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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How rumors work: Is there a UN report?

Late yesterday, Hondudiario, a Spanish-language online news source supporting the coup d'etat in Honduras published an editorial claiming that there was a report by the UN Office of Political Affairs. According to Hondudiario, this report reached the same flawed conclusion as the US Law Library of the Library of Congress, that the removal of President Zelaya on June 28 was legal under Honduran law.

This editorial has now been picked up by the pro-coup Honduran media, and translated into English, has made its way to and is sweeping through the English language pro-coup blogs.

But there is absolutely no sign of such a report on the UN website. The Department of Political Affairs is charged with using
peacemaking, preventive diplomacy and a host of other means, prevent and resolve deadly conflict around the globe and to promote lasting peace in societies emerging from wars
and does provide analyses to the UN Secretary General. We are pursuing any evidence of a real report by the UN on the Honduran situation, and would note that the UN has consistently supported the restitution of constitutional government under President Zelaya.

All of the reports cite either the Hondudiario editorial as a source, or use language that is clearly directly taken from that article. This is a classic example of the circulation of a rumor.

Supposedly, this study "was endorsed with official information received by the UN experts in the country visit last week that coincided with the foreign ministers of the OAS". That would be exceptionally rapid production of a report.

The strangest thing, though, about this rumored report is that it is said to
reinforce the position of President Barack Obama, who never hastened to judge the Honduran situation, as did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who raced to condemn the Honduran people, pressured by the chancellors of the OAS

[“...refuerza la posición del presidente Barack Obama, que nunca se precipitó a juzgar la situación hondureña, como lo hizo la secretaria de Estado Hillary Clinton que corrió a condenar al pueblo hondureño, presionada por los cancilleres de la OEA”]
This is supposedly a quote from the source of the information. That information source is supposedly an official with the UN, but the editorial was datelined Washington, DC, not the site of the UN.

The anonymous source expresses a bizarre view on US policy on Honduras. As most US analysts would agree, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton gave the same level of condemnation of the coup from June through today, and Clinton hardly rushed to judgment; not to mention that the pressure is widely seen to flow from the US toward the OAS, not in the other direction. And just to be clear: the US, OAS, UN, and EU have condemned the Honduran de facto regime, not the Honduran people, the majority of whom disagree with the coup and reject its outcome of civil unrest. While the editorial implies that its source is in the UN, the perspective here makes sense only as that of a Honduran supporter of the coup.

Most telling, the supposed informant in summary claims that
The majority of the member States of the UN, after becoming familiar with other scenarios and information, now agree in not supporting any resolution by the General Assembly of the UN that would ask for sanctions against Honduras.

[La mayoría de los Estados miembros de las Naciones Unidas, después de conocer otros escenarios e información, ahora coinciden en que no apoyarían ninguna resolución de la Asamblea General de la ONU que solicitara sanciones para Honduras.]
The majority of the member states? Really? and how would this surprisingly knowledgable source be sure of that?

The claim that getting to know "other scenarios and information" would dramatically change people's opinions is, of course, a talking point of the de facto regime and coup apologists. Who are transparently the source of this rumor.

I will not be surprised if the UN has undertaken its own analysis. It might even, like the flawed Law Library of Library of Congress report, have considered possible answers to the question, "Under what theory could the Honduran Congress have thought it was acting legally?". Or, there might be passages being taken out of context that are being spun by the people originating this rumor.

But none of that will change the fact that everyone with expertise in the analysis of Honduran constitutional law has reached the conclusion that there is no legal constitutional basis for the actions the Honduran Congress took on June 28. Expatriation was illegal; there is no constitutional power that Congress has to remove a sitting President, and in doing so, they truncated the legal procedure that had been initiated by the Honduran Supreme Court to hear and rule on charges against President Zelaya brought by the Public Prosecutor, which is the legal way to take action against high government officials, including actions leading to removal from office.

The timing of this rumor is no accident. The Guaymuras dialogue has reached accord on everything but the last point, which is the only point that truly matters, as without it there will be no restoration of constitutional order: President Zelaya must return to office.

The de facto regime has backed into a corner, but it is a tight one.

The Law Library of the Library of Congress produced a report which the regime and its supporters still clutch at, because it relied on a single personal communication from a coup participant to confirm an erroneous legal theory. This has helped the de facto regime muddy the waters in Honduras, but as several blogs today note, it has not been taken up in the English language media, patently because they have assessed it as not a valid change of the underlying information.

By spreading a rumor about a supposed UN report, which if it exists may never see publication, supporters of the de facto regime are trying to open some running room in the last step of their "negotiation". But there is nothing here that changes anything. The Honduran people need a restoration of constitutional order now, before the November elections, already imperiled, are completely delegitimated, as they will be if the de facto regime attempts to carry through.


Anonymous said...

Has the Law Library ever produced a FAQ on their "report," RAJ?

Unfortunately one can't dismiss the report out of hand, because the UN is not exactly speedy in updating its website. The last Political Affairs post is dated September 28th. Doing a legal analysis seems like a very odd thing for Political Affairs to be doing. B. Lynn Pascoe is certainly no lawyer, and none of the other top officers seem to be. The Department is, according to its self-description, more concerned with keeping things from falling apart and getting the pieces put back together if they do than in analyzing exactly how and why they got there. So, I agree with you that this sounds like one more lie put out by the pro-coup media in an attempt to dishearten the resistamce

As for the negotiations, my read is that Zelaya has decided that an accord should go through, even if his restoration is more nominal than real. Things might still fall apart, but Zelaya's negotiator (Licenciado Tomesa?) last night sounded as if he expected an agreement. On the other hand, the resistance (as represented by Juan Barahona) does not agree to any accord,since it doesn't include an Asamblea Constituyente. The danger is that this creates the opportunity for a false solution that only papers over the disagreements over long enough for the election to take place and for the world to walk away from the crisis. On the other hand, Zelaya's call for an intervention by the ICC is not likely to assuage the fears of Micheletti and the military that if they let go of power, they will pay the penalty for their actions.


Anonymous said...

Ah: According to a post on the Honduras Embassy website, Ban-ki Moon, through a spokesman, has just denied this/


RAJ said...

Just posted a translation of the Spanish version of the UN statement, which does not clarify the contents of the referenced report, but characterizes describing it as a Political Affairs report as "tendentious". Apparently they do have some form of conulstant's report; and as I say above, it may engage in analysis of how Congress could have thought it was acting legally, as did the Law Library report. (No FAQ there yet; other developments I hope to be able to report soon.)

What matters is, as Charles notes, that it is no time to return to the origin mythology. The UN Secretary General says as much; and my political analysis remains that this was an (ill-considered) move to try to open some room for the regime to hold out for its desired end, which is not restoring the government and waiting it out through the election in the deluded hope the new government would then be seen as "legitimate".

On the position of the Frente, see my previous post of a translation of their clarifying statement. They support Zelaya in his quest to restore the constitutional form of government, even though it includes compromise; and they reserve the right, and express the intention, to continue the struggle for constitutional reform.

The de facto regime is reaping a crop it may well wish it had not sown: a real popular movement, with no obligation to an existing political party or faction, and with a burning desire to change the fundamental nature of the constitutional compact so that the people's voice will never be silenced again.