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.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"The final solution": The National Congress, elections, threats and illegitimacy

Considering that on the 29th of November of the present year, the Honduran people, attending to the call of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, will come together massively to the electoral polls to express, by means of the universal, egalitarian, obligatory, direct, free, and secret vote, their desires and the firm hope of continued guarantee of the State of Law to assure the people the enjoyment of justice, liberty, culture, and economic and social welfare, as is ordered in effect by the maximum legal order of the country, which is the Constitution of the Republic.

This is the first stated assumption in a congressional resolution passed August 18. The ironies should be obvious, given the absolute lack of a guarantee of liberty, freedom, and the State of Law under the de facto regime.

Our question is, why did the congress pass any such resolution, and why now?

An article about this resolution in yesterday's La Tribuna supports the inference that the possibility of electoral activism, whether boycotts or other actions, is disturbing to the de facto regime.

The National Congress statement uses language from the codes of law and Constitution concerning the implementation of elections.

Hence the clause quoted above cites the constitutionally obligatory nature of the vote, which as we have previously noted, is honored more in theory than in practice.

The reporter for La Tribuna boils down the issues considered by the National Congress to four simple paragraphs, stripping away the overlay of lofty sentiments in the resolution. The article notes that it
condemns any action or denunciation, come what may, that would obstruct, disavow, impede, or tarnish the general election process that will be carried out in Honduras.

The first three words here come directly out of law; so the interesting interpolation here is "tarnish" (empañe). This is a choice by the writers for the pro-coup newspaper, revealing more than perhaps the congressional faction it supports would have desired.

Here, yet again, we have the de facto regime and its supporters ignoring the fundamental constitutional guarantees of freedom of opinion, in an attempt to shore up their support in the face of massive erosion of public trust, not just in their regime, but in the entire system of government. Some (unnamed) people are threatening to "tarnish" the electoral process. In fact, of course, the people who have tarnished the elections are the coup proponents and their supporters.

This is what the reform campaign is at base about. The disillusion on the part of the citizenry with the legitimacy and effectiveness of Honduran government was not created by the coup, or by President Zelaya. But he and his government were motivated to try to directly address it by enlisting citizens in governance. And that is what the coup regime cannot tolerate.

The other points made in the resolution that El Heraldo felt were newsworthy are equally revealing.

The congress felt it necessary to reiterate that the elections will be held, as scheduled, in November. Why is this even in question? Perhaps because the coup has shown that guarantees of constitutional processes are not to be trusted? perhaps because the national congress has considered seriously laws that would do such unthinkable things as reverse the hard-won freedom from universal military conscription, or would require news media to allow any politician who felt reporting was unfair to him or her to use the media to rebut the (not so free) press? Or, are we seeing a sign that people expect the regime to use continued unrest to suspend the elections, as has been the precedent in Honduran history?

The national congress explicitly expressed its total support for the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Why? who is questioning it? could it be that people do not trust it as an independent guarantor of the outcome of scheduled elections? (It is worth noting that the 2005 Presidential election was marked by a major episode of premature announcement of electoral "results" by the TSE which undermined any idea of the apolitical posture it might take...)

Now, there are other aspects to the National Congress statement that did not make it into the commentary by La Tribuna. While numbered points 1 and 2 in the resolution simply restate that the election will happen as scheduled, and that the TSE is the entity charged to

supervise the transparency, legitimacy, and credibility of the electoral process.

But item 3 should give us pause; it reaffirms support for the Armed Forces

as guarantor institution of the rule of the Constitution, the principles of free suffrage, and the alternation in the exercise of the office of Presidency of the Republic.
What is this actually trying to say? The Armed Forces have clearly experienced an erosion in public confidence due to their unwarranted actions in kidnapping the constitutionally elected President and expatriating him, actions absolutely contrary to the Constitution and without any authorization, even in the fatally flawed order dated June 26 signed by one justice of the Supreme Court. Throughout the days following, and increasingly since the coup leadership ordered that protesters be dislodged, the military has participated in violent repression leading to deaths and injuries, further eroding any image they had built up of kindly institution obedient to and serving the people.

The Armed Forces do have a constitutionally mandated role in elections: to guard the polling places to ensure no one interferes in access to them, and to ensure that polling results are not tampered with on their way to the TSE. But think about what the recent history of violent repression of the citizenry implies about this supposedly benevolent role. What participant in the resistance would find a polling place guarded by the Armed Forces welcoming?

More than that, though, part of this passage echoes a perversion by the de facto regime of the Constitutional role of the Armed Forces that is such a serious wound to the social contract that it has led to calls for Honduras to join Costa Rica in abolishing the Armed Forces entirely. This is the claim that the Armed Forces are "the guarantor institution" for constitution succession in the Presidency, and more generally, of the rule of the Constitution.

This is not the Constitutional role of the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces is explicitly defined as apolotical and non-deliberative. To assert such an active role for them is to establish a fourth branch of government, one that has authority through might, not right.

The Armed Forces, in this formulation, would usurp the roles of the actual established branches of government. To the repeated claim that this was not a coup, or the uncertainty the US State Department inanely claims exists about whether this was a military coup, the de facto regime's response has been: but the military has not taken over any of the three branches of government. What this statement exposes is that in reality, this coup has increased the power of the military, and has permanently upset the balance of power. What is to stop future Armed Forces leadership from deciding that a President is leaning too far toward an ideology of which they do not approve, and acting independently on the theory that they are the guarantor institution?


The fourth item in the Congressional resolution affirms support for
the participation of the political parties and independent candidates, in fortifying participatory democracy.
Notice the silences here. Electoral politics is understood to be an activity, not of the people, but of the parties. The parties are given primacy as the means of "participatory democracy", making a mockery of the idea.

But this item is critical for its acknowledgment, however muted, of one of the larger issues: the need to shift from an emphasis on purely representative democracy to greater participation by citizens. The very phrase "participatory democracy" owes its power, most certainly, owes its presence here, to the administration of President Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

And why is this resolution being passed now? Item 5 gives both the rationalization and the threat: the election, the Congress asserts, is the "final solution" of the crisis, and to ensure that solution, they are prepared to make more threats and bring more charges against citizens who attempt to exercise their civil rights even to speak out against the illegitimacy of an election held under the current regime, in light of the current lack of civil rights.

The final solution.

[Resolved] to condemn from now any intent to try to disavow, discredit, or block the electoral process, no matter where such threats come from, warning that it will not hesitate, if that were the case, to carry out the actions and legal complaints that correspond to these actions, since the successful culmination of this process constitutes for the Honduran people the final and definitive solution of the present political crisis that crosses our country.


Doug Zylstra said...

They could have saved themselves alot of ink had they just said "Callate y vete a votar"

Seriously, it does seem as if they think November 29 will be some magic day, a day in which people will lose their distrust and all the nations of the world will forgive and forget..

TITO said...


These politician can not even meditate before passing a resolution. This is only more evidence that political party leaders own the decision making process in this country, as you clearly point out.

Also, the compulsory vote is not enforced yet. It would not be a surprise for me that in the following days congress pass a law that would enforce it.


RAJ said...

Two delusional commitments I originally thought were just ploys seem for many regime members to be real (if wildly uninformed) beliefs.

First is the one Doug notes: election day will be magic. The world, this theory goes, will be happy and relieved and good will flow again. (Is it bad of me to note that the implication is that unelected de facto "president" Micheletti is the whole problem?)

The second delusion, which RNS covers in his next post, is that if people would just listen to the regime's story all would be forgiven.

I wish these were ploys; because they appear to be real beliefs, it is clear we are dealing with actors so out of touch with international reality that it is hard to see an end to their intransigence.

Unknown said...

All ALBA nations will condemn the elections, but international condemnation does not remove the authority the constitution grants to the people to choose their government.

The insecurity in Honduras exaggerated in this article is largely caused by violence by the Zelaya protesters, and threats by Fidel and Chavez's friends.

RAJ said...

All OAS nations and all EU nations, and in fact, every government in the world has condemned the de facto regime and its takeover of Honduras against the will of the people, which included the removal of the constitutionally elected President without the due process guaranteed by the Honduran constitution and laws, and with the violation of core principles of the constitution that absolutely prohibit the expatriation of any Honduran.

You cannot have it both ways. If you want the world community to respect an election as expressing the will of the people, you cannot allow the military to remove a president whose political views you disagree with. That elevates the military to a position of power and independence that fatally damages democratic process.

The violence in Honduras, which has included four deaths of protesters acknowledged to be by the armed forces firing live ammunition against unarmed civilians, not to mention many extra-judicial killings of those clearly targeted for their political speech, is condemned by every international human rights group that has studied the issue. The violence has been disproportionate to the "threat" the protesters posed, and therefore violates international law to which Honduras has sworn to adhere that governs how to manage civil protest, a fundamental right of the people under the constitution.

In the absence of a guarantee of freedom of speech, candidates who disagree with the actions of the de facto regime cannot freely campaign. In the absence of the right of free assembly, politicians who disagree with reactionary opinion cannot speak to the potential voters and are at a disadvantage. In the absence of a free press, with the threats to independent media, the electorate cannot receive information from all candidates. And in the knowledge that any electoral choice not to the liking of a powerful elite that controls the army, no voter exercises free suffrage.

You can throw around insults all you want. That is not how anyone wins a reasoned argument. The apologists for this coup are so deeply out of touch with reality that you think I and others should cower if you accuse us of being allies of Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez. You need to get in touch with the contemporary world. The "communist threat" your military claimed to protect my country from? doesn't exist. China, a communist country, keeps our economy going by lending us money so we will spend it on the products they export to us. And to you in Honduras! Hugo Chavez' oil company provides oil to the US as it did to Honduras. And the tired old threat of Fidel Castro remains effective in the US solely as a naked ploy to win votes in elections in Florida, and in the last elections here, it didn't even work there.

What your country does not deserve is to be deprived of economic modernization, social justice, and a place in the world community. You have a regime in power that has said Honduras does not need the world community, and that it can survive economically without it. So your grain reserves are being sold, in an act of appalling mismanagement, and your currency reserves are being depleted at a rate that has your Central Bank raising alarms.

Wake up and understand that Venezuela was never a threat to you. You had a president smart enough to enter into advantageous economic arrangements that took advantage of Chavez' desire for political influence, knowing that there was no danger of it damaging Honduran democracy. These relationships were urged by and supported by most of those now in your de facto regime; indeed, Ramon Custodio criticized President Zelaya for not signing onto Petrocaribe more rapidly.

You cannot have it both ways. If you want the international community to respect your political choices, commit to respecting the political choices made in free elections even when you disagree with them. If you want coaching on how to do this, talk to those of us in the progressive community in the US. We had eight years of experience we can share with you.

Unknown said...


Forgive me for my blunt comment.

The point I was trying to make is that it is the Zelaya camp that is creating insecurity to hopefully derail what would otherwise be normal elections.

I disagree with you on many points, but what I wish to concentrate on is the election. In that, from re-reading your article, we agree a little more.

Regardless of whether Zelaya was removed correctly or not, or whether the election is a "magic" solution or not, undermining the election is a very undemocratic thing to do. Isn't this what you wrote in your blog post above?

The only candidate that is pro-Zelaya, that of the UD party, has boycotted the election. The truth is this party hardly ever gets more than 2 or 3 percent of the vote. He might have gotten 10 or 20 percent of the vote this time, but he is wasting the chance.

Boycotting elections, or trying to sabotage them, are very undemocratic things to do. The Honduran constitution gives grounds to remove Honduran citizenship to those who threaten the electoral process.

It is Zeleya's supporters who threaten that this will be the most violent election in Honduras yet. The current government wants everyone to vote. Why should anyone stand in the way?

RAJ said...

"The Zelaya camp": this characterization attempts to deny the legitimacy of the broad resistance to the unconstitutional regime, equating it with the narrow politics of one person. But as anyone in touch with people in resistance knows, it includes people who were Zelaya activists and others who were not.

"what would otherwise be normal elections": normal elections do not take place in a country without freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and a host of other rights suspended-- by the way, without the correct legal forms-- by the de facto regime. My point, here and elsewhere, is that there cannot be "normalcy" until the constitutional government is restored. Until people are not shot for assembling. Until radio stations do not experience threats for broadcasting views the government does not like.

I did not write that "undermining the election is a very undemocratic thing". I just re-read the post wondering where that came from; please give me a pointer to what you interpret this way.

Honduras constitution, unlike that of the US, states that voting is obligatory. I hate to tell you, but if you told anyone in the US that he or she would be forced to vote in a Presidential election, you would have a riot on your hands. Our democracy stands as much on the right of people not to vote for those with whom they do not agree as on the right to vote.

And that extends to the cherished right to vote for people who have no chance of winning but whose views you endorse. So no, I do not think the intimidation that has led the UD to be compromised, or the injuries that have led to the inability of the independent candidate to even campaign, are irrelevant because they do not have a chance to win the final election.

I would even have to note that what historically the UD has polled is no predictor of what it might poll, as part of a new coalition, if there were the necessary conditions of normalcy to allow a campaign. (That is: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press.)

Finally, threatening people with removal of their citizenship is in fact a very undemocratic thing to do. Implying that people are not really citizens because you disagree with them is a very undemocratic thing to do. It is a sorrow to me that those imputations have become part of the political bag of dirty tricks in this country. Honduras is struggling against powerful forces that encourage hatred of those with whom you disagree. That encouragement of hatred comes from the de facto regime and its apologists.

I recognize an attempt at a "gotcha" argument. And I refuse to accept your attempt to spin things your way. The Honduran constitution may call for obligatory voting, but with the move toward ever greater democracy throughout the last twenty years, no one enforced that because it was understood that to enforce that was totalitarian.

Not democratic.


Not democratic.