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, December 3, 2009

"Disappointing" vote by Congress "broke" Accord

The Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord committed both the faction of Roberto Micheletti and the legally elected president of Honduras, José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, to a series of steps that, as has been noted at length here and elsewhere, was fatally flawed by the lack of a sufficiently clear timeline and an undefined mechanism for the formation of the expected "unity" government.

The US government, after it committed itself to recognizing the outcome of the election whether or not Zelaya was restored by the proposed vote in the Honduran Congress, has been held awkwardly to the transparent fiction that the Accord never was intended to imply a vote on Zelaya's restitution had to take place before the elections.

So immediately after the election, the Honduran Congress chose, for whatever reason, not to vote on a straight motion whether or not to restore President Zelaya, but rather, decided to turn the clock back to June 28 and re-enact the passage of the decree through which they claimed to install Roberto Micheletti as replacement president.

Where does that leave things?

Speaking for the US, Arturo Valenzuela said
We're disappointed by this decision since the United States had hoped that Congress would have approved [Zelaya's] return.
He also, remarkably, reiterated that the US continues
to accept President Zelaya as the democratically elected and legitimate leader of Honduras
and that
the status quo remains unacceptable.
In response to questioning after Valenzuela's statement, unnamed Senior Administration Officials expanded on this theme, noting that the November 29 voting
we have always felt, was an important step to the solution of the problems of Honduras, but not a sufficient one, because the restoration of the democratic and constitutional order had to go by additional measures... [emphasis added]
These "additional measures" explicitly included
this vote that the Congress was supposed to take on the restoration of Zelaya...[emphasis added]
Translation: the US expected a different vote than the one they got. What kind of vote? well, I am glad you asked:
That's why we were disappointed. And the fact that the Congress, in fact, did not vote President Zelaya back into office...
And about the unacceptable status quo, the same unnamed officials said
the absence of democratic and constitutional order is the unacceptable status quo
we continue to accept President Zelaya as the democratically elected president of Honduras.
For his part, Ricardo Lagos, the former Chilean president who had the bad experience of being part of the all-too-briefly functional "verification" commission, went further. As reported in El Universal of Venezuela, speaking on CNN En Español Lagos said
the refusal of the Honduran Congress to restore the overthrown president Manuel Zelaya "breaks" the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord and will make international recognition "more difficult"
Lagos puts the blame for the breaking of the accord squarely on the de facto regime and the Honduran Congress:
The decision "finishes breaking the accord between the (interim) government and began to be broken [when] one of the parties thought that he could constitute [the unity government]" in a unilateral reference to the regime of Roberto Micheletti.
Most important, in this interview, Lagos said that
in his reading, the vote on the part of Congress about the situation of Zelaya foressen in the Tegucigalpa Accord carried "implicitly" an "elegant form to restore" the overthrown official.
Or to put it another way: Lagos, like most readers, thought the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord called for a vote on restoring Zelaya as a way to give Congress a face-saving means to redress their original actions.

So, the US and Lagos are in harmony and both consider what the Congress did an unfortunate, even disappointing, waste of the opportunity provided in the Accord. Right?

Well, not so fast. The US manages to add yet another twist to its already contorted position. Valenzuela added to the remarks quoted above the qualification that
the decision taken by Congress, which it carried out in an open and transparent manner, was in accordance with its mandate in Article 5 of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord.
Let us pause to think about the implications here.

The US does not recognize the coup of June 28 as legitimate, and continues to consider Manuel Zelaya the only legitimate president of Honduras (while looking wistfully ahead to the end of January and a new inauguration as their new solution).

Yet the framework now transparently identifiable as forged by the US-- despite the thin veil of Costa Rican mediation cast over it by the use of Oscar Arias as a conduit-- has had one real result: it gave the Honduran legislature a chance to reaffirm the very same unconstitutional actions whose outcoes the US says it still does not recognize.

Quite a powerful tool, that Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord: it apparently cleanses constitutional rupture and makes it something the international community has to accept-- because it was transparent.

But then, so were the events of June 28. They were transparently a coup d'etat.

Yet, the US argues that the exact same decree that was illegitimate on June 28 is legitimate in December because it was enacted in response to the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord.

What a powerful thing that Accord turned out to be: it supercedes the Constitution of Honduras and whitewashes a universally condemned coup.


David said...

I was also struck by this statement from the off-the-record call by State Department officials to reporters, essentially blaming Zelaya's attitude toward the elections as the reason the Congress voting the way it did. Am I missing something?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Okay. On the first question, nobody from here has called anyone in the Congress, so that’s for the first one.

As for the second question, the – it’s hard to get into the minds of people in the Honduran Congress. But in terms of what occurred in the last couple of weeks, as my colleague noted a moment ago, President Zelaya took a tack a couple of weeks ago that was very negative with respect to the elections in his own country, and as well as this Article 5 process in the Congress. So I think it’s possible that that may have shaped the outcome. We don’t know if that outcome would have been different if he had taken a more positive approach to that process, but he certainly took a negative one."

RAJ said...

The implication here is that if Zelaya had supported the elections coming out of sequence, before the vote on his restoral, Congress would have voted to restore him. By insisting the elections were illegitimate; by insisting Congress should have voted before the attempt to make a unity government, and surely before the elections; and then by stating that in any event, he would no longer accept restoral; US State Department wants to blame Zelaya for this.

There is an argument to be made here, I suppose. The Partido Nacionalista determined this vote, after all: they decided to vote as a bloc, and to vote on the resolution to reaffirm the Decreto. Pepe Lobo had better be in control of them (or else he is in trouble as he faces ascending to the Presidency, given the precedent now set for how Congress treats presidents it does not like).

So presumably Lobo could have promoted the kind of resolution that the Accord called for, which was a vote on the restoral of President Zelaya (I feel as if in a technical sense, the vote Congress took was unresponsive to the Accord, which did not call for a vote on whether or not to reaffirm the original decreto).

But the State Department is essentially treating the Honduran Congress like an irrational group of children if this is the position they are taking. It is like saying, of course they voted against you: you hurt their feelings!

It's hard to get into the minds of people in the Honduran Congress: why? because the Congress did not agree with US contacts, presumably.

The more obvious explanation, of course, which assumes Congress is actually full of rational adults, would start with the fact that since the US said it would recognize the election no matter what, and is actively bullying other countries to do so, Congress members have no international incentive to consider restoring Zelaya. Their own elections are now secure (or not); those re-elected were elected by people who supported the coup; those supporters will reward them domestically for rehearsing the actions they already showed they appreciated.

I think the latter explanation makes a good deal more sense. But it doesn't let the US State Department off the hook as well as claiming that Hondurans are inscrutable.

David said...

In fact, some sources say that Pepe Lobo DID try to persuade his faction to vote for restoration of Zelaya, but was quickly rebuffed. If that was the case, he probably did so quickly and wisely, so as not to lose influence with his own party, which as you state is pretty important for governing in the future.

By the way, I also find repugnant this other official's rebuff to the argument you're making here (and with which I and most people would agree): "So I think you’re reading too much into this notion that – and not giving Honduras enough credit that what we say and the position that we’ve taken that elections were necessary – a necessary step, but not the only step towards the reestablishment of democratic and constitutional order and international acceptance of Honduras – it devalues, if you will, the voice of the Honduran people, and – in a way that suggests that we have an on/off switch that controls what happens in Honduras. We don’t."

Finally, another incredible statement from the anonymous Administration officials: "it’s also important to keep in mind here that the idea of going to the Honduran Congress on the question of restitution was President Zelaya’s idea in the first place in the context of the Guimaraes negotiation." (NOTE: I don't see this online yet at, but was sent via email.)

Hm, I could have sworn that this was the line that Hugo Llorens was pushing with the Micheletti folks back when I was visiting in October. He never credited Zelaya then with this idea, and I rather doubt that is the case.

David said...

Sorry, what I also meant to comment -- I'm still baffled by why Victor Meza and Zelaya felt that Congress might vote to restore him. Did they get that signal from Pepe Lobo? from the US? They clearly had to believe that this would happen to have agreed to such an ambiguous accord.

Anonymous said...

The identity of those three "Senior Administration Officials." It implies they are appointees, not career staff, which pretty much limits who it can be. It could include Crowley, Valenzuela, Shannon, Clinton, and Obama, but I don't see who else would likely be involved. I mean, the White House Counsel would qualify, the SecDef would qualify, but they would be unusual picks for a talk about elections.

I'd be very interested in what legal opinion is regarding the "Accord." As I read it, although it did not explicitly state that the Congress had to vote Zelaya back into office, due to its structure, Zelaya would only carry out his end of it if the dictatorship acted in good faith. By failing to convene the Congress to "formally deliver" the Accord to them so that they might "effect" the section having to do with the Executive Power" on October 30th Micheletti broke the Agreement, and made the fracture irretrievable when he formed the "Unity Government" by appointing himself.

I therefore disagree with State that the Congress was actually free not to withdraw their illegal decree removing him from office. They could do so only by putting him in a position where he would have no reason to form a Government of Unity, since it would not accomplish the stated goal of the "Accord:" achieving national reconciliation.

To give an example, suppose I make an agreement with you to sell you a house, and as part of the agreement, I say I will move out of the house. But when the day comes when you are to move into the house, you discover that I have moved in a crowd of renters. Have I fulfilled the agreement? Who is responsible for breaking it when you refuse to pay me?

The dictatorship thinks that social peace has no value. Therefore, they don't care whether Zelaya refuses to play along with their crooked game. The sad thing is the United States agrees with the dictatorship.


David said...

The three officials were almost certainly Craig Kelly, Arturo Valenzuela, and Dan Restrepo (or perhaps Shannon, who's still waiting for a second hold to be released before he gets to go to Brazil.)

(I had a couple of other comments posted earlier that may have gotten lost?)

RAJ said...

@David: sorry, I've been in meetings all day; lagging commentary as a result.

Repugnant is precisely right. An interlocutor asked why we were focussing so much on the role of the US: the amount of documentation showing the process of creative interpretation is one answer, but another is the sheer unbelievable kind of statements.

Nonetheless, it is good to be redirected to trying to understand the Honduran actors.

Pepe Lobo will act predictably. His goal has to be representing himself as the sole reasonable man. So I remain surprised that he went along with the reaffirmation of the original coup decreto; I take it as a strong indication of on the ground politics in Honduras. I am resistant to the claim that anger drove this; that exoticizes and primitivizes Honduran politicians. Some may be individually emotionally driven (Micheletti, for example). But no more than in any legislature. So I think we are seeing an analogue to the posturing of right wing conservatives in the US playing to a base that has had a rabid and simple story-line used to mobilize them, and now cannot be calmed down without losing support.

As for why Zelaya thought initially there was a background understanding that the vote would be for restoral: insiders say that was the impression given by the US. And perhaps the vote would have been different had it been held that first week, while it seemed to be a requirement for recognition of the election.

But even if there was no side deal, no guarantee, did Zelaya have other options?

RAJ said...

Two more points:

Zelaya and Micheletti had alternative ideas about which Honduran institution should take action to accomplish a reversal of the coup. Micheletti wanted the Supreme Court. Zelaya's side argued that Congress could reverse itself.

In that sense, this was Zelaya's position; but framed as it is here-- and this has been a noxious thread in US statements, a kind of "so there, see how you like that" directed to Zelaya-- it is misleading at the very least.

Finally: while ackowledging Honduran agency, the US actually has had precisely the kind of instant effectiveness these officials try to deny. Off-hand comments by US officials, the interference in foreign policy by Republican members of the US Congress, and the infamous Law Library report continually revived the spirits of the coup faction.

Maybe not an on/off switch; but something effective: kerosene on an open fire.

David said...

I heard the suggestion for going to vote in Congress, with a "consultation" with the Supreme Court, first from the mouth of Hugo, before any of this was public. That's why I'm wondering whether Zelaya adopted the pragmatic posturing of the US, which was desperate to get an agreement, or whether it was the other way around.

May not matter, as you say - because did he have any other choice? While at one point I thought Zelaya's return to Honduras was a game-changer, one might also posit that, ultimately, it was folly, since he was never going to get what he (and we) wanted - restitution. But at the same time, certainly absolutely none of these negotiations would have happened, I think, had he not returned.

Anonymous said...

In the OAS, Costa Rica says that they deplore the Congressional vote since the whole point of the Accord was to reinstate Zelaya.

The US ambassador is Carmen Lemelland (sp?) sounds pretty loopy to me, accusing Zelaya of making misstatements about the elections.