Honduras moves towards total isolation

Since the removal of President Manuel Zelaya in June, the provisional government has steadily and predictably isolated Honduras, both from the international community and, most importantly, from the most basic tenets of democracy.  roberto michelettiIn true Orwellian fashion, the provisional government has justified everything it has done — from removing President Zelaya without the due process required by its own constitution it is purportedly defending to suspending basic civil liberties — in the name of “democracy.”  I am not sure what planet Roberto Micheletti and his provisional government cronies are from, but they are singlehandedly facilitating the tortured history and doublespeak that represented what we all thought was a Honduras goverment of the past.  

If you think Honduras is headed towards a breaking point, you are wrong.  Wake up.  Honduras is already there.

As you probably all know by now, the provisional government shut down Channel 36 and Radio Globo, because they were broadcasting telephone calls from President Zelaya.  “Yeah, we can’t have that,” says Michelletti.  “He has to be out of sight, out of mind!  Let’s sweep it all under the rug and maybe the Honduran people in all their idiocy will forget that we roused him in the middle of the night and forcibly removed him from the country.  Shhhh!  If we don’t talk about it, then it’ll go away!” 

Whether you agree with Zelaya or not is not the issue; the provisional government circumvented democracy when it removed Zelaya and now is trying to tack legitimacy to its actions after the fact.  It doesn’t work that way.  That’s political science 101.  Is it me or is Micheletti trying to become yet another case study in how yet another Latin American government brings down its iron fist in the name of democracy?  What’s in the water over there?

And, to add insult to injury, the provisional government has threatened to shut down the Brazilian embassy within the next 10 days and yesterday expelled four diplomats from the Organization of American States.  The diplomats were apparently members of an advance team trying to negotiate an end to the crisis.  To his defense, I guess Micheletti, who clearly is living in some bubble world on his family finca and is taking massive doses of reality-altering medications, surely sees no need to end a crisis that doesn’t exist in the first place. 

What I find further infuriating is the fact that the United States and many news outlets here have described the “situation” or “crisis” in Honduras as a “political one.”  This label is doublespeak.  To be sure, while the forcible removal of a sitting president is, by definition, a “political situation,” is it also a mere “political situation” when the civil rights of its citizenry, guaranteed by its own constitution, is abrogated for no legitimate reason?  That to me is more than just a “political situation,” but a tragedy that tears the social and civil fabric of Honduras at its roots.  For the United States and other countries to sit idly behind the scenes as Honduras falls deeper and deeper into isolation — against the will of its people — is unacceptable. 

Only by fortune so far, and certainly not because of the actions of the provisional or de facto government of Honduras, has widespread violence not broken out.  But what has broken out is the widespread violence the de facto government of Honduras has lashed against its own citizenry, in the name of some twisted version of democracy.

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The Coup in Honduras: A Fallacy of Legal Reasoning

Octavio Sanchez, a lawyer and the  former presidential adviser (2002-2005) and minister of culture (2005-2006) of Honduras has apparently been chosen by the Honduran sanchezCongress as its head constitutional scholar.  In that capacity, he has been assigned to provide thorough legal reasons of why it is simply “nonsense” for anyone or any country to call, label, or suggest that the recent events in Honduras amounts to a “coup.”  Apparently, Mr. Sanchez came highly recommended by Iraq’s former information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, also known as Baghdad Bob and Comical Ali.

Before I delve into Mr. Sanchez’s arguments, let’s first look at the definition of a coup.  According to wikipedia, a coup is the “unconstitutional deposition of a legitimate government, by a small group of the State Establishment — usually the military — to replace the deposed government with another, either civil or military.”  According to dictionary.com, a coup is “a sudden and decisive action in politics, esp. one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force.”

With that in mind, let’s look at Mr. Sanchez’s arguments about the absurdity of calling the recent events in Honduras a coup (http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0702/p09s03-coop.html):

1) In 1982, Honduras adopted a new Constitution that enabled an “orderly return” to democracy;

2) “Soldiers arrested and sent out of the country a Honduran citizen who through his own actions stripped himself of the presidency”;

3) “When Zelaya published [a] decree to initiate an ‘opinion poll’ about the possibility of convening a national assembly, he contravened the unchangeable articles of the Constitution that deal with the prohibition of reelecting a president and of extending his term.  His actions showed intent . . .and triggered a constitutional provision that automatically removed him from office.”  Assemblies are convened to write new constitutions.

4) “Article 239 states that ‘no citizen who has already served as head of the Executive Branch can be president or vice president.”  Thus, anyone who “violates this law or proposes its reform, as well as those that support such violation directly or indirectly, will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years.”  “Immediately” means instantly, as in “no trial required” or no “impeachment needed.”

5) Zelaya was detained in Costa Rica because “Congress needed time to convene and remove him from office.  With him inside the country, that would have been impossible.”

6) “We have decided to stand up and become a country of laws, not men.  From now on, here in Honduras, no one will be above the law.”

Sanchez’s own ‘legal’ arguments, particularly the last one, reveal without any interpretation fallicious reasoning.  In that regard, Sanchez would have fit in nicely as an attorney in the former Bush administration. 

Nonetheless, to begin, and as Sanchez points out, Honduran law clearly allows for a constitutional rewrite, but of course the power to do that does not rest with the president.  Instead, an assembly can only be called through a national referendum approved by Congress.  Further, and in addition to Article 239 (which was included in the 1982 constitution to essentially bar dictators from the past from running again), Article 374 bars any amendments about the length of a presidential term, among other issues.  Under these circumstances, even if a vote was taken pursuant to Zelaya’s “intention,” it would have had no legal weight whatsoever.

One way to look at it is with this legal analogy.  Just say you purchased a gun legally from the store.  Your intention was to murder to death John Smith.  You go to his office and shoot him in the back of the head.  Little did you know, John Smith had already died of natural causes 2 hours before you shot him.  Modern legal reasoning establishes without question that you are not guilty of murder or attempted murder.  Similarly, the Honduran constitution is so rigid (just take a look, for instance, at Article 42, along with Article 239 and Article 374) that any actions by Zelaya as it related to this “Constitutional Assembly” were meaningless and would be afforded no weight.  It was simply impossible, legally and constitutionally, to do what Zelaya had apparently wanted to do (or at least what the Congress thought Zelaya was going to do) with this “Constitutional Assembly.”

But to Sanchez, it doesn’t matter whether something is legally or constitutionally impossible.  What matters is that the letter of the constitution was violated, particularly Article 239 — without taking into consideration at all the intent behind the inclusion of Article 239:  to prevent dictators from running for office.  Back before 1982, Honduras, as with other Latin American countries, had serious dictator problems.

In any event, even if one agrees that Zelaya’s actions were per se unconstitutional, nothing justifies his forcible removal from Honduras to Costa Rica.  According to Sanchez, his exile was necessary because “Congress needed time to convene and remove him from office,” and with Zelaya in Honduras, “that would have been impossible.”  But with this point particularly, Sanchez neglects to mention anything about the constitution and instead seems to obtain these points out of thin air.  So, with that in mind, I decided to quote some parts of the Honduran constitution:

Article 69: “A persons liberty is inviolable and can only be restricted or suspended temporarily through process of law.”

Article 71: “No person can be arrested nor kept incommunicado for more than 24 hours without being placed before a competent authority to be judged. Judicial detention during an investigation must not exceed six consecutive days from the moment that the same is ordered.”

Article 81: “All persons have the right to circulate freely, leave, enter, and remain in national territory. No one can be obligated to change home or residence except in special cases and with those requirements that the Law establishes.”

Wow.  What about these articles, Mr. Sanchez?  I guess they only apply to some people and not others.  At least to me, such a circumstance certainly doesn’t resonate with a country that adheres to the rule of law.