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, June 30, 2009

The case against the coup being legal under Honduran law

A Honduran contact sends along a statement from a group of Honduran citizens who have filed a complaint with the public prosecutor against the Armed Forces and Congressional representatives who took part in the events of Sunday, June 28. Those who drafted the statement ask for our help in "breaking the media siege to which [they] are subjected". The original petition is in full legal form, with all the petitioners duly identified, men and women. I translate as much as I can and paraphrase the rest of the substance of their complaint here:
We denounce the abuse of authority, usurpation of functions, terrorism, rebellion, betrayal of the nation, crimes against the form of government and against high functionaries of the Honduran State
[naming those who led the coup d'etat and the congressional process that followed]
who participated in and approved the resolution or decree by means of which the citizen Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales was deprived of his position as Constitutional President of the Republic of Honduras; the legal benefits that were harmed are the existence and security of the state, the internal security of the state of Honduras, liberty and dignity of the people and of the nation; the facts, the evidence, and the basis in law on which the present action is based are described in what follows:
What follows are point by point indictments of the illegality of the events of Sunday.

First, the violent invasion of President Zelaya's residence, the gun battle with his bodyguard, his removal to the air base and forced flight to Costa Rica. On the same day the Supreme Court sent out a press release communicating a sentence by the Juzgado de lo Contencioso Administrativo de Francisco Morazán, which the complaint says does not have the power to decree the detention of any person, so that President Zelaya's detention was by definition illegal. Such detentions must follow the well-defined process in the Penal Code article 417 and following, and must be followed by the delivering of the person arrested to the competent judicial authorities, which did not happen in this case.

Second, the complaint notes that the national Congress, despite the fact that the majority of the representatives are from elsewhere in the country and the normal meeting dates are Tuesday to Thursday, met on Sunday for a reading of a supposed letter of resignation by the President; and the secretary of the legislative branch when asked about the source of this correspondence, never gave a reply; but said that there was no reason to doubt its contents, despite the fact that the supposed author denied it in various media of communication from San Jose in Costa Rica.

Third, in the same meeting of the Congress on Sunday, according to what was transmitted by the communication media and by specific representatives, it was noted that a comission created previously presented a report by means of which was submitted for consideration the disapproval of President Zelaya; which was approved unanimously by the congressional delegates attending, and by this means they decided to substitute for President Zelaya Roberto Michelleti.

Fourth, the same day the flow of electricity was interrupted in the majority of the national territory, the radio stations and television stations mostly interrupted their transmission voluntarily, the media of communication of the presidency were closed under unclear circumstances, and some alternative media were assaulted by military contingents that obliged them to go off the air and that they leave their offices. In the same way, selective and deliberate detention of various people was carried out, among whom can be singled out Patricia Rodas, Minister of External Relations, as were deprived of their liberty the ambassadors of Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.

These acts are then demonstrated to violate specific Honduran laws: Article 323 of the Penal Code, Article 328, numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4, for violating the bodily integrity and liberty of the President and forcibly changing the form of government; article 335 number 5, for acts of terror against the security of the state; Article 336 for rebellion against the chain of command and the leadership of the president by the armed forces; Article 333 number 1 for illegal detention of those specified; Article 349 number 2 for abuse of authority in the declaration by Congress of a substitution for the democratically-elected President;
which is an act absolutely contrary to the Constitution of the Republic; in virtue of the fact that power that the Constitution of the Republic grants to the National Congress to disapprove the official conduct of a public functionary, does not imply a right or power to remove him or to fire him.
And, under Article 2 of the Constitution, treason by supplanting popular sovereignty and the usurpation of the duly constituted powers, as is also stated in the Penal Code, article 302.

The petitioners ask that the public prosecutor to bring charges against those named in the complaint.

How to Cover up a Coup and What is really happening

With President Zelaya of Honduras having spoken to the United Nations today, it is perhaps no surprise that within Honduras, the rhetoric against him is hardening. In news coverage today, the Attorney General asserts that everything being done is legal, and states that President Zelaya is now under an arrest warrant for a laundry list of supposed crimes. At one point earlier today, Honduran reporting indicated that the crimes with which President Zelaya would be charged if he returned to the country would include drug trafficking, a mystifying proposal whose source is the person designated by Roberto Micheletti as his Foreign Minister. While this has largely disappeared from Honduran sources the claim is still included in news media outside the country. Meanwhile, the Attorney General also threatens to charge other members of the government with unspecificed crimes, and a member of the Honduran Congress has introduced a bill to freeze bank accounts of government members, presumably including those cabinet members who continue to elude custody.

What these actions suggest is a desperate attempt to paper over the illegal disruption of democratic process with a post-facto set of accusations for which any "evidence" produced should be viewed as dubious. Perhaps the most telling thing said by the Attorney General was
there is disinformation on an international level. Honduras is a country that is constituted by law and no one outside is going to come and tell us what we have to do.
Meanwhile, correspondents in and outside Honduras inform me that there are protests happening on the main roads outside major cities such as San Pedro Sula, and even the Honduran news media report strikes by teachers and that attempts to keep order in the country depend on an "iron military guard": martial law.

How is this "iron guard" being implemented? Giovanni Rodríguez blogging from Honduras gives a picture of the unfolding situation day by day for those who read Spanish. She writes that the media, even CNN, are prevented from covering the demonstrations in favor of the restitution of the legal government of President Zelaya, which in San Pedro Sula she estimates outnumbered the pro-Micheletti demonstrations 11,000 to 100. She estimates that perhaps 500,000 people nationwide participated in the general strike called for today.

Other bloggers on the same site post photos and give the names of those who were detained, perhaps most disturbing, a political cartoonist, Allan MacDonald, whose capture with his less than two year old daughter was also brought to my attention by other reports. McDonald, a Honduran citizen, managed to contact a Honduran citizen resident in Sweden while in custody along with journalists and others. Mc Donald's political cartoons in support of the public opinion poll surely fall under international norms of political free speech, yet for them, he was dragged from his house by the Honduran military, and his cartoons were burned. He was later freed and is reportedly again at home, although under surveillance.

Want to find more in real time? try this link or if you read Spanish the blog mimalapalabra.

A Message from a Honduran of the Next Generation

This one I translate in full; I do not share the name for fear of reprisal, but this correspondent is a friend of mine, a graduate student now in the US with many years working in her country for its progress:
Yesterday in the afternoon journalists from the radio station Globo, which objectively reported what was happening in the country, were attacked. These journalists were wounded, with broken bones and cuts on their body. In addition, their equipment was destroyed. Cable service from the International Spanish Television (TSI) has been cut and so this station is now transmitting on broadband. Honduran journalists critical of the de facto government are being arrested and menaced with death. The same way, the journalists of Telesur and AP were arrested by the military, although later freed in response to international pressure.

The Honduran people find themselves misinformed, as only what the coup government wishes them to know is being transmitted. Consequently, the opinion of the people is divided as a product of this disinformation in the country.

The population doesn't know that people demonstrating are being violently attacked, with blows, gunshots, acid and tear gas. As well, yesterday a caravan of 12 buses that were coming from Olancho were attacked by gunshots by a military convoy, leaving then stranded in the middle of the road; an action that has been repeated with other caravans coming from the interior of the country. There is an order out for the capture of political activists, workers, and campesinos (rural farmers). Up until now, the outcome of the actions of the de facto government has been dozens of wounded, various deaths, dozens arrested and disappeared.

The popular resistance made a call to the national and international Honduran populace to demonstrate and condemn this de facto government, since it is not possible that, in the name of the law, God, love, and the Constitution they should be violating the human rights of the people. They are hitting, killing, and making disappear the people that are against the coup d'etat, violating the right of free expression, liberty, life, and travel, and violating the right of the people in general to information.

It is unheard of (unprecedented) that the illegitimate Canciller (minister of foreign affairs) should say to the national population that in moments of crisis the only right that prevails-- above all others-- is that of force. Justifying coups, assassinations, kidnappings and disinformation in this way.

We make a call that the UN and the rest of the countries in the world-- especially the US-- condemn and sanction Honduras, as have the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Echoes of Voices from Honduras

Today finally I am receiving email from colleagues in the country, many sending on passionate statements by educated members of the younger generation decrying the return to conditions most never knew, having been born after the end of the last military government with the Constitution of 1982. It is important to underline that, contrary to some emerging reporting, support for President Zelaya is not limited to the poor and poorly educated in the country whose material conditions his action in raising the minimum wage did indeed improve. Zelaya is not Huey Long. Support for the legal government of the country and a return to rule of law, freedom of speech and press, freedom to assemble, and freedom to circulate comes as well from the most promising members of the future generation of leaders that Honduras can ill-afford to lose.

I cannot expect readers of this blog to read Spanish, and could not possibly reproduce the long statements I am receiving. Here, I will simply excerpt some of the highlights.

One of my Honduran correspondents sends a long commentary placing the present "military-corporate" coup in perspective. The author, a faculty member at a Colombian university, writes for the journal "Viento del Sur". He rejects the widely published summary of the causes of the coup d'etat, in which the Honduran state acted to reject unconstitutional attempts by the President to move to a Chavez-style permanent presidency. Instead, he notes that the coup was engineered by a coalition of business interests opposed to the economic effects of President Zelaya's policies. He traces the coalition between the military and the business interests to the foundation in 1981 of APROH (Asociación para el Progreso de Honduras). This was precisely the moment when the present constitution was being shaped, when the transition from dictatorship to electoral republic was underway, and according to this author, it forged an alliance between the military and the two major parties that persisted until now. He characterizes this period as a time of conversion of the military into a bourgeoisie.

Throughout the next decade, Honduras saw a rise in the development of maquilas-- sweatshops-- benefiting financially the business sector of the country by exploiting the desperation of the unemployed, for whom even these poorly-paid jobs were welcome ways to meet the rising costs of living. Meanwhile, agricultural production continued to be converted from support of the food needs of the people to production for export, creating increased dependency on even poorly-paid employment on the part of what once had been a largely rural, farming population. The author suggests 90% of the wealth of the country is concentrated in the hands of a few families. (These changes I have witnessed personally, along with a shocking increase in differential wealth that has created an urban elite with access to all the latest North American consumer goods in the midst of a populace living without basic sanitation, food, and adequate shelter.) Over a million Hondurans live outside the country, and the money they send back home is now one of the major sources of income in the country.

Popular movements declined throughout the 1980s and 1990s, although the author notes the success of the afro-caribbean Garifuna on the North Coast and a coalition of indigenous groups, COPINH, in actions against economic exploitation threatening their communities.

The author summarizes the transition of Manuel Zelaya, elected as a Liberal party member with links to the business powers in the country, to the positions that led to the current confrontation. He singles out a confrontation with the US in 2007 over the effective monopoly of oil imports by Exxon, Texaco, and Shell, opening the way for Conoco Phillips to compete and lowering the cost of gasoline, as a key turning point in Zelaya's Presidency. The actions taken benefitted the working class of taxi drivers in the country, positioning Zelaya with a different constituency.

It was at this juncture, threatened with reprisals by the US ambassador, that Zelaya turned to Petrocaribe, and thus to Hugo Chávez, to ensure a stable source of affordable gasoline for which Honduras needed only to pay 50% at first, and the rest over 25 years with low interest (1%) and with the ability to invest the saved capital in social projects. By 2008, Zelaya proposed Honduras join ALBA, a move fiercely opposed by the business sector and members of congress including the current head of congress who claimed the title of "interim president".

The third move that cemented business opposition to Zelaya was his increase in the minimum wage this year, to just about $10 a day.

Finally, with the proposal to poll popular opinion about whether to open a constitutional convention, Zelaya finally crossed the threshold of tolerance of his former allies in his party and wealthy class. Rather than being afraid this non-binding poll would have somehow allowed Zelaya to stay in power, this author suggests the real fear behind the coup was the specter of a broader public emboldened by being given an opportunity to express their opinion-- even if on such a weak question as whether or not to place on the binding ballot in November a question about whether or not to convene a constitutional convention. Giving a voice to the people was apparently too much, too fast, too soon, too far.

What makes a Coup?

Roberto Micheletti, the head of the Honduran Congress who has seized executive power, has apparently been surprised that the US has not agreed to recognize him as a legitimate head of state. He has been quoted as saying if President Obama wants to align himself with Hugo Chavez, then Honduras will go its own way without the support of the US:
"No one, not Barack Obama and much less Hugo Chávez, has the right to menace this country."
Why did the Honduran military and congressional opponents of President Zelaya expect the US to approve of the forcible kidnapping of the Honduran executive and his deportation without trial to Costa Rica?

A recent article from the Washington Post may help put this in context. The author argues that, despite both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clearly condemning the coup, and despite both having said clearly that Zelaya remains the legal President of the country, the US has actually not legally labeled the events of Sunday as a coup. The US instead is viewed by this US journalist as leaving the door open for a negotiation that would lead to an outcome other than the restoration of the legally elected President, Manuel Zelaya. This ignores what most independent analysts say is the reason for not yet labeling the events in Honduras a coup, which is to retain economic leverage.

The history of US involvement in Honduras predisposes many people in that country to discount public statements and to believe that the US actually supports the regime change. In this context, the diplomatic caution being exercised by the US government can be read by those who supported the coup as tacit invitation to propose a negotiated solution short of the restoration of the legal government. The lack of a public statement by the US during the last week-- when it was already clear that there was a military-congress plan to intervene and remove Zelaya from office-- was widely interpreted by Hondurans in the country as indicating allowance of the coup.

In the light of the history of US involvement in Central America, regrettably, it appears that it is almost impossible for the current government to clearly express its rejection of the illegitimate intervention in government.

Meanwhile, the Honduran Congressional leadership that engineered this violent seizure of control is advancing a series of arguments-- being repeated in all too many English language media-- that assert that what happened was not a coup, but a democratic transition.

Advocates of this position cite the vote by the Honduran Congress to appoint Micheletti as "President", and claim that President Zelaya signed a resignation letter that was back-dated to Thursday, when the crisis became public and when, news reports suggest, a military coup was narrowly averted in part by US efforts. They quote a Honduran Supreme Court statement that the military was ordered to remove President Zelaya from the country. They note that President Zelaya had insisted on holding the public opinion poll ("encuesta"-- not a referendum, a non-binding survey) despite legal rulings against it.

But none of this makes the actions of Sunday legal, either under the Honduran constitution or under the many international agreements Honduras has accepted. The legal approach would have been to bring a case against President Zelaya for having acted unconstitutionally, have a trial, and legally remove the President from office-- a process which may have lasted longer than the remaining six or seven months of Zelaya's term. This would have left the Honduran constitution intact, the Honduran government functioning, the Honduran press free to operate, the Honduran people able to circulate day and night without curfew, and vigorous debate could have continued about the actual issues.

A coup was not a constitutional response. The question it raises is, what really scared the Congress so much?

Monday, June 29, 2009

This Revolution will NOT be Televised

Early Sunday morning, members of the armed forces invaded the house of the democratically elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and forcibly removed him to a waiting airplane that took him to Costa Rica.

This military coup d'etat continues to be under-reported. In the age of instant posting of images from the streets of Iran, the invisibility of developments in Honduras is a reminder that the internet still doesn't actually reach everywhere. Unfortunately, with the decline in resources dedicated to foreign reporting by the mainstream media, the absence of widespread access to the net means this revolution will not be televised.

There is evidence that those responsible for the coup are aware of the need to keep the story invisible. CNN reports on the suppression of live reporting by the Spanish-language Telesur TV network. Meanwhile, Reuters reported that CNN and CNN en Español were among the media outlets shut off the air in Honduras. And the Washington Post adds that AP reporters were also detained while reporting on the unfolding crisis. Honduran newspapers are reporting what my sources had told me: that individual channels, journalists, and international media were singled out for censorship specifically to keep Honduran citizens from seeing coverage of statements by President Zelaya or others opposing the illegal coup.

Media disinformation or misinformation, in the absence of citizen reporting and in the wake of active suppression of reliable, independent media, is leaking into the mainstream press. From the beginning, coverage has overly simplified the issues involved, painting Zelaya-- a member of the pro-business, centrist Liberal party who comes from a wealthy cattle ranching and timbering family-- as a "leftist". El Pais of Spain published a more accurate, first-person account from President Zelaya of his own positioning as moving from neoliberal/conservative to more populist:

Q: What is your model?

A. Look. I locate my Government as center-left, because I practice liiberal ideas, but with a socialist tendency, social, very closely aligned to integrating the citizen in his/her rights.

Q. But you are not a man that comes from the left...

A. That's right, I actually come from very conservative sectors.

Q.. And when did you fall off the horse?

A. Ha ha... No, better, when did I get on the horse... Look, I thought I would make changes from within a neoliberal scheme. But the rich will not give up a penny. The rich will not give up any of their money. They want it all for themselves. So, logically, to make changes you have to incorporate the people.

What makes it difficult for US media to give an accurate picture of the conflict involved is the tendency to see everything through the lens of US interests. So many media outlets use a shorthand equation in which Zelaya = Chavez to signify a more complex set of alliances that the Honduran President has forged with the ALBA block. Unfortunately, this equation echoes a claim reproduced countless times in Honduran media that President Zelaya's advocacy of a popular opinion poll concerning support for a constitutional convention was nothing more than the first step toward a permanent presidency like that of Chavez in Venezuela. Most US media repeated the claim that the Sunday poll was on a referendum on presidential term limits.

The Honduran constitution, adopted in 1982, explicitly forbids any attempt to alter the term limit on the Presidency, which was set up to be limited to a single, four-year term. But even an anti-Zelaya website concerning the "cuarta urna" (fourth ballot box) correctly described the actual content of the proposed poll of Sunday June 28 as the following:

¿Está usted de acuerdo que en las elecciones generales de noviembre de 2009 se instale una cuarta urna para decidir sobre la convocatoria a una Asamblea Nacional Constituyente que apruebe una Constitución política?

Do you agree that in the general elections of November 2009 a fourth ballot box should be installed to decide whether to convene a National Constitutional Assembly that would approve a political Constitution?
In other words, the poll would have led at best to a proposal to hold a referendum on initiating a constitutional convention during the November presidential elections. Approval of such a call in November would hardly allow an entire new constitution to be produced before Zelaya was to step down in January.

Why are the English-language media stories so badly misleading? In part, there is the question of stereotypes: dividing the world into us versus them, so that if a foreign leader has relations with Venezuela (which is one of Honduras' main suppliers of oil, and which has provided development aid as well), they are on the anti-US side. In part, there appears to be too much recirculating of the first English-language stories, which were eerily like direct translations of the Honduran press that in recent days has been a model of journalistic editorializing. Even when editorial changes were made, those initial errors or shadings ("leftist President", the referendum on changing presidential term limits) were reproduced, now actually worse because presented in a less lurid, more matter-of-fact way.

But mostly, to this observer, it seems clear that the international media have not been paying any attention to Honduras, and have no idea what the issues are in the country and what the realities are on the ground. And as long as the congress of Honduras can keep the media out, there will be little on which to base substantial analysis of the crisis.