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.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Armed Forces statement: a translation and commentary

Saturday I decided to hold off on adding a second post based on messages I was receiving that suggested some movement of the military.

Events, of course, overtook me, and the NY Times reported on Armed Forces Communique No. 7, a curious document posted on the website of the Honduran armed forces command. The NY Times article reported that unnamed "aides" to equally unnamed US Congress members assisted officers of the Honduran army in formulating the statement. The specific mention of coronels-- the younger generation, waiting to become the next set of high command-- suggests that Romeo Vasquez Velasquez' little adventure, and its negative effects on the reputation the army had previously earned for its abstention from political interference, was troubling to elements within the command structure.

The whole communiqué is worth a look:


The Secretary of State Office of National Defense, in view of the latest suspected developments, communicates the following to national and international public opinion:

1. That the Armed Forces are respectful of the Constitution and of the Laws, whereby we reaffirm our subordination to civil authority in keeping with the principles of legality and due obedience.

2. That as an institution we back a solution to the problematic situation that spans our country, through a process of negotiation on the framework of the San Jose Accords. Likewise, we reiterate our unrestricted support for the results of the same, in conformity with our Constitution and other laws.

3. The Armed Forces as a national institution fulfills and will continue to fulfill the missions that the Constitution and the Laws of the Republic have indicated for it.

Comayaguela, M.D.C. 24 of July, 2009

Ostensibly, the audience addressed is "national and international public opinion"-- a telling phrase. The triggering event is expressed extremely vaguely-- in light of the "latest suspected developments". What might these be? there are two possible readings: one, the San Jose mediation itself, although here, the use of "suscitado" (suspected) makes little sense. Instead, this word and the vagueness of the phrase suggest the reference is to Zelaya's announced intention to return to Honduras: the Armed Forces want their position out in front of any military confrontation they will end up forced into.

For me, this is the rationale for the first and third points in the communiqué: the Armed Forces wants everyone to know that whatever they end up doing, it will be by the book. Which, they continue to protest, was what they thought they were doing June 28, and they resent being portrayed as authors of a military coup. From this perspective, it is worth pairing the Armed Forces statement with a brief news item reporting on a press conference by the high command of the National Police. (Extraordinary situation when both commands are engaging in aggressive press contacts, including the Radio Globo interview with Vasquez Velasquez discussed by other commentators.)

The short report in the Honduran paper, El Tiempo, cites the police chiefs as vowing to protect the physical safety of Zelaya and his escort:

Police guarantee physical safety of President Zelaya

In case the overthrown president, Manuel Zelaya, enters Honduras, the police authorities will guarantee the physical safety of himself and his escorts, in accord with a strategic plan being put into place.

The preceeding was made known yesterday in a press conference carried out at the Casa Presidencial by the police high command, made up of the general director of this corps, General Salomón Escoto Salinas; the national director of the Preventative Police, General Jose Luis Muñoz Licona; and the national director of Special Investigation Services, René Maradiaga Panchamé, among others.

In the same way, they advised that if the entry of Zelaya, who arrived yesterday from Nicaragua to the border zone with Honduras, were to be accomplished, they would carry out the judicial orders issued by the respective legal tribunal.

It would be good if it were certain that President Zelaya would not be in physical danger. But physical danger is not the only issue here. The police end by promising vaguely to "carry out the judicial orders issued by the respective legal tribunal". That, presumably, could mean the arrest warrant dated June 26, 2009, which authorized the Armed Forces to raid Zelaya's residence. That order was not addressed to the National Police-- constitutionally, the group who should have carried out any such arrest-- specifically because the requesting government minister did not trust the police. This recalls reports of police at the border with Nicaragua disclaiming receiving any arrest order and laughing at the idea of arresting President Zelaya. It is not entirely clear at this point what other warrant the Police, or the Armed Forces, might have in hand to implement.

So the Armed Forces statement does not necessarily mean that the critical breakthrough has happened, but together with other signs, is part of an emerging picture of reluctance by the military (police and Armed Forces) to be the fall guys for civilian incompetence. I read the Armed Forces statement as a warning to the civil government, to get back to the mediation and stop being so intransigent. It is in effect-- and as its inclusion in a numbered sequence of communiqués suggests-- the Armed Forces' expression of continued discomfort with the position in which they have been put by a civilian government that was so misguided as to expect the world community to accept a coup d'etat.

(On the question of why the coup plotters were so mistaken, the Honduran scholars I talked with in Costa Rica this week suggest that the coup group lacked anyone with real knowledge of contemporary world politics. In the absence of such a knowledgable person, they argued that Enrique Ortez Colindres-- notorious now for his racist remarks about President Obama-- was able to project an aura of confidence and knowledge, primarily through his facility as a speaker, albeit one whose ideas are both retrograde and uninformed.)

It is worth noting that Communique No. 7 is for the most part a revision of Communique No. 6, dated July 24. Item 1 is identical; Item 3 differs only by citing the specific sections of the Constitution that cover the mission of the Armed Forces.

In this communique, the second point is much less pointed:
2. That as a subordinated institution we support in a unanimous and unrestricted form the Government of the Republic, in the decisions and actions that it may take in the framework of its attributes for the peaceful solution of the problematic situation that spans our country, on the basis of the negotiations that are being realized on an international level by means of dialogue; in which sense we maintain ourselves firm in the defense of the rule of the Constitution of the Republic, our laws, and of the national sovereignty in all its manifestations.
Unlike the Communique that followed, this preceding document had two more numbered points: Number 4 asking the international and national communities to maintain their confidence in the Armed Forces; and Number 5 saying
We emphasize our commitment to respect and to have respected our constitution and the laws, more than any private interest or that of groups that intend to destabilize our country.
In other words, on Friday the Armed Forces was hinting that while supporting the ongoing dialogue, they were not going to feel obliged to support some private interest or group that might "destabilize" the country; by Saturday, they were endorsing the San Jose Accord specifically.

This was a major change in emphasis from Communique 5 of July 22, which appeared to disclaim any responsibility if unnamed "persons" were injured in the process of fomenting unrest.

In fact, the series of Communiques that started on June 30 with the Armed Forces' defense of their raid on the house of President Zelaya, clearly shows that the military are unhappy with the positions they have found themselves in as a result of their implication in the coup. The first three Communiques essentially justified actions taken by the army.

The tenor of these press releases changed radically with Communique 4, dated July 14, issued primarily to reject rumors of divisions within the Armed Forces. Item 1 read

That the Armed Forces maintain themselves solidly united and that we, its members, are immersed in the task of contributing to the Government of the Republic, to maintain internal order in the country without disregarding the other missions established by the Constitution of the Republic.
Item 4 reiterated
That the persons engaged in creating divisions in the Armed Forces are not going to achieve it because we are a hierarchicized institution, solidly united, and its members formed under the trilogy of honor, loyalty, and sacrifice.
Over the course of a little more than a week that followed, the Armed Forces' communiques have become increasingly pointed. From defending the regime they installed, they have moved to calling more and more openly for that regime to agree to a settlement like that proposed by Oscar Arias.

What will the next communique bring?


RAJ said...

Addendum: Also posted on the Fuerzas Armadas website is a document dated July 18, named "Documento Auditoría Jurídico Militar de las FFAA Sobre Sucesión Presidencial en Honduras". It provides a chronology including the legal findings by the military's lawyers that lead from last fall through the Armed Forces' participation in the coup.

Item (q) on that list is interesting. It begins with a communication of June 18 from the lower court that was ruling on the legality of the poll scheduled for June 28; saying that court had asked the Armed Forces to provide a report on what measures it was taking to comply with the order not to carry out the poll.

It ends with the phrase "the same was completed the 25th of June" (the Thursday before the coup). It looks like someone is a little defensive about timing. This is reinforced by item (cc) which references the publication on June 28 of the Supreme Court orders for the capture and raid carried out by the military; clearly, one of the main purposes of this posting is to establish that everything was done under court order (even if the court in question had no legal standing to order the Armed Forces to act, under the constitution, and should have been ordering the National Police to act in both cases).

Item (z) also bears a second look. It records an order on Friday June 26 from the lower court-- Juzgado de Letras de lo Contencioso Administrativo-- directly to the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, directing the military to seize the ballot materials for the opinion poll. This order would be constitutionally problematic, as the Armed Forces is commanded by the Executive Branch; which recalls the fact that the head of the Air Force base where President Zelaya went to seize the ballot materials the same day said he would not disobey an order from his Commander in Chief before he stepped aside to let Zelaya and his escort collect the disputed materials.

But the real payoff in this document comes after the timeline, with a Q and A starting on page 8 (of 156 pages!) in which the Armed Forces presents their defense of their actions, including (p. 13) their reduction of their options to three: (1) wait with "arms crossed" to see if President Zelaya disssolved Congress (what his opponents accused him of planning, perhaps because they themselves tried to do that in 1985); (2) take another approach to replacing President Zelaya (e.g. impeachment), which they say would have allowed him to seek military support from ALBA, leading to bloodshed; or deport him. This is the baldest statement of the ideological fear that motivated the Armed Forces, no matter how unbelievable it seems.

RNS said...

Today General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez gave an interview, in Spanish, to the BBC Mundo program and denied everything the statement on the Armed Forces website says. He said the Armed Forces are not supporting the Arias negotiations and when asked if they'd accept the return of Zelaya said "no".