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.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
A response to citicism from coup supporters in Honduras
But it occurs to me that it is useful to review the main points made, and to note why they are not successful arguments.
The first claim made is one of privileged knowledge: writers say "are you in Honduras?", "have you been in Honduras recently?" or the like. The implication is that the writer, by being in Honduras, has better knowledge than we can have.
There are three problems with this. First, of course, Honduran media are presenting a largely propagandistic view of events. So being in Honduras actually impedes knowledge. Second, while being in Honduras provides a perspective on events, it is necessarily limited to the people in the immediate social network and geographic circle of the writer. Finally, these criticisms ignore the fact that our sources of information include many friends in Honduras, so that what we are representing are the perspectives of people in Honduras-- just people who happen to disagree with the views of these kinds of critics.
(For the record, we returned from Honduras June 26, held tickets to return two weeks later, would have been back again in August, and currently have tickets in September and December which we may or may not use. So we also have first-hand knowledge of Honduras, but we do not make the mistake of thinking that our experiences represent the totality of Honduran public opinion.)
The second criticism, which usually follows from the claim of privileged location to comment on events. This is the assertion that "everyone I know" or "the majority of the Honduran people" (or even "the Honduran people") are happy that the coup occurred.
As a social scientist, I know that when people say "everyone agrees" that is a statement of ideology. The more certain a person is that their opinion is shared widely, the more likely they are to assume others agree. (And depending on the circumstances-- as when there is military suppression of free speech-- people who actually disagree may not openly express their disagreement).
That is why we rely on such things as opinion polls. CID-Gallup produced poll numbers shortly after the coup, which remain the only real data on Honduran public opinion. There is a fine discussion of these numbers, and various distorted presentations of them that circulated, here. There were two questions asked about the coup in particular:
¿Considera usted que las acciones que tomó Mel Zelaya con respecto a la cuarta urna justificaban su destitución del puesto de Presidente de la República?
Yes 41%, No 28%, Don't know/No answer: 31%.
¿Cuánto está usted de acuerdo con la acción que se tomó el pasado domingo que removió el Presidente Zelaya del país?
Support 41%, Oppose 46%, Don't know/No Answer 13%.
The first question indicates that 41% of the Honduran public believed that President Zelaya's actions merited the coup against him. This is, obviously, not a majority.
The large number that supposedly had no opinion (31%) was surprising to the social scientists discussing these results. The second question helps give a better picture of the real depth of support for and opposition to the coup. Asked "How much are you in agreement with the action that was taken last Sunday that removed President Zelaya from the country?", 41% supported this (presumably the same people who answered "Yes" to the previous question). But more people--46%-- opposed it.
So there was already, one week into the period of unconstitutional government, significant opposition to the coup. Now, the next interesting question would be what the level of support was for President Zelaya himself, since it is obviously the case that people might be opposed to the coup, but strongly oppose President Zelaya. Other CID-Gallup poll numbers at the same time gave Zelaya a 46% favorable rating (with 44% unfavorable). Note that this shows a highly polarized country, but a majority in favor of President Zelaya. In contrast, only 30% had a favorable opinion of Roberto Micheletti, while a remarkable 49% had an unfavorable opinion of Micheletti.
So while I respect the critics who honestly think they have the temperature of the Honduran people, the reality of statistically reliable polling shows something quite different. Micheletti was very unpopular; President Zelaya had a larger level of approval than disapproval; and a larger number of Hondurans disapproved of the coup than approved of it. That the level of support for the coup was as high as 41% is not good news for democracy in Honduras, but the fact that 60% of the people did not approve it is actually extremely reassuring.
This blog is not required to adhere to some sort of "fair and balanced" fantasy, and is explicitly for the purpose of giving voice to that under-represented plurality of Hondurans who are against the destruction of constitutional order-- including many who were not in favor of President Zelaya in general or specific policies. But it is most important to note that the views we represent are those of a large proportion of the Honduran population: in a representative democracy, we do not dismiss diversity of opinion; we try to create means to debate issues with civility and without violence and repression.
(An ironic point from the CID-Gallup data: 63% of those polled disagreed with the proposal for a constitutional assembly, and only 23% agreed. If Zelaya's opponents had let the survey go forward, they would have had excellent grounds to reject the call to put the question on the November ballot-- which is all the survey was asking about.)
Critics usually proceed from the claim to speak for the Honduran majority, to one of two forms of delegitimating the Hondurans who disagree with them, whose experiences we represent here. The first is a corrosive claim that these people are "only" the poor and the marginal. Even if it were accurate, the poor have a right to a voice and a right to opinions. Some critics are clearer than others in their contempt for the poor, while accusing President Zelaya of encouraging "class warfare".
But in fact, my network in Honduras is very much composed of people in the middle class, the educated class, and they are very strongly opposed to the original coup and the repression that has since followed. These have moved many people who would have liked to be apolitical into active expressions of resistance to the de facto regime.
The second claim used to try to dismiss the Hondurans opposed to the de facto regime and its repressive policies is to blame demonstrators for violence, to claim that only the insistence on demonstrating for civil rights is disrupting life in Honduras. This claim ignores the fact that in any democratic society, people enjoy the right of free assembly, freedom of opinion, and free speech. The de facto regime's suspension of civil liberties is one of the strongest pieces of evidence of their lack of regard for the rule of law.
Again, critics have a pre-emptive argument that they use here: the only violence is the fault of the protesters. The police and military are just keeping order.
In civil society, police have the responsibility to limit their response to ensure that the citizenry is not exposed to unjustifiable risks of state-sponsored violence. Shooting live ammunition violates that, and so the (so far) four people killed in demonstrations, and many others wounded, are not responsible for their own deaths and injuries: the military are.
Critics like this usually add that the Hondurans they know cannot understand why the US or OAS are supporting President Zelaya.
It is useful to note here that it is not simply the US and OAS: no government in the world has recognized the Micheletti regime. (Honduran pro-coup media regularly report false assertions that Israel, Taiwan, Italy, or other governments somehow recognized the regime. Each such report has led to specific repudiation by Italy and Israel; Taiwan tends not to respond, but in fact has not recognized the regime.)
Why has the world community not recognized the regime? critics claim it is because the regime has not been allowed to tell "its story". But in fact, they have been given many opportunities, and their claims have been rejected by all world bodies and governments.
Biased reporting in Honduras, where what gets repeated are the Micheletti regime's arguments for why the world community should accept the coup, asserts a series of "facts" that are not actually true. So let us end by reviewing these points, which critics almost always bring up (ignoring the fact that a large part of the content of this blog has been analysis of the regime's arguments).
The claim: the army acted legally on orders of the Supreme Court on June 28
The fact: even if the order they received preceded events (which has been questioned) and were legal itself (which it was not, as constitutional authorities have repeatedly confirmed), the Armed Forces violated the order and the law by raiding President Zelaya's house before 6 AM, and by removing him from the country. The order calls for him to be detained and for his statement on charges to be taken.
The claim: The Supreme Court had found President Zelaya guilty of treason
The fact: the public prosecutor's filing does include charges of treason, but no legal decision on them had been or has since been rendered. The forcible removal of President Zelaya denied him due process, which legally includes the presumption of innocence. President Zelaya must be presumed not guilty of treason under the presumption of innocence.
The claim: the National Congress legally replaced the president following constitutional succession.
The fact: the National Congress has no authority to remove and replace the president. It literally is not their business. The session of congress on Sunday June 28 is of questionable legitimacy. There was no recorded roll-call vote. Claims of unanimity are clearly false as more than a dozen deputies state they did not vote in favor.
Now, there may be arguments that critics of this blog can advance that are more original, but fundamentally, nothing that anyone can say will validate the idea that the entire Honduran population accepted or accepts the coup, or that the regime is legitimate, or that President Zelaya was legally tried and found guilty.
We may have disagreements of substance about President Zelaya's policies. Those out of power in any government have the right to be opposed to governmental policies, and to speak out about those differences. But in this case, the legal, constitutional government was forcibly disrupted due to differences in opinion about policies. That cannot be argued away; and even if the government had not been engaged in activities that I agree with, I would be here blogging against any unconstitutional regime, because in the long term, such actions continue the trend of discouraging popular participation in democracy that I have watched unfold in Honduras since I first began working there in 1977.