Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hypocrisy: Micheletti's attempt to change the constitution in 1985

Mimalapalabra today posts a scanned page from La Tribuna of Honduras, dated October 25, 1985. Headlined Pugilism in the Congress: Congressmen ask to convert Congress into a Constitutional Assembly, the story reports on violence that broke out when Carlos Echenique attempted to read a motion, signed by a number of congressmembers, to convert Congress immediately into a Constitutional Assembly.

Another member, Carlos Montoya, interrupted asking that he be declared out of order, saying

We cannot permit a congressmember to make an attempt against the Constitutional order and try to generate a "golpe técnico" (technical coup d'etat) to finish the democratic system in which we live
Another member opposed to the motion, Nicholas Cruz Torres, labeled those who signed the motion "traitors". These deputies called for the immediate suspension of those suporting the motion. A fistfight broke out, and another congressmember drew a pistol.

Who were the perpetrators of this travesty? twelve congressmembers were listed as supporters. Among them: Roberto Micheletti, today the leader of the authoritarian regime that seized power after a military coup.

The motion he signed to support in 1985 explicitly called for the suspension of the so-called "stone articles" of the constitution, including Article 374 prohibiting changes to presidential terms.

Micheletti, along with the other signatories, was questioned by the head of Congress, Efrain Bu Girón, who invited them to retract their signature, advising them that
you are incurring a penal responsibility for an attempt against the democratic system
Only five of the original signatories maintained their support for the motion, Micheletti among them.

Informed that Bu Girón had spoken with the head of the Armed Forces, the ringleader "snuck out of the meeting room".

As Alfredo Xalli notes in his commentary on mimalapalabra, these congress members had no intention to consult the Honduran people about constitutional change. At the same time, they argued that the constitution derived its power from the people-- which is in fact an accurate constitutional claim.

In addition to the obvious difference that in 2009, President Zelaya did not propose extending the term of the president, one great difference between the 1985 attempt to convene a constitutional assembly and the proposal to begin to poll the people-- the source of constitutional authority-- in 2009 is that in 1985 the Congress identified itself as the legitimate representative of the people. In 2009, the Zelaya government argued for a move from such representative democracry to more participatory democracy, in which the people would be polled.

The purpose of the well-documented incident in 1985 was precisely to prolong the presidency of Roberto Suazo Cordova beyond the constitutional limit.

This particular ploy did not work, but there remained considerable uncertainty about whether Suazo Cordova would step aside as required. An article in the Nuevo Herald of Miami on December 6, 1985, speculated that Suazo Cordova would attempt to stay on with the support of the Armed Forces, rather than allow Jose Azcona Hoya, the president-elect, take power in January. Forty-six congressmembers-- more than half of the 82 members of congress at the time-- were rumored to be likely not to attend the inauguration.

In 1985, Honduras had not yet experienced a single orderly transition of the government under the new constitution. In 2009, until June 28, the experience of most young Hondurans was nothing but the success of the constitution in ensuring democratic succession. But an older generation of Honduran politicians who were actors in 1985 would have been aware of the echoes of that earlier day when invoking a Constitutional Assembly had no reason other than to attempt to install a continuous presidency.

1 comment:

Alabama_John said...


The organized will of the people, this is what a Constitution is all about, and any piece of paper that declares itself eternal, declares itself impossible to change and above the people, is a manifesto hiding politicians with a dictatorship mentality.

Now catch what the two above jokers are trying to tell us, that one generation may legally create a Constitution that is god over all future generations.