In perhaps the most ironic turn of events yet in the unfolding story of the Honduran military coup, the country's congress this afternoon voted to suspend certain constitutional guarantees, including the rights to assembly, circulation and the right to not be detained for more than 24 hours without appearing before a judge. The congress enacted the suspensions at the behest of Roberto Micheletti, who it declared president last Sunday after deposing Roberto Zelaya for alleged crimes against the constitution.
The new decree will remain in force for at least three days, beginning tonight, and suspends Articles 69, 71, 78 and 81 of the Honduran constitution. The suspension of constitutional guarantees appears to coincide with the hours of the curfew (10 p.m. to 5 a.m.), so presumably only folks who are arrested at night will be denied their rights.
One congressman tried, confusingly, to explain it all:
Congressman Antonio Rivera Callejas said, "It is good to clarify for general public opinion that the confiscated individual guarantees occur during the period from 10:00 at night until 5:00 in the morning. The freedom of assembly, for example, contemplated in this new decree is that there can not be public meetings just in this time period. All rights, such as freedom of expression, can be given in the course of the day."
"The difference is that not everyone can circulate freely, can not have freedom of assembly, but during the day they can have the demonstrations they want assuming those are conducted within the framework of law and order," he added.
Another congressman, Rolando Dubon Bueso, spoke darkly of groups of infiltrators from unnamed countries plotting in the dead of the night to sow chaos in Honduras.
"Some of them may be scheming and plotting certain activities against the safety of the Honduran citizenry. In the case of free expression, there are no restrictions for journalists, automobiles distributing newspapers, people who serve the citizenry such as doctors, nurses, firemen and everyone who is working legally in night shifts to help and support the population," he noted.
The suspended articles of the constitution (during curfew hours through at least Saturday morning):
ARTICLE 69.- Personal liberty is inviolable and can only be restricted or suspended temporarily through modification of the laws.
ARTICLE 71.- No person can be detained or held incommunicado for more than twenty-four hours, without appearing before a competent authority for trial.
ARTICLE 78.- The freedoms to assemble and meet are guaranteed, as long as they are not contrary to public order and good custom.
ARTICLE 81.- Every person has the right to circulate freely, leave, enter and remain in the national territory.
These suspensions differ from the "state of siege" which Micheletti decreed last Sunday night (his first official action as president and supreme defender of constitutional order). It was not entirely clear how long his state of siege lasted. The number of rights suspended in a state of siege is broader, and includes freedom of expression.
I used to love this kind of irony and the breathtaking contradictions between the pompous statements and deplorable actions of Latin American golpistas. If truth be told, it still makes me chuckle, although I understand it has a darker side. Honduran rights groups have begun reporting the return of forced military recruitment and arbitrary detentions. Welcome to Latin America's dark past.