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, June 30, 2009

What makes a Coup?

Roberto Micheletti, the head of the Honduran Congress who has seized executive power, has apparently been surprised that the US has not agreed to recognize him as a legitimate head of state. He has been quoted as saying if President Obama wants to align himself with Hugo Chavez, then Honduras will go its own way without the support of the US:
"No one, not Barack Obama and much less Hugo Chávez, has the right to menace this country."
Why did the Honduran military and congressional opponents of President Zelaya expect the US to approve of the forcible kidnapping of the Honduran executive and his deportation without trial to Costa Rica?

A recent article from the Washington Post may help put this in context. The author argues that, despite both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clearly condemning the coup, and despite both having said clearly that Zelaya remains the legal President of the country, the US has actually not legally labeled the events of Sunday as a coup. The US instead is viewed by this US journalist as leaving the door open for a negotiation that would lead to an outcome other than the restoration of the legally elected President, Manuel Zelaya. This ignores what most independent analysts say is the reason for not yet labeling the events in Honduras a coup, which is to retain economic leverage.

The history of US involvement in Honduras predisposes many people in that country to discount public statements and to believe that the US actually supports the regime change. In this context, the diplomatic caution being exercised by the US government can be read by those who supported the coup as tacit invitation to propose a negotiated solution short of the restoration of the legal government. The lack of a public statement by the US during the last week-- when it was already clear that there was a military-congress plan to intervene and remove Zelaya from office-- was widely interpreted by Hondurans in the country as indicating allowance of the coup.

In the light of the history of US involvement in Central America, regrettably, it appears that it is almost impossible for the current government to clearly express its rejection of the illegitimate intervention in government.

Meanwhile, the Honduran Congressional leadership that engineered this violent seizure of control is advancing a series of arguments-- being repeated in all too many English language media-- that assert that what happened was not a coup, but a democratic transition.

Advocates of this position cite the vote by the Honduran Congress to appoint Micheletti as "President", and claim that President Zelaya signed a resignation letter that was back-dated to Thursday, when the crisis became public and when, news reports suggest, a military coup was narrowly averted in part by US efforts. They quote a Honduran Supreme Court statement that the military was ordered to remove President Zelaya from the country. They note that President Zelaya had insisted on holding the public opinion poll ("encuesta"-- not a referendum, a non-binding survey) despite legal rulings against it.

But none of this makes the actions of Sunday legal, either under the Honduran constitution or under the many international agreements Honduras has accepted. The legal approach would have been to bring a case against President Zelaya for having acted unconstitutionally, have a trial, and legally remove the President from office-- a process which may have lasted longer than the remaining six or seven months of Zelaya's term. This would have left the Honduran constitution intact, the Honduran government functioning, the Honduran press free to operate, the Honduran people able to circulate day and night without curfew, and vigorous debate could have continued about the actual issues.

A coup was not a constitutional response. The question it raises is, what really scared the Congress so much?

1 comment:

madeleine said...

It is surprising when you read much of the shortsighted coverage of the events in corporate media there is no talk about the fact the popular demand is a Constituent Assembly and not simply constitutional reform to extend term limits. I think Constituent Assemblies have proven effective mechanisms to shift drastically the balance of power not only nationally but regionally in a way that no elite in the Americas seems willing to recognize the legitimate right to re-define the rules of the democratic game in terms of participation of the historically marginalized rather than dubious representation. Thanks for your thoughts.