. It made no mention of term limits. More important it appealed to Article 45 of the Civil Participation Act, which was not contested by the Supreme Court or the Congress. The public consultation itself was not rejected by the SC and the NC. (Only the previous, binding version was.) Nothing in the constitution forbids the formation of a Constituent Assembly.
    The Supreme Court and the Congress had no constitutional power to stop this public consultation.
    Last but not least, the referendum could not be tied to Zelaya’s reelection bid for quite obvious reasons of timing.
    But yes except for all of the above, good write-up.

    Reply

  37. Matthew says:

    If Zelaya was so unpopular, then why did the army fear the referendum?
    Can you imagine the USA fearing George W. Bush trying to get a referendum for a third term when he was Mr. 28%.

    Reply

  38. JohnH says:

    Yes, a good summary. But if Zelaya was an unpopular lame duck (only five months left), why did the military have to do a coup at all? Couldn’t they just wait for Zelaya to go away?
    The characterization of Zelaya as unpopular sounds like contrived, wishful thinking on the part of some in Washington and at this blog, who might be opposed to Zelaya. The only way to get a logical story is to assume that Zelaya was so popular that he could have won the non-binding resolution. That would have represented a threat sufficient to motivate the established elites in Congress and in the Supreme Court to preempt the election with a coup.
    Also, Obama is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Latin America, as expressed by the OAS condemnation, is in no mood for a coup. If Obama doesn’t take decisive action, Chavez’ credibility rises along with the narrative that US policy of interference is still the same. If Obama sides with Zelaya, then the Chavez-haters in the US will have a field day.

    Reply

  39. MNPundit says:

    That’s the rub, was the non-binding referendum an attempt to change the Constitution? Directly? No. Non-binding obviously. But indirectly? Yes. It was the first step an illegal way to change the constitution which the Honduran SCOTUS had rejected. But they did not rule on the SECOND referendum though they have done so indirectly by agreeing with the coup, but again not through the actual process.
    The more I learn about this, the more it looks like the Hondurans did the right thing in the wrong way.

    Reply

  40. Franklin says:

    Good write-up — this helps to clarify some questions.
    A couple questions in reference to the article:
    1. In reference to the poll numbers, the information cited by Reuters only indicates weak public support for Zelaya — not weak support for Zelaya AND strong support for his critics.
    It’s conceivable that Zelaya 30 percent support is still higher than the even more unpopular opposition; or that both are equally unpopular.
    Is there any independent polling that demonstrates strong support for the opposition?
    2. Also, in reference to the Zelaya’s referendum wasn’t the measure explicitly intended to be non-binding?
    The idea here being that the Honduran Congress is badly compromised and corrupt, and that the referendum would demonstrate that fact (e.g. that the Congress did not represent the people’s will — assuming that the vote for the referendum itself was not compromised and corrupted, the referendum vote would show what the public support for the measure actually was).

    Reply

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