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.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Honduras needs a Constitutional Assembly: Edmundo Orellana

On September 26, the normally pro-coup newspaper La Tribuna of Honduras published a profile of Edmundo Orellana, who readers of this blog know had resigned his post as Secretary of Defense in the Zelaya cabinet shortly before the coup, then, from his restored position as a member of Congress, immediately denounced the coup and has since been the author of extremely important legal commentary on the claims of the de facto regime.

In the interview that forms the bulk of the published profile, which is far too long to translate and present here in full, Orellana argues that the situation in Honduras dramatically illustrates the need for constitutional reform, and reiterates his previously expressed view that only a Constitutional Assembly can address the damage done by the coup. In fact, in the interview he notes that
My speech in the electoral campaign [for Congress] always was that we needed a Constituyente to change the Constitution, because now it doesn't respond to the political and economic reality that the country is experiencing. My thesis is that in a new millennium with a Constitution that was badly copied from that of 1957 and that of 1965, it doesn't answer to the questions that the globalized world poses. Thus it is necessary to revise the Constitution, I have always maintained this as candidate for deputy and columnist of La Tribuna.
He was then asked why it should be changed-- beyond his basic statement that the Constitution, based on those of earlier decades, simply doesn't work in the 21st century. His reply-- as a distinguished law scholar and member of multiple Honduran administrations, one we should give special weight-- is that the Constitution makes it impossible to respond to unforeseen circumstances of the future:
It is the Constitution that has bound the country with the set-in-stone articles. It makes the entire Constitution petrified: you cannot change the system of politics and government. Not even to accommodate what is the actual territory of Honduras, which was changed by Hurricane Mitch, when it diverted the course of the river that is the dividing line with Nicaragua. Our territory is in the hands of other countries and we have not fought it because of the Constitution.
When asked about specific reforms, Orellana did begin with the office of the presidency-- but not with term limits:
There is an article that is the most reformed [in the Constitution]: it refers to who cannot be candidates for the Presidency. From there have been removed designates, they inserted the vice presidents, that the president of Congress and of the Supreme Court cannot be candidates. They modified it to be able to insert the Attorney General, the adjutant Attorney General to the General Commission on Human Rights, the Attorney of the Environment and all the new organizations after 1982...

Today they call for the necessity that the conduct of a president is reviewed, but according to the set-in-stone article 374, it is established that one of the set-in-stone matters is the presidential term, so that you should not reduce the presidential term.
The interviewer follows up the implication: the coup of June 28 violated Article 374?
Exactly. If you reduce it it is admitting that you have violated a set-in-stone article, then it is equitable that we revise our Constitution and we can adjust it to our reality.

I am not in agreement with re-election, because in this country the people get excited in power and could use it to assure themselves triumph in the re-election.

Perhaps there should pass four terms until they can launch themselves again, if they are still alive and not repeat the history of Somoza who put in puppets.
Orellana is here arguing that while he doesn't want to encourage monopolization of the presidential office, he thinks there should be some mechanism for a former president to return to campaign for the office again. He is illustrating why there needs to be a debate about the constitution and the form of government: debate about proposals like his would help define a form of democratic government that might work better for Honduras.

After some fascinating exchanges about his experience the week before the coup, and a clear rejection of the claims of the flawed report of the Law Library of the Library of Congress, the interviewer turns to the question, what legal outcome is there to the crisis?
As a lawyer I would say that the only thing that fits is that they restore the situation to that before June 28.
Orellana points out that support for a Constitutional assembly is not limited to the government of Zelaya, citing not only his own campaign history, but that of Pepe Lobo, candidate for President from the National Party, because
this is giving some hope. This is capturing the call of society.
Orellana was not optimistic about elections even in September, saying that if the hatred between people persisted
these elections have no future. How could you offer elections, when the police and the Armed Forces are in the streets repressing some and guarding others? How could we accept that there was an environment propitious for the elections if you have curfews, that aren't even advertised?
So what can Hondurans hope for? in a word: Constituyente:
here the problems that the Coup d'Etat has made emerge are so deep and profound. Today the poor hate the rich. The people that are out in the streets, demanding the restitution of Mel, because they see the injustice that was committed, that what they are doing now is inhumane and also that they are exposing us before the world that is coming to see a barbarity. Here the people are thinking of a Constitutional Assembly and no one can avoid that, because it is the only thing that can staunch the wounds.

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