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The Organization of American States has given the coup government of Honduras three days to restore President Manuel Zelaya to office or face suspension from the organization.  Every nation in the hemisphere, except for the United States, has recalled its ambassador from the Central American nation -- as have Spain and France.  The EU, the UN, and the United States have all condemned Sunday's coup d'etat.

In the face of the international onslaught, the Honduran military insists that the coup was "legal," and in an interview with NYT reporter Marc Lacey the military's top lawyer displayed a set of documents he claims justify Sunday's military action.  The unfortunate fact is the military's claim is undoubtedly correct -- in a technical sense.  That begs the question, however, of whether the coup was legitimate.

Join me on the flip for a discussion of that question...

José Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the OAS, has condemned what he calls an "an old-fashioned" coup in unusually strong language:

We need to show clearly that military coups will not be accepted. We thought we were in an era when military coups were no longer possible in this hemisphere.

The OAS statement itself, approved unanimously by the membership in an emergency meeting last night, was even harsher.  The OAS statement condemns:

vehemently the coup d'état staged against the constitutionally established Government of Honduras, and the arbitrary detention and expulsion from the country of the constitutional president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, which has produced an unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order.

President Obama has called the coup "not legal" and said Zelaya remains the president and should be restored to office.

But was the coup "unconstitutional" and "not legal"?

The Honduran military insists it was both constitutional and legal.  Here's their argument, in a nutshell:

The detention order, signed June 26 by a Supreme Court judge, ordered the armed forces to detain the president, identified by his full name of José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, at his home in the Tres Caminos area of the capital. It accused him of treason and abuse of authority, among other charges.

"It was a clean operation," Colonel Bayardo said, dismissing Mr. Zelaya’s remarks before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday in which he described the arrest as a brutal coup. "It was a fast operation. It was over in minutes, and there were no injuries, no deaths. We said, ‘Sir, we have a judicial order to detain you.’ We did it with respect."

I've read the Honduran Constitution, written in 1982 at the height of the Central American civil wars, and as far as I can tell it contains no provision for impeachment of the president.  Rather, Article 272 of the Constitution gives the military a "tutelary role" over the civilian government.  In a diary I posted Monday, I cited Honduran political scientist Ernesto Paz Aguilar's 1992 comments about the Constitution:

The Honduran Constitution indicates that the armed forces a permanent national institution -- professional, apolitical, obedient, and nondeliberating.  The last three characteristics are simply fictitious.  The armed forces of Honduras form the principal political force of the country and thus exercise a tutelary role over the other institutions of government.  The armed forces constitute a de facto power, not subordinated to civilian political power.

In the first place, the armed forces are charged with fulfilling eminently political functions: maintaining the rule of the Constitution, the principles of free suffrage, and the alternation of the office of the presidency of the republic.  In any liberal democracy these are the tasks of the judicial branch.  Because of the armed forces' role in judging the conduct of civilian government, Honduran democracy finds itself under the permanent threat of a coup d'etat.  The armed forces determine, in fact, whether the civilian government is maintaining the Constitution.

The Honduran Constitution is remarkably easy to amend. Article 373 establishes the process:

The reform of this Constitution can be decreed by the National Congress, in ordinary session, with a two-thirds vote of the totality of its members.  The decree will indicate to that effect the article or articles that must be reformed and will have to be ratified by the following ordinary legislative session, by an equal number of votes, in order to enter into force.

In fact, the Constitution has been amended in 22 of the 23 years between when it entered into force and 2005, date of the copy I am consulting online.  Nevertheless, there are certain provisions that are defined as untouchable.  Article 374 of the Constitution establishes:

The amendment of the previous article [and] the present article, under any circumstances, is prohibited, [as is the amendment of any of] the constitutional articles that refer to the form of government, to the [boundaries of] the national territory, to the presidential term of office, to the prohibition on any citizen who has ever exercised the office of President of the Republic at any time returning to exercise it again, and ... to those who cannot be President of the Republic in the subsequent period.

Serious penalties are laid down for those who attempt to change the "untouchable" provisions of the Constitution.  Article 4 declares that the failure to respect alternation in power constitutes "treason" and Article 239 strips violators of their right to hold political office for ten years.

The Honduran Supreme Court, the National Congress, and the Armed Forces have accused President Zelaya of seeking to extend his term of his office, thereby committing treason under Article 4.

I don't know if Zelaya has ever spoken publicly of changing the Constitution to allow reelection.  Sunday's coup was conducted to prevent him from holding a plebiscite, which is allowed under Article 5 of the Constitution.  The plebiscite would have asked the voters whether there should be a second plebiscite in October on whether or not a Constituent Assembly should be called.

The Honduran Constitution as currently written does not explicitly allow for holding a Constituent Assembly, but Article 2 does state that

Sovereignty belongs to the People from whom emanate all the Powers of State which are exercised through representation.  The sovereignty of the People can also be exercised directly, through Plebiscites and Referenda.

Zelaya's effort to allow the electorate to exercise its sovereignty directly clearly is in accord with Article 2.

There are at least two serious contradictions in the Honduran Constitution:

First, the untouchability of certain constitutional provisions, as expressed in Article 374, clearly contradicts the declaration of popular sovereignty expressed in Article 2.  Either the people are fully sovereign, and can choose whatever form of government they choose, or their sovereignty is limited by the decisions a group of legislators made back in 1982.  Yet the constitution states both conditions.

Second, the Constitution identifies the Armed Forces as apolitical, nondeliberative and obedient, but then charges them with guaranteeing the constitutional order -- including the limitations on popular sovereignty contained in Article 374.  This measure, of necessity, militarizes constitutional crises.  When a substantial proportion of the population believes that its sovereign rights are being violated by state institutions, their only recourse is to violent actions.

The history of military coups in Latin America is long and sad, and the governments of the hemisphere have decided it is time for that history to be left in the past.  Honduras, unfortunately, is behind the times, and its current constitution demonstrates just how far out of date it is.

One need not support President Zelaya's specific reform program to condemn the coup that was conducted against him.  In fact, Latin American political figures as disparate as Alvaro Uribe and Rafael Calderon, on the right, and Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez, on the left, have come together to condemn the use of military force to resolve political conflicts.

The Honduran coup may have been "legal," according to an outdated and anachronistic constitution.  By all modern measures of democratic legitimacy, however, it is clearly and undeniably illegitimate.  

Originally posted to litho on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 12:29 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip jar (13+ / 0-)

    for democracy in the Americas...

    Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

    by litho on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 12:29:30 PM PDT

  •  thanks for continuing to look into this (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    betson08, zogren, ArtSchmart

    A couple more questions, I guess:

    1.  Does a single judge of the Sup. Ct. have authority to issue such an order?
    1.  Zelaya was of, course, not merely "detained," and certainly not tried, but shipped out of the country--which again is a procedure not clearly provided for.

    It seems to me that, absent clear authority on those 2 points, this is extra-legal (or extra-constitutional) if not illegal (or unconstitutional).

    •  The Times reports that both Congress (4+ / 0-)

      and the Courts had ruled Zelaya's actions unconstitutional, and the military acted with a court order.

      Here's Article 239:

      El ciudadano que haya desempeñado la titularidad del Poder Ejecutivo no podrá ser Presidente o Vicepresidente de la República. El que quebrante esta disposición o proponga su reforma, así como aquellos que lo apoyen directa o indirectamente, cesarán de inmediato en el desempeño de sus respectivos cargos y quedarán inhabilitados por diez (10) años para el ejercicio de toda función pública.

      [The citizen who has held Executive Power cannot be President or Vicepresident of the Republic.  He who breaks this provision or proposes its reform, as well as those who support him directly or indirectly, will immediately cease the exercise of their respective functions and be prohibited for ten (10) years from the exercise of any public office.]

      The military could reasonably argue that the trial had occurred before Zelaya was removed from office.  The punishment stipulated in the Constitution is not penal, but simply removal from office and loss of political privileges.  They argue they deported him to prevent public disturbances.

      Constitutionally, it seems to me they're on strong ground.  Legally, I don't know.

      The main point, though, is that the constitution itself is illegitimate.

      Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

      by litho on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 12:46:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  From Democracy Now (7+ / 0-)

    Military Using "Brutal" Force Against Anti-Coup Protests in Honduras

    JUAN GONZALEZ: Dr. Almendares, I’d like to ask you—here in the United States, many of the mainstream press reports are saying that the political leadership in Honduras is saying that the coup was actually legal, that it was President Zelaya who was attempting to usurp the Constitution, and that there was actually a legal arrest order against him. I’d like your response to that and how you see this, in terms of who has—who is on firm legal footing here.

    DR. JUAN ALMENDARES: Well, I would say that that is a lie that the people are supporting the coup d’etat. That’s not true. People who are supporting are people—almost some military reserves, some people who are from the ruling class, and some people who are in favor of repression against the people. So they really don’t have a support. They have a support of the torturers, perpetrators. And some people who are leading this movement are people who were trained in the School of America. So we have to emphasize on that. And then this is a militaristic mind. These are people whose ideology is really backward, is so terrible. I mean, and they have been responsible of the human rights abuse in this country.

    So, of course, there is a kind of policy trying to confuse the international community. But here is very clear. What is the reason to have a coup d’etat if you have the sympathy of the people? Why are they opposed to have just a legal survey to ask people whether they want or not to have a new constitution? So there is no reason. They are desperate. They don’t want to give anything to the people. We are really in a terrible injustice in our society. So, all these arguments are very weak when you confront reality.

    Insurance, Oil, Banking, and Defense corporations all have a substantial equity positions in what's supposed to be our Congress.

    by Lefty Coaster on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 12:42:08 PM PDT

    •  I suspect the political support (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lefty Coaster, thethinveil

      for the coup is a little broader than Almendares allows.  Not all members of the oligarchy, for example, are directly involved in torture and political repression.  And not all supporters of the rightwing are members of the oligarchy.

      But, yeah, the issue here is the legitimacy of attempts to change the constitution.  The oligarchy clearly feels threatened by such efforts and will use military force to prevent them.

      Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

      by litho on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 12:49:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Here's another analysis from (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    litho, protectspice, Johnny Q, thethinveil

    This is really an interesting issue to try to figure out. Here's another point of view. I'm still thinking about all of this. Will follow with a CEPR analysis.


    For example, most reports have stated that Manuel Zelaya was ousted from his country’s presidency after he tried to carry out a non-binding referendum to extend his term in office. But this is not completely accurate. Such presentation of “facts” merely contributes to legitimizing the propaganda, which is being employed by the coup-makers in Honduras to justify their actions. This interpretation is widespread in US-American liberal environments, especially after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the coup is unacceptable, but that “all parties have a responsibility to address the underlying problems that led to [Sunday]’s events.” However, President Zelaya cannot be held responsible for this flagrant violation of the Honduran democratic institutions that he has tried to expand. This is what has actually happened:

    The Honduran Supreme Court of Justice, Attorney General, National Congress, Armed Forces and Supreme Electoral Tribunal have all falsely accused Manuel Zelaya of attempting a referendum to extend his term in office.

    According to Honduran law, this attempt would be illegal. Article 239 of the Honduran Constitution clearly states that persons, who have served as presidents, cannot be presidential candidates again. The same article also states that public officials who breach this article, as well as those that help them, directly or indirectly, will automatically lose their immunity and are subject to persecution by law. Additionally, articles 374 and 5 of the Honduran Constitution of 1982 (with amendments of 2005), clearly state that: “it is not possible to reform the Constitution regarding matters about the form of government, presidential periods, re-election and Honduran territory”, and that “reforms to article 374 of this Constitution are not subject to referendum.”

    Nevertheless, this is far from what President Zelaya attempted to do in Honduras the past Sunday and which the Honduran political/military elites disliked so much. President Zelaya intended to perform a non-binding public consultation, about the conformation of an elected National Constituent Assembly. To do this, he invoked article 5 of the Honduran “Civil Participation Act” of 2006. According to this act, all public functionaries can perform non-binding public consultations to inquire what the population thinks about policy measures. This act was approved by the National Congress and it was not contested by the Supreme Court of Justice, when it was published in the Official Paper of 2006. That is, until the president of the republic employed it in a manner that was not amicable to the interests of the members of these institutions.

    Furthermore, the Honduran Constitution says nothing against the conformation of an elected National Constituent Assembly, with the mandate to draw up a completely new constitution, which the Honduran public would need to approve. Such a popular participatory process would bypass the current liberal democratic one specified in article 373 of the current constitution, in which the National Congress has to approve with 2/3 of the votes, any reform to the 1982 Constitution, excluding reforms to articles 239 and 374. This means that a perfectly legal National Constituent Assembly would have a greater mandate and fewer limitations than the National Congress, because such a National Constituent Assembly would not be reforming the Constitution, but re-writing it. The National Constituent Assembly’s mandate would come directly from the Honduran people, who would have to approve the new draft for a constitution, unlike constitutional amendments that only need 2/3 of the votes in Congress. This popular constitution would be more democratic and it would contrast with the current 1982 Constitution, which was the product of a context characterized by counter-insurgency policies supported by the US-government, civil façade military governments and undemocratic policies. In opposition to other legal systems in the Central American region that (directly or indirectly) participated in the civil wars of the 1980s, the Honduran one has not been deeply affected by peace agreements and a subsequent reformation of the role played by the Armed Forces.

    •  I touched on the point (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      about the Constitution's silence of the legitimacy of a Constituent Assembly, and I agree that it's the key constitutional argument in Zelaya's favor.

      It's also the key political and moral argument in his favor.  The Constitution as it exists is seriously screwed up.  And the oligarchy wants to kill the messenger...

      Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

      by litho on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 12:54:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Here's the thing I'm trying to figure out (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        protectspice, Johnny Q

        Wouldn't Zelaya's actions only have been illegal if he had tried to form a Constitutent Assembly AFTER this poll? I just can't figure out what was illegal about trying to conduct a poll. It seems that the oligarchy was acting prematurely based on their assumptions of his motives - and the media has tried to pick this up.

        If they had waited until the poll they might have been surprised at the people voting 'no' or if 'yes' they might have been able to show fraud. Or if 'yes' they might then have been able to arrest him for trying to implement the poll results. But I just can't see the   legal argument for this if they acted before the poll even took place.

        •  I haven't read the actual legal opinions (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          so I'm not certain what specific actions were considered to be unconstitutional.

          It's possible that the effort to call for a Constituent Assembly was considered a violation of Article 374.  I was thinking that perhaps his attempt to remove Romeo Vasquez as head of the Armed Forces might also have been considered unconstitutional, but Article 280 states clearly that the Armed Forces head can be "freely named and removed by the president of the Republic."

          Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

          by litho on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 01:04:59 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's all confusing (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            It will be interesting to see what opinons "count" in this case.

            In the meantime, here's an OAS resolution I just got, at the same time I just got 2 more saying there's a state of seige in teguc, with all constitutional guarantees frozen. Now, THAT'S a coup!


            June 30, 2009  AG/RES. 1 (XXXVII-E/09)

            Washington, D. C.  1 July 2009

                       Original: Spanish

            AG/RES. 1 (XXXVII-E/09)

            (Adopted at the plenary session, held on July 1, 2009 and  
            pending to be revised by the Style Committee)

                 THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY,

                 GRAVELY CONCERNED about the political crisis in the Republic of Honduras as a result of the coup d’état against the government of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, which has produced an unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order;  

                 RECALLING Permanent Council resolutions CP/RES. 952 (1699/09) of June 26, 2009 and CP/RES. 953 (1700/09) of June 28, 2009, regarding the situation in Honduras;

                 CONVENED urgently by the Permanent Council in accordance with Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter;

                 REITERATING the principles and purposes established in the Charter of the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Democratic Charter on the strengthening and preservation of the democratic institutional system in member states, as well as the importance of strict adherence to and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the principle of nonintervention in the internal affairs of other states; and  
                 TAKING NOTE of the declarations by international organizations, sub-regional groups, and governments of the member states,

            To condemn vehemently the coup d’état staged against the constitutionally established Government of Honduras, and the arbitrary detention and expulsion from the country of the constitutional president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, which has produced an unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order.  

            To reaffirm that President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales is the constitutional President of Honduras and to demand the immediate, safe, and unconditional return of the President to his constitutional functions.  

            To declare that no government arising from this unconstitutional interruption will be recognized, and to reaffirm that the representatives designated by the constitutional and legitimate government of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales are the representatives of the Honduran State to the Organization of American States.

            To instruct the Secretary General to undertake, together with representatives of various countries, diplomatic initiatives aimed at restoring democracy and the rule of law and the reinstatement of President Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales, pursuant to Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and report to the Special General Assembly on the results of the initiatives. Should these prove unsuccessful within 72 hours, the Special General Assembly shall forthwith invoke Article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter to suspend Honduras’ membership.

            This time I got it in both English and Spanish, phew!

            To extend this special session of the General Assembly until July 6, 2009.

  •  From Mark Weisbrot (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    litho, protectspice, Johnny Q, thethinveil

    writing in the UK Guardian, but he's from CEPR. The rest of the article is very good in its analysis of U.S. behavior - not believing it's innocent basically.

    There is no excuse for this coup. A constitutional crisis came to a head when Zelaya ordered the military to distribute materials for a non-binding referendum to be held last Sunday. The referendum asked citizens to vote on whether they were in favour of including a proposal for a constituent assembly, to redraft the constitution, on the November ballot. The head of the military, General Romeo Vasquez, refused to carry out the president's orders. The president, as commander-in-chief of the military, then fired Vasquez, whereupon the defence minister resigned. The supreme court subsequently ruled that the president's firing of Vasquez was illegal, and the majority of the Congress has gone against Zelaya.

    Supporters of the coup argue that the president violated the law by attempting to go ahead with the referendum after the supreme court ruled against it. This is a legal question. It may be true, or it may be that the supreme court had no legal basis for its ruling. But it is irrelevant to the what has happened. The military is not the arbiter of a constitutional dispute between the various branches of government.

    This is especially true in this case, in that the proposed referendum was a non-binding and merely consultative plebiscite. It would not have changed any law nor affected the structure of power. It was merely a poll of the electorate.

    Therefore, the military cannot claim that it acted to prevent any irreparable harm. This is a military coup carried out for political purposes

  •  Question (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rock the ground

    Alright, you make a fairly persuasive case. And it seems obvious to me that the militarization of constitutional crises, as you call it, is a bad idea. But how else could this have been solved, under the present situation? Asking him nicely not to do what he wanted to do?

    "Hamas is bad, but not as bad the IDF." - edtastic

    by Mikemoud Huckmadinejad on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 12:51:37 PM PDT

    •  By allowing Sunday's plebiscite to go ahead (6+ / 0-)

      Public opinion polling indicated there was a pretty good chance the plebiscite would fail.  Even if it had succeeded, the opponents of a Constituent Assembly would have four months to organize against the referendum that would have called for elections to one.

      And if the people vote for a Constituent Assembly, then the losers owe it to the polity to respect the people's will as expressed freely at the ballot box.

      In other words, they should have behaved as democrats, not as repressive oligarchs.

      Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

      by litho on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 12:56:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  EXACTLY (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Johnny Q

        I was just writing that in the comment above, but less eloquently!

      •  Thus, the provisions of the (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        rock the ground

        Constitution, stating that some parts cannot be amended, would be a dead letter. It might have failed this time around, but you only need a popular leader who can get it passed. Considering the fact that the military acted on orders of the Supreme Court, I think what happened was the lesser of the two possible evils.

        "Hamas is bad, but not as bad the IDF." - edtastic

        by Mikemoud Huckmadinejad on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 01:04:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Maybe you don't trust the people (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          betson08, Johnny Q, thethinveil

          to govern themselves.

          I do.

          Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

          by litho on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 01:05:45 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It isn't about what I think. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            rock the ground

            It's about what the Constitution of that particular country says. If it allowed for the elimination of the one-term limit, by all means, go for it.

            "Hamas is bad, but not as bad the IDF." - edtastic

            by Mikemoud Huckmadinejad on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 01:08:31 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  It IS about what you think (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Johnny Q, thethinveil

              You're not a lawyer. You're just guessing.

              •  Yes, well (0+ / 0-)

                there is a ton of guessing going on right now, and dozens of people who have suddenly become experts in Honduran law.  It seems to me that their institutions are still functioning; that the military never assumed power, but handed it to a person of his own party; and that he said November elections were on as scheduled, and that he would not run.  That may be many things, but it is not an "old fashioned military coup".

                I do not claim to be even quasi-expert.

            •  The Constitution is an artifact (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              of the time it was written.  Unfortunately, it is clearly not a good guide for the country's needs today.

              The point I'm trying to make is that Congress, the courts, and the Armed Forces behaved in ways that are in fact constitutional.  And the result of their actions is that Honduras today is completely isolated and marginalized from the international community.

              The problem here is either the Honduran constitution or the norms of the international community.

              Me, I like the international norms over the Honduran constitution.  The diary lays out some of the reasons why.

              Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

              by litho on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 01:14:34 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I support much of what you say (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                but not this final conclusion.  Once you have concluded that the events are fully constitutional, then the debate is pretty much over.  To say that a change in president is done according to the constitution of a democratic state but that we are going to isolate and marginalize them because we do not like the chain of events -- ??

                I have a tough time with that.

                •  Yeah, we'll have to disagre then (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  betson08, rock the ground, Johnny Q

                  because in my mind an institutional structure that leads to armed soldiers doing battle in the streets with civilian protesters is on its face incapable of dealing with the real political differences in society.

                  There has to be a peaceful way to resolve the conflicts between the president and the other institutions of power.  The fact the constitution calls on the Armed Forces to intervene shows that the constitution itself is seriously -- if not fatally -- flawed.

                  Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

                  by litho on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 01:49:52 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I don't disagree with that (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    though reports today are that the street demonstrations are largely in support of the removal.

                    What I'm saying is that the world (initially including myself) has reacted as if this were an old-fashioned military coup, but when you digest the facts, it is something very different.

                    As to your point about soldiers and civilians, point taken, but we just had that scenario in spades in Iran.  We did not have the opposition leader address the UN, the IMF did not suspend lending, we did not threaten to cut off relations, etc.

                    •  Your contention that it was not a coup (3+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      betson08, Johnny Q, thethinveil

                      it seems to me is unsustainable.  The Armed Forces did in fact remove the president from office at gunpoint and did in fact send him out of the country.

                      The fact they relinquished power immediately does not differentiate this particular coup from dozens of other coups that have taken place in the hemisphere over its long history.  The hemispheric consensus against coups d'etat, in any form, stems from the fact that so many countries have suffered severely from military dictatorships, many of which were initiated with citizen protests calling for exactly the kind of coup you're defending in Honduras.

                      Chileans, for example, called on Pinochet to overthrow Allende precisely because they believed Allende had exceeded his constitutional authority.  Pinochet, however, decided not to turn power back to civilians and instead instituted a military dictatorship.

                      There is a distinction, that is, between a coup d'etat and a military dictatorship.  A coup means the president was removed by force; it may or may not result in a dictatorship.

                      The hemispheric consensus against military involvement in politics has come about because people now realize that coups easily become dictatorships, and that risk is simply too great.

                      The United States has always enjoyed what the Honduran Constitution claims to, but does not in fact, create: a nondeliberative and obedient military.  We have never had a coup in this country.  The Latin Americans are seeking to emulate our model, and that is why their denunciations of the Honduran coup have been swift, vociferous, and unanimous.

                      To me, the most telling fact is that the rightist presidents in Latin America, like Uribe and Calderon, have not just condemned the coup but have taken positive steps -- such as recalling their ambassadors -- in the effort to reverse it.

                      Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

                      by litho on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 02:04:30 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

        •  No, not at all (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ArtSchmart, Johnny Q

          you protect your democracy. They could have arrested him, not pulled off a coup. I was just there in May, this wouldn't have gone through. The military has no business being the arbiter of this dispute. It's the same old sh#$ from the 1970s.

    •  They needed to wait for the poll (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      protectspice, Johnny Q, thethinveil

      What they did was act under a presumption of what he wanted to do without any real evidence.

      Litho's comment below points this out well:

      Public opinion polling indicated there was a pretty good chance the plebiscite would fail.  Even if it had succeeded, the opponents of a Constituent Assembly would have four months to organize against the referendum that would have called for elections to one.

      And if the people vote for a Constituent Assembly, then the losers owe it to the polity to respect the people's will as expressed freely at the ballot box.

      In other words, they should have behaved as democrats, not as repressive oligarchs.

  •  A key insight in the NYT TOday (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    litho, ArtSchmart, Johnny Q, thethinveil

    From THIS article.

    Zelaya wasn't a popular president, so basically the military miscalculated all of this, whether what they did will turn out to be legal or not. Whether or not they liked him, a lot of people are just mad at a military takeover.
    This is what I was thinking the other day, based on my May visit to Honduras.

    Here's the end of that article:

    Mr. Zelaya’s public support was sagging, and there was debate over whether he would have won his planned referendum, even if Congress and the courts had allowed it. But his opponents chose to act first, a decision some experts saw as a miscalculation.

    “Had they let it play out, it would have been easy to stop him,” said John Carey, a specialist on Latin American politics at Dartmouth University. “He seems to have triggered the only thing that could have saved him.”

  •  It's true! (6+ / 0-)

    The Honduran Constitution is remarkably easy to amend.

    I once amended it by mistake while cruising the Honduran government web portal.  For two or three weeks their national language was Swedish.

    Al que no le guste el caldo, le dan dos tazas.

    by Rich in PA on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 01:09:48 PM PDT

  •  Military guarantees of constitutional order (0+ / 0-)

    The constitutional provision that the Honduran military be the guarantor of constitutional order is something that is almost universal in Latin American constitutional democracies.  The purpose was to professionalize the military by removing it from domestic policymaking both practically and in terms of culture.  It is actually a key part of the education provided by the infamous School of the Americas, specifically to get the military out of the business of overthrowing elected civilian governments.  The result is the kind of coup recently performed in Honduras and the coups done in Ecuador since the mid-1990's, as well as the attempted coup against Chavez in Venezuela in 2002.  Overall, however, coup attempts have been drastically reduced since the 1980's throughout Latin America.

    However, the military still retains the power and claims to legitimate constitutional authority to depose governments if enough political actors can agree that an elected official or officials is threatening to overthrow the Constitution.  

    Juan Colehas already made the case that the present Iranian political leadership has been in the process of a multi-year "slow coup" where the constitutional inclusion of the opposition is systematically removed from governance institutions.  This is arguably occurring as well in all of the Chavez-allied governments in Latin America, whom have also increased their diplomatic correspondences with Iran and all of whom represent the same populist bases of support within their countries - the poorest of rural and urban slum dwellers who increasingly make up the majority populations of Third World nations.  

    I think Obama's opposition to the coup in Honduras, represents a more progressive shift in American foreign policy -- that militaries should not be in the business of arbitrating constitutions.  Rather civilians should, even if that means mass protests, strikes, and other non-violent forms of political intimidation.  Had a mass demonstration been organized in Honduras before the military "saved" the president from injury by removing him to a safe country, as had been done in all of Ecuador's several military coups in the last decade, I don't think the US would be calling for Zelaya's return now.  

  •  If it walks like a coup, quacks like a coup... (5+ / 0-)

    ... then it's a coup.

    If Hollywood wanted to protray a Banana-Republic coup they couldn't do better than reinacting what occurred here:  soliders showing up in the middle of the night, breaking down the doors of the presidential pallace, and hustling El Presidente off to the airport in his PJs for banishment.

    If the coup makers were so confident of their "legal" standing they could simply have obtained a ruling that plebiscite was not authorized, and an order barring it from going forward.

    By resorting to "pre-emptive" violence they both showed they lacked the courage of their convictions and the confidence that the people of Honduras would agree with their conclusions.

    •  The problem is that they did have rulings (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      betson08, thethinveil

      that the plebiscite was not authorized, by both Courts and Congress, and they had orders that it could not go forward.

      Zelaya was defying the other branches of government by conducting the plebiscite in direct violation of their orders.

      In other words, this is actually a pretty complex domestic Honduran political crisis.

      In terms of it looking like a classic banana republic coup, though, you're right on.  Your comment evokes images of Woody Allen and Richard Dreyfus... :=)

      Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

      by litho on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 01:34:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Optics are important (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        betson08, thethinveil

        .... it would seem to me if the legal answer was that the plebiscite couldnt go forward, given the support of congress and the army, then you could enforce that order without a midnight raid on the presidential palace, i.e, there were lesser alternatives to deposing the President.

        This appears to me to be a coordinated move by the Honduran oligarchy to remove by force a political leader they lacked the ability to remove through political means, while "cloaking" it in an aura of legality that gave plausible cover to what on its face seems an illegal and unconstitutional act.  

        In other words, something right out of the Neo-Con playbook.  No wonder the Neo-Cons are screaming at Obama on this one: it's out of respectful admiration of what their right wing soulmates in Honduras were able to manufacture.

        Perhaps they're taking notes for their own "contingency planning" here at home.

      •  Exactly (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        This is a "pretty complex Honduran domestuc political" crisis and iy cannt be looked at as your classic "banana republic stop doing that. As a Honduran this oversimplification offends me and especially when the intervention of Chavez in the internal political affairs of Honduras goes completely unmentioned.

        "El ladron juzga de su condicion." Old Spanish Proverb

        by ARCADIA on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 02:23:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  My point is exactly (0+ / 0-)

      that this does NOT walk and quack like a coup.  Of course I thought it did when first reports came in, but when you learn how the chain of events played out, it doesn't.

      The diarist's facts are, as best I can tell, correct.

      •  The central fact presented in the diary (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        betson08, Johnny Q, thethinveil

        is that the Honduran Constitution is contradictory and antidemocratic.

        Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

        by litho on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 02:05:20 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I don't think it's purely a "legal" question (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          betson08, thethinveil

          coup d'é⋅tat  /ˌku deɪˈtɑ; Fr. ku deɪˈta/  Show Spelled Pronunciation [koo dey-tah; Fr. koo dey-ta]  Show IPA

          Use coup d'etat in a Sentence
          –noun, plural coups d'é⋅tat  /ˌku deɪˈtɑz; Fr. ku deɪˈta/  Show Spelled Pronunciation [koo dey-tahz; Fr. koo dey-ta]  Show IPA . a sudden and decisive action in politics, esp. one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force.


          I don't think the question of whether it's a coup is a purely a legal one.   I don't think it's that unusual for coup leaders to claim to be acting under "color" of law when they forcefully change a  pre-existing government, claiming their violent actions were "lawful" or, through their control of the instruments of state subsequently ratifying their actions.  (The Nazis seizure of dictatorial powers following a "lawful" election comes to mind).

          Many people think there has more recently been a "coup" in Iran, where elements of the Republican Guard and the militia have forcefully assmumed power, notwithstanding whatever "legalistic" arguments Khamani might come up with that since he has sanctioned all the actions which have ocurred, they are all "legal".

          I don't find legalistic appeals to my ears to deny what my eyes plainly see very persuasive.

      •  YES IT DOES, CHECK THIS OUT (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Johnny Q, thethinveil


        If you read Spanish. check it HERE, the major paper, El Tiempo.

    •  The congress just suspended (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Johnny Q, thethinveil

      Constitutional Rights.

      If you read Spanish go HERE, to second article.

  •  Where is / are the court order(s)? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    betson08, shenderson
    I had been looking around to try and find these judicial orders that the Honduran military has been using to claim authority to depose the President.

    Likewise, President Zelaya in front of the UN complained of having seen no rulings, judicial orders, hearings, or anything else.

    These massively important orders, findings, judicial decisions -- has anyone seen them and reviewed them?

    •  NYT correspondent Marc Lacey (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      writes of

      The detention order, signed June 26 by a Supreme Court judge, ordered the armed forces to detain the president, identified by his full name of José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, at his home in the Tres Caminos area of the capital. It accused him of treason and abuse of authority, among other charges.

      It certainly sounds like he's seen it.

      Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

      by litho on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 04:25:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  No, I'm not granting anyone the presumption. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I even read a court spokesperson and a military spokesperson refer to it, but I've been searching the Honduran press, and I haven't seen it, so, I'm going to keep calling bullshit on this and not grant anyone the benefit of a doubt until they prove it.

        This is supposedly one of the most important rulings in Latin American history;  either I haven't found it, the courts didn't publish it before hand, and/or journalists taking spokespersons' word for it.

        •  And now the Congress (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          el cid

          has suspended Constitutional guarantees.

          Check out the news at El Tiempo. It seems able to report actual news. La Prensa is a disaster.

        •  There's no need to get hyperbolic about it (0+ / 0-)

          While the current crisis may finally allow Honduras to catch up with its neighbors in entering the twentieth century -- if this thing gets resolved in a peaceful and democratic way -- I wouldn't say the ruling deposing the president is "one of the most important ... in Latin American history."  Honduras, after all, is pretty small potatoes in the larger scheme of things.

          I don't know Lacey read the court order, but the kind of detail he provides about its contents strongly suggests that he did.  Given the way the crisis has developed, I don't seriously doubt that a court did issue some kind of order, and a detention order is certainly well within the realm of possibility.

          Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

          by litho on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 06:14:32 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'm not getting hyperbolic (0+ / 0-)

            What I meant by 'one the most important' is that given that the entire coup was justified by the ruling, the ruling plays a crucial role.

            And, again, given the centrality of this legalistic claim, I'm just not taking anyone's word.  

            In fact my bet would be that the NYT reporter didn't even ask to see any document, and instead had an intense meeting with a spokesperson, because he gave no more detail than was given in the Honduran press quoting military and judicial spokesfigures.

            If there's a real ruling that pretends to have legal authority, it's either a public decision or it's another game to give the military what it wants.

  •  Congress has JUST suspended (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    litho, Johnny Q, thethinveil

    Constitutional guarantees, like habeus corpus.

    If it walks like a coup and quacks like a coup.

    If you read Spanish you can check the story on El Tiempo's website.

  •  Wrong. Unconstitutional from the start. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Let's accept the coup-positive version of events. So supposedly Zelaya violated article 239 and the supreme court issued an order for his arrest (even though this order was not made public until yesterday night, and the golpistas have already been caught in one forgery). So, arresting Zelaya would have been constitutional.

    The arrest still violated the constitution:

       * Article 84, the person must be clearly informed of his rights and the reason for his arrest; the person has the right to communicate with another person of his choosing at the time of his arrest.
       * Article 85, the person may only be arrested at a place determined in the law.
       * Article 88, any declaration by the detainee is invalid if not made in the presence of a competent judge.
       * Article 90, which establishes due process.
       * Article 102 states that "no Honduran can be expatriated or handed over by the authorities to a foreign state."
       * Article 182, the right of habeas corpus.

    Since the arrest, they've violated 2 more:

       * Article 74, which prohibits the restriction of mass media.
       * Article 81, which provides for freedom of movement within the country.

    Opinions are like assholes. I spend way too much time looking at them on the internet.

    by homunq on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 07:36:02 PM PDT

  •  Great diary saw DavidSeth's diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    on docudharma followed it to kos and then followed your links here.

    Glad I caught it.

    It should be rescued.

    "What is the robbing of a Bank compared to the FOUNDING of a Bank?" Bertolt Brecht

    by thethinveil on Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 07:40:21 PM PDT

  •  Great Read (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Thanks for responding to me in that other diary which allowed me to find the rest of your writings on this subject.

    In a nutshell it sounds like your argument is that the removal of Zelaya was legal and proper but that the laws in place that brought Honduras to the point of having to do this are wrong and should be changed.

    If I am wrong with that understanding please correct me.

    If a Constituent Assembly were to be called who would be a part of the assembly and how would they be picked? Perhaps you could write a diary about that issue because I would love to read your opinion and insight into the issue.

    •  I wouldn't exactly say legal and proper (0+ / 0-)

      but I would say probably legal.  Questions have been raised about whether specific legal procedures were followed in deposing Zelaya, but in general terms I don't doubt the military acted within the spirit of the Constitution.

      I'm not an expert in Honduran law -- my background is in history with a fair amount of political science -- so I couldn't tell you off the top of my head how the members of a hypothetical Honduran Constituent Assembly would be selected.  In most countries, though, you simply hold an election according to existing electoral laws as if you were electing a Congress.  The difference is that a Constituent Assembly is fully sovereign, bound by no law or constitution other than those it itself agrees to.  Its main function is to write a constitution, but in many cases Constituent Assemblies have assumed full governmental powers until the new constitution is ratified.

      It's a moot point, because Zelaya has already backed off the call for a Constituent Assembly as part of the compromise the OAS is proposing to get him reinstated.

      Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

      by litho on Thu Jul 02, 2009 at 06:37:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The problem with coup (0+ / 0-)

        The problem I have with labeling this a coup is that it implies the actions taken were illegal.

        As for Zelaya backing off on calling for the Constituent Assembly isn't it a little late on that point? Why didn't he back off on that point before he was removed from office?

        I see that point being raised by his supporters as a wedge issue to get him back into office but it's simply too late. He was given several chances to stop pushing for the referendum prior to being removed from office and now he is suddenly willing to stop because he was deposed? Sorry, I'm not buying that one. Sounds more like someone who feels guilty that he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar rather than someone who is sorry for having put his hand in the cookie jar in the first place.

        •  The Honduran constitution (0+ / 0-)

          institutionalizes actions that would be illegal in other countries.  That's a big reason why I call the constitution itself illegitimate.

          As for him getting restored to office, that is a minimal demand of the international community for Honduras to be accepted as a member in good standing.  Either he is restored, or Honduras will suffer serious consequences.

          Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

          by litho on Thu Jul 02, 2009 at 08:23:59 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  what now? (0+ / 0-)

            What do they do now?

            If they let him back in as President they would be admitting their actions were wrong (even if legal). Everyone in Congress and the SC was for his removal so what happens to them?

            I don't see an easy way out of this for either side.

            •  Compromise, and a commitment (0+ / 0-)

              to work towards democratic processes.

              It would do the whole country a world of good, and as Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador have all learned -- the hard way -- there are worse things in the world than having your mortal enemies exercise political power in a democratic government.

              Honduras has always been different in Central America, and maybe its transition from oligarchic rule -- what they have now -- to democracy will not cost tens of thousands of deaths and the passage through the most brutal and corrupt of torture states, as it did in El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980s.

              Richard "The Dick" Cheney: screwing America since 1969

              by litho on Thu Jul 02, 2009 at 10:40:01 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

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