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 13, 2009

Mel no longer has the intention of returning to the Presidency?

This morning, La Tribuna of Honduras published an article titled "Mel ya no tiene intención de regresar a la Presidencia".

This short notice, derived from a longer original published by EFE, quotes President Zelaya's Minister of Defense, Arístides Mejía, as saying in Costa Rica that
President Manuel Zelaya does not have any intention of returning to the Presidency, because he has already governed enough, but he will continue promoting actions that will re-establish democratic and constitutional order, which has been violated by the coup d'Etat, that was jeaded by the present de facto government.
The longer EFE article, quoting Mejía as well, puts it slightly differently, but the same conclusions can be drawn:
The deposed president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, has "no personal desire to return" to the country, except that he wishes to do so so that democratic order can be re-established.

"Zelaya, according to what I have seen, has no personal desire to return, since he already governed and there was already little lacking to finish" when the military detained and expelled him from the country

It is important to note that Mejía was speaking by phone on a program on Honduras' HRN radio station from Tegucigalpa, so these comments must be taken as addressed at Hondurans, not just the international community. He went on,

What [Zelaya] is doing is trying to re-establish democratic order in Honduras, like all the international community, which wishes that President Zelaya would return to finish his term so that it will legitimate" the electoral process.

"The problem is that if there is no democratic re-establishment, the elections (of next November) will not be recognized" declared Mejía.

Mejía responded in this way on being asked if [Zelaya] wished to return to Honduras despite the fact, as the government of Roberto Micheletti claims, that there is strong opposition to his return.

The minister of the deposed government affirmed that "the majority of the people continue being in favor of Manuel Zelaya".

The substance of these reports seems to be supported by statements in an Inter Press Service News Agency article as well, which clearly draws on the same article but adds this important addition:

Sources speaking off the record told IPS that one of the options being considered is the possibility that neither Zelaya nor Micheletti would govern the country until January, when the president's term is to end.

This alternative, one of the sources said, "has begun to be mentioned in the last two weeks, given the growing polarisation in the country, and because the two sides have begun to show a degree of flexibility."

"Now the question is to convince ex-president Zelaya," said the source, who requested anonymity. "Through its ambassador in Honduras, Washington has sent a clear message: that it wants to overturn the coup d'etat. That is what Ambassador (Hugo) Llorens has told the country's elites."

According to the source, Washington "would not be ill-disposed towards a negotiated third option for the transition, since the election campaign will not be able to turn the page on this, like the politicians think, and if this isn't resolved in time, the election process will be marked by a great deal of instability."

One way out of the confrontation that has never been mentioned up until now has always been this: broker a deal in which President Zelaya is acknowledged to have continued as constitutional president; find some way to designate a third party who has not been tainted by association with the de facto regime to be somehow placed in line to step into the Presidency; and have the formally restored President resign in favor of that unity candidate.

The problem for me-- and as readers know, I have a pretty good grasp of the political landscape in Honduras-- is that this polarization has been so intense that I find it hard to image that there is anyone who could take that third-party role. And unless that person were designated as President of Congress, there is no constitutional way for the President to resign in his or her favor.

It would be ironic if the outcome of this entire episode were the installation of someone who perhaps was never even elected to any office through some sort of hastily passed congressional amendment suspending some part of the law of succession, but that is the only way I can see that a true third party caretaker could take office legally.

Or, maybe the point here is to get the word out in Honduras about the potential illegitimacy of any election under the de facto regime-- and to begin to counter the demonization of President Zelaya, who has now been painted so inescapably as being intent on staying in office that simply saying "he really would rather not come back to try to pick up the pieces after Micheletti broke things" merits headlines.


Anonymous said...

I don't think that there's any question that the only way to fix this is to hold an Asamblea Constituyente and start from scratch.

Consider: how can fair elections possibly be held under the shadow of such violence and with the clear sense that the order that unleashed the violence will take up the reins again?

Wouldn't it be ironic if the one achievement of the coup were a new and less fragile Constitution?

--Charles of MercuryRising

Doug Zylstra said...

I think the joke that the State Department would like Oscar Arias to be President of Honduras is probably not that far off, if it were somehow possible.

Doug Zylstra said...


Is there indeed real antipathy in Washington to having the elections in November without Zelaya returned, or some permutation of a return?

While it seems a lot of South American countries are not willing to recognize the elections as valid,I'm not so sure anymore about the US.

RAJ said...

That is the looming question: what would the US do if an election was held in November under the de facto regime? I admit to being skeptical; I would expect the US position to be an echo of the response on Iran this week, which in turn seems to reiterate the bizarre aspect of President Obama's remarks on Honduras in Guaralajara, which I would paraphrase as "you asked for us to keep out, now how do you like it?"

But the international community is wider; if OAS and the EU question the legitimacy of the November election any such government will be hampered. And I would not expect the Obama administration to actively break from the international community; instead, I would expect continuation of the split personality approach we already see, calling for "reconciliation" while continuing most aid and diplomatic ties.

Nell said...

maybe the point here is to get the word out in Honduras about the potential illegitimacy of any election under the de facto regime

I'm afraid that only a clear, public statement from Pres. Obama or Sec. Clinton that the U.S. government will not recognize any government resulting from elections conducted under the coup regime will allow that message to penetrate the skulls of the Facusses and Canahuatis.

And, like Doug, I fear that the major reason we don't hear such a statement is that this administration is just fine with riding things out and pretending that elections will wash everything clean.

Doug Zylstra said...

If Micheletti is still in Power come November, I can see three scenarios:

1. There is enough impetus and organization to get an anti-coup third party candidate elected. This assumes the regime is not going to actively repress them; a big if. The OAS, EU and the US are temporarily relieved of the current 'headache' that Honduras represents for them.

2, A mainstream candidate gets elected, but as part of the 'reconciliation' campaigns on or promises a constitutional assembly. Both Lobo and Santos said they were open this in the past. The OAS, EU and the US also are able call it a day and a 'good job'.

3. A mainstream candidate gets elected who demonstrates an intransigence to the entire polarized landscape. No change from the status quo. The OAS, EU and the US are on the fence as to what to do next.

As Charles pointed out, number two would indeed be ironic, and number one would be more of a sardonic slap in the face of the golpistas. The third would be sad, and devastating for the immediate economic and political future.

Doug Zylstra said...

How about Bishop Santos as third part candidate or designee to finish out Zelaya's term?

RAJ said...

Constitutional article 238 makes this impossible; it reads

To be President or Vice President [sic!] of the Republic, it is required

(1) to be Honduran by birth

(2) to be over 30 years old

(3) to be in enjoyment of your rights of citizenship; and

(4) to be of a secular status

There are actually a large number of people who cannot constitutionally be elected President, enumerated at length in Article 240, including basically every high government official, all officers and active service military or police, and for a year after the term, the spouses and relatives of the previous president.

Article 240, number 7, actually excludes a large range of businessmen as well, although I doubt sincerely that this one is honored; it prohibits officers of businesses with state concessions, or those exploiting natural resources, or those paid for public works financed with state funds, or anyone who, as a result of similar activities, has accounts payable with the State.

Interestingly, in 1998 the National Congress got rid of one of the original barriers to running for president, which barred spouses or relatives of the military from running. So, since 1999, there has been a possibility that someone in the military could end up the close relative or spouse of the President.

ARTICULO 238.- Para ser Presidente o Vicepresidente de la República, se requiere:

1. Ser hondureño por nacimiento;

2. Ser mayor de treinta (30) años;

3. Estar en el goce de sus derechos del ciudadanos; y,

4. Ser del estado seglar.

Doug Zylstra said...

Well, the caretaker option necessarily involves some bending of the constitution; I doubt that the current President of Congress would be acceptable. And as far as Bishop Santos not being acceptable because of No. 4, Elvin Santos would be Honduras' version 'He's not a legitimate President' were he to win.

RAJ said...

Yes, as I said, it would be ironic if in order to get out of the mess they created, supposedly to preserve the constitution, the coup government had to really bend the constitution.

But while the National Congress can amend the constitution, including this article, the procedure for validly doing so calls for two successive sessions of congress to vote on any amendment for it to be ratified.

(This is one of the things that makes it imperative to reform the constitution; not only do the people have virtually no voice in their own government, the Congress holds a monopoly on changing the constitution, and is the body that ratifies its own actions.)

There simply is not a way to validly vote to suspend this article and vote to ratify such an amendment before the election has to be held.

RNS said...

La Prensa is reporting that

(1) Cesar Ham has withdrawn as the U.D Party candidate


(2) Luis Alsonso Santos, the Bishop of Copan will be the U.D. party candidate.

So how do they make this constitutional? Does he resign from the church?

RNS said...

La Prensa appears to have got it wrong. Today there are reports in both El Heraldo and La Prensa that Ceasar Ham has not withdrawn, but did complain about repression directed at him and at the UD party to the TSE yesterday. El Heraldo says they are still considering an aliance with Carlos Reyes. La Prensa suggests its been considered and discarded.

Whatever they decide, they have a September 5 deadline to finalize it and communicate it to the TSE. That's when the TSE gives the instructions to print the ballots.

Nell said...

Thanks to you both; I learn so much here. I was going to ask about TSE deadlines, and the answer's already here.

Wrt the possibility of Micheletti stepping down for someone other than Zelaya who could conceivably represent constitutional restoration and be accepted by both the popular movement and the coup-makers:

What about Edmundo Orellana? What brought it to mind was this intriguing comment by El Cid at Al Giordano's blog. (I've seen El Cid in comment sections for years; smart, insightful, and brings a lot of information to discussions. Sadly, no blog or email address at which to get in touch.)

Nell said...

I could be mistaken, but the suggestion of Bishop Santos as a candidate sounds more like an attempt to smear the bishop than any real suggestion on the part of UD or anyone else that he take part in the political system.

I'm sure that Cardinal Rodriguez is unhappy with Santos' public statements about the coup and its authors.

RAJ said...

Edmundo Orellana is one of the people who I could see taking up the third-party role. While part of the Zelaya government, he argued against some actions as being against the law; but since the coup he has adopted a principled position against it, and has also argued (in an editorial published here some time ago) against the validity of the complaint of the Ministerio Publico.

I think the idea of a priest past the obligatory canon law retirement age running for office as a reconciliation candidate actually is appealing, and thus I see the discussion of these options as in good faith. But whether this makes sense is quite another thing.

Doug Zylstra said...


A lot of possible names have been mentioned as possible third party candidates, both here and elsewhere, Orellana, Cesar Ham, Carlos Reyes, Juan Elvir, even Xiomara Castro de Zelaya herself. But the fact that both Bishop Santos, and now Padre Milla, are being mentioned as possible third party candidate seems to me a valid reflection of the desire for someone who not only is impartial, but also has some moral authority to help bring the two sides together, not just at the governmental level, but, more importantly, at the societal level, and I think indicates that the crisis is more than simply a political one, that it extends to being a full moral/spiritual one as well.

As far as Cardinal Rodriguez goes, I don't claim to know a whole lot, but I don't really see him as much of credible arbiter about much of anything. He seems to have taken a very defensive crouch about the Orginal 'Building from Crisis' Statement, and is now wearing the badge of a misunderstood martyr/victim throughout. Allan McDonald's 'Dialogo del Golpe' speaks to this and other aspects of his ( on a very simple, but scathingly powerful level.

Nell said...


I may not have been clear. No one that I know of has suggested that Orellana be an electoral candidate. I was struck by El Cid's comment only because of the suggestion in this post that the U.S. is searching for an alternative to Zelaya to finish out his term. Further support for the idea that the U.S. is on such a search is the phrasing of an EU internal memo on sending an observer team to the Honduran elections: The requirement for the dispatch of such a mission would be a "positive development" in the situation in [Honduras]...

Cardinal Rodriguez certainly is not a credible figure; what I was implying is that he would not be displeased to see a smear against Bishop Santos. Though I don't doubt for a minute the existence of a popular longing for leaders with moral credibility, my sense is that very few Hondurans see that void as being filled by priests and evangelical ministers running for office. Again, things may have changed, or be different in Honduras, but in my experience, when the public linking of priests with political organizations in Central America has not been done by the priests themselves (e.g., Padre Tamayo), it has been done by their enemies -- to put them at risk and de-legitimize them.

Cesar Ham and Carlos Reyes are not hypothetical but actual candidates on the November ballot, barring some further decision by the TSE.

Of your three scenarios, the third seems overwhelmingly likely. It is hard to imagine a circumstance in which Pepe Lobo does not win the presidential election; the only question is what under what kind of conditions the election is held, i.e. how how clouded is its legitimacy.

There is no chance -- none -- of either major-party candidate running on the promise of a constitutional assembly. The popular movement is going to have to win that by its own efforts.

Without either Zelaya's return or the figleaf "positive development" very soon, say, before the Sept. 5ballot printing (to take a somewhat arbitrary date for the "launch" of the electoral campaign), all players who have not already done so will be forced to clarify their positions wrt the elections.

If the U.S. will not come out in the next few days pledging not to recognize the winner of elections held under the coup government (as urged by recent editorials in the LA Times and NYT) then Brazil or Chile or another of the governments who've already made that declaration need to propose an OAS vote on such a pledge. Someone's got to put the U.S.'s feet to the fire on this.

RAJ said...

Agreed that the US must make the same kind of statement, and also that it seems unlikely they will do so without some pressure-- OAS seems the obvious pressure point.

There is an actual non-arbitrary date for irreversibility of the electoral process and clouds on its legitimacy: August 31. That is when the candidates can officially begin campaigning. If the campaigning begins in a country with violations of free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly, then I would argue the electoral legitimacy of the final outcome will be tinged at least with gray, if not entirely blackened.

I also would agree that neither of the majority party candidates has any reason to support a real constituent assembly. But they may well have agendas for constitutional reform, such as implementing multiple presidential terms.

That has been one of the ironic undertones throughout this entire process, most dramatically illustrated by Micheletti's past as part of a congressional group trying to institute continuismo for Suazo Cordova. It is probably safe to say that every presidential candidate ever elected in Honduras has wished they could stay on in office or run again. One term of four years length is simply too short to formulate an agenda, clean up messes left to you, and implement an agenda. All presidents leave office without fulfilling their agendas.

On the issue of public opinion about clergy running for office, I think that would be a great research topic for Honduras today. My sense is that sentiment about religion is different than it was even 10 years ago.

Some of the sources for discussion of possible office have been interviews with the person in question. Some have been with activists. I truly do not see this as the Cardinal's doing: nonetheless, I agree that he would be likely to use any such expressed desire against any clergy who did run for office as a progressive.

Which leaves us back where we started: who in this current polarized political terrain could be seen as a legitimate stand-in to carry out the term in office of President Zelaya? Months ago RNS and I discussed this as the simplest way to solve the confrontation-- acknowledge that Zelaya was really the president and let him step aside in favor of someone from his cabinet. Orellana seemed the obvious person.

However, I see no mechanism to allow such a substitution, and the restoration of constitutional order requires a constitutional mechanism. The congress can amend the constitution, it can make laws based on it, but I cannot see any way it legally can declare someone the president.

Nell said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response, and the information that August 31 is the official start date for campaigning.*

Brazil and Chile need to get moving to put the U.S. on the spot before the end of the month. I can already hear the whining from State that an OAS non-recognition of elections under Micheletti would be "harmful to the climate for negotiations". Llorens said something very similar about election boycotts to the Global Exchange delegation.

*Apparently front-page photo-op stories like the one in one of the Canahuati papers recently -- Canahuati forces unite with Lobo -- don't count? I guess the dodge would be that such pieces are "coverage of internal party events".

RAJ said...

What is prohibited until the official campaign starts are ad buys, rallies, direct voter outreach by the parties, and so on.

News media of course have been covering the various candidates for months.

But I have to say, compared to the permanent campaign in the US, that campaigning as such really is normally limited to those last months, and is incredibly intense as a result.

RAJ said...

What is prohibited until the official campaign starts are ad buys, rallies, direct voter outreach by the parties, and so on.

News media of course have been covering the various candidates for months.

But I have to say, compared to the permanent campaign in the US, that campaigning as such really is normally limited to those last months, and is incredibly intense as a result.