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, January 27, 2010

How badly can the press distort Honduras news?

Infinitely, it would seem.

Late Tuesday, Reuters reports say, the Honduran Congress voted an amnesty for José Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

Reuters news wire headlined its story "Zelaya to exit Honduras in win for coup leaders". According to Reuters, Zelaya is headed into "exile" although the "political amnesty" voted by Congress would not affect "the criminal charges hanging over him".

Only one problem with this account: it isn't quite accurate.

As reported in a story posted at 12:24 AM (Honduras time) in Tiempo,
The National Congress last night approved amnesty for political crimes and the common crimes connected to them before and after the overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya, but did not include acts of corruption such as the use of State resoures to support the "cuarta urna" [campaign], nor violations of human rights such as homicides, tortures, and other outrages against demonstrators.
Explicitly listed as included in the amnesty were the following crimes:

Delitos de traición a la patria.
Delitos contra la forma de gobierno.

Abuso de autoridad.
Violación de los deberes de los funcionarios.
Usurpación de funciones.

Of these, traición, delitos contra la forma de gobierno, abuso de autoridad, and usurpación de funciones (treason, offenses against the form of government, abuse of authority, and usurpation of functions) are the specific crimes included in the petition against President Zelaya submitted to the Supreme Court, which should mean that the original arrest warrant against him is now moot.

But these are also the most likely crimes with which the de facto regime and other coup participants could have been charged. So the bill passed by Congress actually is at least as much about protecting the authors of the coup as about achieving some sort of reconciliation. The addition of sedition, terrorism, and disobedience, not part of the warrant against Zelaya raises the question, who exactly is being helped by this part of the new law?

Even more forcefully pushing the idea that everything is now just fine in Honduras, the Washington Post headlines its story "New Honduran leader to take office, ending turmoil".

How easy is that! all that unrest just melting away...

Too bad that coverage of the actual Congressional action exposes that as wishful thinking, even if we only take into account continued controversy within the elected national government (and ignore for the moment the existence of a well-organized Resistance sworn to continue advocating for constitutional reform).

Again as reported in Tiempo, the bill passed by the Congress drew not a single vote from the Liberal party, which abstained en masse, while the UD party members voted against it.

Congress member Marvin Ponce said that "practically, the golpistas are pardoning their victims". This was in reaction to the incorporation in the prologue to the bill of statements exonerating Roberto Micheletti, the members of Congress who illegally elevated him to power, and the Armed Forces from having violated the Constitution or committed a coup.

As UD party congress member Sergio Castellanos said, “congress members cannot self-pardon for the coup d'etat, they cannot pardon those who assassinated more than 100 persons, those that converted a city into a concentration camp."

The National party urged the Congress to act because it is what the international community has demanded as a condition to restart aid. Other parties remained unconvinced of the idea, with many suggesting Congress should wait for the truth commission mandated by the San Jose-Tegucigalpa Accord to "say what it was that really happened and who were the guilty parties".

So no, the inauguration isn't going to make the whole coup go away magically. No matter how much the English-language media try to cast Pepe Lobo as a charismatic leader destined to heal the nation.

The first sentence of the Post's story could have be describing the 2006 inauguration:
A conservative rancher is being sworn in as Honduras' new president...
Remember when it was Zelaya who was the new conservative rancher president? No? well, don't worry: neither does the amnesiac English-language press.

The Post continues:
The left-leaning Zelaya said he would accept that he was no longer president - but only the moment his four-year constitutional term officially ended Wednesday.
Um... OK: President Zelaya at least knows that he is no longer President when his term ends, even if the Post seems surprised by this. It would be nice if I were sure that the Post understands that he is still President now, even if he is kept prisoner by an illegitimate regime. Apparently, they were expecting maybe that Zelaya would insist he was still President? Noting that the November election was illegitimate isn't the same as arguing for the extension of his own term in office...

But even a broken clock is right twice a day. The Reuters story concluded
As a sign that Honduras is trying to erase memories of the coup, a Supreme Court judge cleared military leaders of any wrongdoing on Tuesday after prosecutors accused them of abuse of power for rousting Zelaya from his bed at gunpoint.
To "erase memories of the coup".

That does sound like a pretty good description of what the Court was hoping to accomplish.

Somehow, I don't believe that the Honduran people will actually be forgetting this past seven months anytime soon.

But at least the Supreme Court has relieved them of having to confront what has happened. Much better to suppress those memories and live in denial.

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