29 June 2009

Behind the power curve

Edit: As information has come in throughout the day, I realize that some aspects of this article may now be in error. I regret the error, and will probably post more as the situation develops.

I wish that my time in Honduras would give me a little more insight into the latest political upheval in that country, but, alas, I'm more concerned about the 30 June deadline. Nevertheless, the situation is worth mentioning.

What appears to have happened, based on a few of the reports that I have read (Zenpundit, Honduran Blogger, WSJ), is that the Supreme Court of Honduras has placed the current Presidente, Manuel Zelaya, under military arrest and exiled him to Costa Rica for, in effect, attempting to amend the constitution to allow for him to stay in office well after his term had expired. (Much like the Jedi arresting Chancellor Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith after he didn't give up his emergency powers. Maybe Zelaya is...a Sith Lord?)

Many are referring to this as a military coup, but I'm not so sure this actually meets the definition of a coup. The Honduran Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for the President for the crime of attempting to extend his term limits, in effect, remaining in office as a de facto dictator. The Honduran military apparently moved in, arrested him, and sent him to Costa Rica (tough break).

This isn't so much a subversion of power, since militaries under civil control are not necessarily loyal to the leader of the country, but rather to the constitution of the country. With President Zelaya blatantly violating the constitution, and an arrest warrant issued by the Honduran Supreme Court, this is actually democracy in action--well, Latin American style.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is sticking up for Zelaya--there's a shock.

Needless to say, it never ceases to amaze me how Latin America works sometimes. It's nothing to see soldiers line the streets in Honduras to keep order. In fact, when I was in Honduras, we would often take turns of one another posing in front of the riot police. My favorite is when I snapped a picture of one of the military journalists, who jumped off of a bus in the middle of Tegucigalpa and did his best "What? Me, worry?" pose in front of about a hundred armed Honduran troops, then hopped back on the bus. Yes, rest assured that whenever there is political upheval anywhere in the world, Gen Y will be there to take pictures of themselves in front of it.

Anyway, as I'm still waiting for a flight, I might find time to catch up on the latest happenings in Honduras. I might even try to find that picture somewhere...I know I have it around here...

Best of luck to all of my friends still in Honduras dealing with this. Hopefully, you'll have less corrupt government as a result of this.


Anonymous said...


Your info is not entirely accurate. The president wanted to call an opinion poll (non-binding) to see if people would like to have a binding referendum on modifying the constitution. The modification could have allowed for re-election, but in any event would have been too late for it to apply to him (his term ends in November). The president has repeatedly denied that he intends to seek re-election. In Honduras voting is mandatory, but for this non-binding poll it was optional.

It was not the supreme court (in the US sense at least) that ordered his demise, but it was a special electoral court that supervises elections. It sounds surreal that such a body could depose a sitting president. The court is appointed by congress, which in turn is opposed to the president, so its actions are clearly partisan. To try to cover up the legal sham, they have falsified a "letter of resignation" by Zelaya that has been denied by him.


Gordon Pasha

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the president's term was supposed to end in January, not November.


Gordon Pasha

Starbuck said...

I greatly appreciate your information. I added an "edit" to the beginning of this post, and will examine the situation further. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I dug a little bit deeper. The story seems to be that in Honduras the army is supposed to distribute ballots. So when the electoral court (and later the supreme court, the attorney general and congress) declared that the non-binding ballot was unconstitutional, the army refused to distribute the ballots, claiming they could not carry out an illegal order from the president. The president then fired the head of joint chiefs of staff. This led the chiefs of the army, navy and air force and the minister of defense to resign. The supreme court reinstated the head of the joint chiefs of staff (don't know how that one works in detail). The president then stormed with a mob the army depot where the ballots were kept in an attempt to distribute them. From there on things went downhill.

I don't claim to understand all of this too well, in particular the role of the supreme court. In the US the supreme court would not intervene, at least in first instance, even if the president was doing something illegal.

In spite of all these weird details, congress could just have chosen to impeach the president (apparently that works more or less like in the US) so there was no need for a coup...


Gordon Pasha

mark said...

"The president wanted to call an opinion poll (non-binding"

If so, Zelaya could have hired Gallup or Zogby, this was a referendum to be carried out by the government like any other election in order to give Zelaya political momentum to circumvent the Constitution of Honduras which imposes strict term limits.It was an illegal power grab.

Firing the military chief was also illegal, the Honduran constitution gives that power to the legislative branch, not the executive. Both of these provisions were intended to thwart would-be dictators. Nor can the president propose amendments to the constitution via referendum. That's not allowed either.

Hopefully, the Hondurans will stick to their guns. Zelaya is a bad actor and so are his backers in ALBA.

Anonymous said...

The word "referendum" is usually reserved for ballots in which the result is binding. The proposed ballot this time was non-binding. Many countries conduct this type of polling. They are different from a Gallup poll in that a large fraction of the population is involved.

I agree that Zelaya is a bad actor, but not respecting institutions has been the main problem in Latin America all along.
Congress, for instance, could have gotten rid of him by impeachment rather easily, they have the votes for that.

Gordon Pasha