“Written to enlighten, guaranteed to offend”
A Publication of Seth J. Frantzman
July 15, 2009
1) Misreading Events in Honduras: The ousting of Honduran president Manuel Zalaya has been portrayed as a “coup”. In fact it was ordered by the Supreme Court and the Congress and while it was military that removed him, it was a member of his own party, the next in line for succession should the president be impeached, that replaced him. An impeachment is hardly a coup and Zalaya was a threat to democracy in the form of Castro or Chavez.
Misreading Events in Honduras
Seth J. Frantzman
July 13th, 2009
On the 28th of June the Honduran army descended on the Presidential palace, arrested the president and put him on a plane to Costa Rica. Within hours a new acting President had been placed in office. It had all the marks of a coup, the kind that had once been so common in South America and Africa. World reaction was quick. The UN General Assembly unanimously called for the President, Manuel Zalaya, to be reinstated. On July 4th Honduras was expelled from the Organization of American States (OAS), an organization that has, over the years, become a bastion of democratizing influence for Latin America. From Barak Obama to Hugo Chavez the “coup” was condemned.
But what most of the media missed was the degree to which what had actually happened was that a president, perhaps seeking dictatorial powers, had been peacefully removed in a constitutional manner. Far from placing thugs on the throne of Honduras, the military had received its marching orders from the Supreme Court and it had immediately yielded to the next man in the line of succession, president of the Congress Roberto Micheletti, a member of Zalaya’s party.
Although street protests followed the ouster of Zalaya there was no bloodshed and it appears the majority of Hondurans support the actions of the military and the government. So why the widespread condemnation? Very few people seem to be aware of the fact that it was Zalaya who attempted to emulate Hugo Chavez’s one part rule. Consider the latest manifestations of that regime, which began innocently enough being democratically elected. Chavez has recently passed new legislation forcing all media outlets and cable outlets to carry his long winded rambling speeches and on July 11th a new law revoked the licenses of 40% of the nations radio stations in what Chavez described as “democratizing” the media.
The same use of “democracy” was what Zalaya had in mind when he attempted to have a referendum during which voters would be asked if they wanted to form a constitutional amending National Constituent assembly. The object of this would be to amend the constitution to remove term limits. As it stands today Honduras has a one term limit, a common law in many Latin American countries such as Mexico where a history of strong-man Caudilloism had seen dictators remain in office for decades. In order to prevent one politician gaining too much power the one term limit would force rotation at the top. Zalaya, who had assumed office in 2006, was seen as intending to emulate Hugo Chavez and want to run again in 2010. Chavez had amended Venezuela’s constitution in February 2009, after winning just such a referendum. As of today he has been in power ten years and will likely remain in office, like Fidel Castro, for more than a generation.
In late June of 2009 the Congress of Honduras, of which Zalaya’s own Liberal party was the majority, began discussing ways to impeach him for violating the constitution when he announced plans to hold an unofficial poll on amending the constitution on June 28th.
When Zalaya asked the military to pass out the ballots for his referendum, which had been declared illegal by the Congress and the Supreme Court, the chief of staff General Romeo Valasquez refused. Zalaya fired the general but the Supreme Court, in a 5-0 ruling, declared the firing illegal on the 25th of June. On the same day the Attorney General of Honduras issued an arrest warrant for Zalaya for violating the constitution. The Supreme Court, in secret, approved the warrant.
When Zalaya was bundled into a plane it had all the hallmarks of a coup. Except none of the things that usually happen in a coup happened. There was no killing. There were no Colonels to take power in some triumvirate. There was no widespread censorship or suppression of civil liberties. Polls before the “coup” in fact found that only 1 in four Hondurans supported the President. While it seemed like a coup the participation of two out of three branches of government, the virtually unanimous approval by the courts and the Congress and the fact that the President’s own party approved his removal point to the legality of it. Furthermore the fact that the next in line of succession was appointed an acting president shows that rather than a change in regime it was a maintenance of democracy.
Honduras is more of a democracy today than it was on June 27th. The critique by the OAS, Chavez and Obama are without merit. Had Zalaya been allowed to go forward with his seemingly innocuous referendum he might very well have ended up as another Chavez. Latin Americans fought for decades to remove Caudillos from office and set term limits to ensure democracy. Those limits are now being eroded through the ballot box, much as fascism and Communism exploited democracy to power. Zalaya violated his own country’s laws. Calling what happened a “coup” obscures the reality.