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.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What Advocates Hoped to Change in the Honduran Constitution

There has been abundant repetition of the claim that the poll scheduled for last Sunday was intended by its advocates to allow the current President, Manual Zelaya, to remain in office after his term ends in January, 2010.

A correspondent in Honduras drew my attention to an editorial, published Saturday in El Tiempo de Honduras, in which the Minister of Culture, Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, a historian and former university professor, gave his concrete views on what needs to change in the 1982 Honduran Constitution. Minister Pastor, whose current location and status is unknown, cannot be taken to represent the views of his entire government; but at the very least, he presents a different narrative from the one spread by those who illegally exiled the legally elected President of the country, and taken up by much English-language media for whom the story of a Latin American president who wants to hold power forever is a convenient, pre-existing storyline.

Ironically, as I go to post this, those who removed President Zelaya from the country to prevent any question about initiating constitutional reform, are suspending core rights guaranteed by the Honduran Constitution itself, including the right of assembly, the right to travel, the right to demonstrate, the right to a speedy hearing, and the requirement for court orders for searches.

Here, then, is my translation of the editorial, which cannot capture the fluidity of Minister Pastor's writing:

Why and for what do we need a new constitution?

There isn't a total consensus among us about "for what" we need a new constitution, nor about "what it needs to have", nor do we have a reason for why we have to have it because-- precisely-- this consensus is what has to crystallize, in the breast of a genuinely representative constituent assembly, after a debate, and which has to support a new social contract.

I disagree on various points, to give an example, with my leader, and it will be my job to defend my dissidence, some other time. For the rest, the problem has a juridical dimension and depth that I do not have the professional knowledge to exhaust, so I will speak above all of the administrative and political problem.

Perhaps I have to note why theoretically we did not need the ballot question of the "cuarta urna" and a constitutional assembly up till now. There have been many supposed reforms that could have conceivably been arranged among the parties, as a hundred other amendments have been arranged, the most important of which, nonetheless, ended in the trash because they were declared "unconstitutional" in the Supreme Court of Injustice, paradoxically at the request of the same reformer, as in the case of the prohibition on the President of Congress running for the Presidency of the Republic. Therefore, well-qualified jurists have declared that almost all the Constitution is petrified, is politically shielded against change. From time to time we get reforms that the politicians immediately find a way to circumvent. And it is clear that there has been bad faith, that they have given us "atole with a finger" [strung us along], that they concede reforms to us and then they ameliorate them, and are already thinking about how to take them apart from the same moment they promulgate them.

Personally, I have declared myself against re-election; I do not believe that a democratic society needs it. Electoral position would be more representative when everyone has the most opportunity, than when those who occupy and have benefitted from exposure are privileged. Better to propose to remove from congressional representatives the right to successive re-election. (It is those who carry out public policy, and civil service administrators, who require expertise and continuity in their jobs, and not those who deliberate-- advised-- about policy, and here we have the reverse, we dismiss the specialists to accommodate the clients of the political class of the moment.) I also believe it is inexpedient to raise the restrictions that weigh on sectors such as the military in active service and those in religious orders, in order to allow them to participate in elections and political life, because those guilds have their own missions and are obligated to a type of obedience that takes away from subordinates the independence of the full citizen.

But, although its beneficiaries do not wish to see it, the present political system, petrified in the Constitution, is broken, more than the treasury. It is a system of corruption and privileges frozen by constitutionalization of corporatist pretensions and by groups of incontravertible economic power. It does not assure the fulfillment of the duties of citizenship and the payment of its obligations (no one in any country in the world has to be exempt from paying income tax) nor does it guarantee the enjoyment of minimum rights. And, as a consequence, all the institutionality of the State suffers from weakness: it cannot function adequately, it does not have what it needs to do so. And the lack of capacity to respond generates a failure of institutional credibility. And this situation generates ungovernability and requires changes that-- daily-- the sovereign people, who the powers of State owe obedience, demand in the street; since all democratic authority derives from their will. To change the system supposes a constitutional assembly; there is no other way.

There are other rights that this society of ours needs to restrict. Public servants, and specifically, the military and police, should not invoke constitutional rights to preserve themselves unpunished and in their posts despite well-founded suspicions wth respect to their failures or involvement in activities at odds with the mission of their role. Their strategic position requires that they renounce the right to protection, as public figures should, for their part, renounce the right to privacy in the face of liberty of expression.

Instead of this, it is necessary to open up, amplify, and make operative other rights, specifically that of direct consultation, that which the reactionary right is precisely committed to frustrate today, intimidating the people with threats and fantasies. But there are other universal rights today denied, including individual ones. It is unacceptable that the Public Prosecutor can monopolize the accusatorial function in society. This provokes defenselessness of the citizenry when they cannot obtain the consent of the public prosecutor of the moment to charge those who abuse us. We should all have the right to bring charges when the Prosecution does not act and without need of an intermediary, as long as our charge conforms to the law. Likewise, we have to broaden the rights of ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities to bring ourselves into line with our international commitments in these areas. Because even today the rights indigenous people derive from their condition are not recognized, and despite theoretical secularism, fundamentalism wishes to impose its dogma as law.

The traditional parties have arranged to cooperate to promulgate, at full gallop, rules for popular consultation instituted five years ago and blocked for lack of these rules and of the political will to implement them. We congratulate them for that because this will facilitate the installation of the "Cuarta Urna" [ballot measure], although it does not resolve all the formal problems. And we ask if they would ever have made the rules for this law that was dead without the pressure of this exercise in consultation. We shall have to see that these instruments will not be left tied up and controlled.

If we dream of a democratic country, we also have to assure ourselves that the people we elect to public positions respond to the public interest when they take up their charges. Not to the private interest of their friends and family, nor to that of their business clients, but to the interest of the citizenry in general. The present Constitution does not establish operative mechanisms to render an accounting nor to revoke mandates. The referendum should be approved as well so that the new constitution is submitted for the approval of the citizenry. These are a few things. That not all of us can understand. But fundamental. This country cannot govern itself in peace as long as we do not refound ourselves with a social contract in which there is respect for the rights of everyone.

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