This is one of the best articles I've found on what's been happening in Honduras. Please take the time to read it. Knowing the whole story may make it harder to ignore the crisis here...and how it really could become a bigger deal than just who ends up running Honduras.
HONDURAS: WHEN IS A COUP NOT A COUP?
Coup versus Coup D’Etat
by Janine Goben
A few weeks ago there was a constitutional change of power in Honduras; not usually an event which would cause the world to get involved in the internal government of a country, especially a country enjoying the freedom of an effective democracy.
IT WILL BECOME A DEFINING MOMENT IN THE DEFINITION OF DEMOCRACY
During the early morning of June 28th, 2009, an event occurred in the small Central American country of Honduras which will become a defining time in Honduras’ history; indeed, it will become a defining moment in the definition of democracy. And because of the immediate reaction of the United States of America, it will become a defining point in time for the world to judge how the United States becomes involved in the government of other countries.
As the sun started to rise on Sunday, June 28th, 2009, a military corps, acting under direction of the Supreme Court of Honduras and the entire Congress of Honduras, entered the Presidential Palace in the capital city of Tegucigalpa and removed the President of Honduras, taking him by plane to Costa Rica, where he was discharged.
The news media and the U.S. state department immediately jumped on the following equation:
Head of state + Central America + military removal from power = coup d’état.
Armed with only these facts, most people would make the same leap to judgment….. Unless they had the rest of the information and some understanding of the Honduran constitution, or unless they came to Honduras today and see that life is continuing the same as it was prior to these events; there are no tanks rolling down the streets, no curtailed rights or liberties.
The international press would have you believe that Honduras is in disarray. Nothing could be further from the truth. A constitutional change of government occurred, without violence; and this constitutional change has brought the people of Honduras together in defense of their constitution and their freedoms. Hondurans and foreigners, both sides of the political spectrum, stand solidly together to support HONDURAS. Tens of thousands of people have staged rallies throughout the country in support of the actions taken against the ex-president. The only violence that has occurred is when Zelaya tried to return to the country, creating a media frenzy as he asked his very few supporters to disrupt the country.
I will give you the rest of the story from the viewpoint of an American citizen living happily and peacefully in Honduras for a dozen years, and also with a chronology from a Honduran businessman, who can speak to the actions first hand.
Let’s start three years ago; Mel Zelaya, candidate for one of the two main political parties, was elected President by a small majority. A rich rancher, Zelaya courted the poorer people of the country, making grand appearances by riding in on his horse, Café, wearing his trademark cowboy hat. His political objectives started to drift to the left fairly quickly and he publicly and frequently created photo shoots with political allies Hugo Chavez and the Castro Brothers.
ZELAYA APPEARED IN FRONT OF THE CROWD, ENCOURAGING THEM TO CREATE CIVIL UNREST. THIS EVENT WAS A SIGNIFICANT TURNING POINT IN THE SUPPORT ZELAYA ENJOYED AS A DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED PRESIDENT.
Zelaya started making decisions which appeared to be detrimental to the stability of the country, such as overruling local law enforcement by demanding the release of people arrested for destroying government offices and burning records.
On one occasion earlier this year, he flew into the island of Roatan, on a whim, to encourage a group of protestors who were objecting to the electric company and who had managed to block the only main road on the island, effectively shutting down the island and creating havoc with the tourism industry for a week. Cruise ships detoured to other destinations and international flights were affected; people couldn’t work. Zelaya appeared in front of the crowd, encouraging them to create civil unrest. Several of the leaders had been arrested and Zelaya commanded the police and District Attorney to release them.
This was the first time most of us on the island were exposed to the courage of the Honduran people – the local officials, who are mostly members of Zelaya’s political party, resisted the order and managed to hold most of the detainees for several days. This event was probably a significant turning point in the support Zelaya enjoyed as a democratically elected President.
There is a long time relationship between Honduras and the United States; over 100 U.S. businesses operate within the country, providing thousands of jobs for Hondurans. Tourism is also a major source of employment and economic stability. There is a large military base, Soto Cano, in the center of Honduras close to the town of Comayagua, with a comfortable blend of Honduran and American troops whose mission is primarily humanitarian and to exert some control of drug trafficking throughout Central America.
Honduras is also a highly desirable country for foreigners to live in and own property; there are thousands of us living throughout the country, especially in the Bay Islands, a stunningly beautiful destination in the Western Caribbean. Life is relaxed and relatively inexpensive; the Honduran people are peaceful, friendly and welcoming. They are also fiercely proud of their country and their CONSTITUTION.
For the past twenty-plus years, Honduras has enjoyed the freedoms associated with a stable democracy and the comfort of friendship and aid from the U.S and many other countries worldwide. The second poorest country in the region, international aid is crucial for the people of Honduras. In the last decade, huge improvements in infrastructure and quality of life are evident. Humanitarian groups come in droves to provide medical, dental, spiritual and physical care. Homes are built by volunteers, trades are taught, education is boosted and children are cared for. No-one wants to lose any of this, so when Zelaya started toward a carefully chartered path to align himself with leftist leaders, people started to take notice. Rumors about missing money and illegal activities at the highest level were reported.
The democratic republic of Honduras has a similar governmental structure to the United States, with three executive branches. The following is an accurate chronology of the events which led up to the removal of Mel Zelaya from the Presidential palace, written by a Honduran businessman who lives in Tegucigalpa, and is re-printed with his permission:
The Chain of Events in the Honduras Crisis March 23, 2009: President Zelaya passes an Executive Decree ordering a National Survey asking citizens if they would approve a Constitutional Assembly that would write and approve a new constitution. The Decree stated that the National Institute of Statistics (INE) would carry the survey out. However, he did not publish the decree in Honduras’ official newspaper called La Gaceta as required by law. This decree violated the following articles in the Constitution:
• Article 255 for not having published the decree in the Gaceta.
• Article 5 which states that only Congress (with a majority vote of 2/3) can define a National Survey and NOT the Executive branch.
• Article 5 which states that only the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) can conduct/execute a National Survey and NOT the National Statistics Institute (INE).
• His actions implied intent to violate Article 374, a “Petreos” Article, which states that only five articles in the entire constitution (with a total of 378 articles) cannot be amended or reformed. Two of those five articles refer to the duration of the presidential period (Art. 237) and the prohibition of presidential reelection (Art. 4).
By May 27, 2009: The National Prosecutor, the Attorney General and the Supreme Court had unanimously ruled the National Survey decree as illegal and it was ANULLED.
June 5, 2009: President Zelaya’s lawyer appeals the ruling.
June 16, 2009: The Appeal Court unanimously confirms that the National Survey decree is indeed illegal and therefore ANULLED. The State Prosecutor’s Office (Ministerio Publico) informs the Armed Forces that the National Survey is illegal and therefore, the Armed Forces must not carry out its constitutionally-assigned responsibility to act as guardians of the Public Survey ballots. The Armed Forces apply Article 323 that states that no public official, whether civil or military, can be forced to comply with an illegal order and thus refuse to carry out President Zelaya’s order to safeguard the ballots and election/survey. That same day, the State Prosecutor’s Office also advises President Zelaya and his entire cabinet of the Appeals Court ruling against the decree.
June 19, 2009: The State Prosecutor’s Office formally advises President Zelaya, a second time, that the National Survey is illegal.
June 25th, 2009: Only three days before his announced and illegal survey, President Zelaya issues a second presidential decree again calling for a National Survey. But this time, he goes all the way and publishes it in the Gaceta. However, he makes changes to the wording in the decree. Instead of ordering “a Public Opinion Survey,” as he had worded the previous decree, he now changes the words to read, “Public Opinion Survey Convening a Constitutional Assembly.” This changes the legal interpretation of this decree entirely, and would’ve allowed for an immediate Constitutional Assembly to convene and disintegrate the three powers defined in the Constitution, effectively interrupting Constitutional Order.
AS SOON AS THE DECREE WAS PUBLISHED, PRESIDENT ZELAYA AUTOMATICALLY STOPPED BEING PRESIDENT AND BECAME A REGULAR CITIZEN.
With the publishing of this decree in the Gaceta, President Zelaya himself kicks into motion Article 239 which states that “whomever changes or attempts to change” Article 4 (an unchangeable “petreos” article protected by Article 374) relating to the alterability of the presidential position, “will be immediately removed from public office” and lose his/her constitutional powers.
NOTE: This is very important! As soon as the decree was published, President Zelaya automatically stopped being president and became a regular citizen.
June 26, 2009: The Courts, along with the Attorney General and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, order the Armed Forces to confiscate all National Survey ballots and voting material that had just arrived by plane.
That same day, in blatant disregard to all court rulings, Citizen Manuel Zelaya gathers a group of protesters and proceeds to the Air Force warehouse where the ballots had been impounded. He threatens with force, and uses human shields, risking other citizens’ lives.
Calling on Article 59, which states that the protection of “human life is the Constitution and the state’s supreme responsibility/obligation,” the Armed Forces yield to the mob and allow Citizen Zelaya and his human shields to take the ballots by force.
Immediately, the Supreme Court issues an arrest warrant for Citizen Manuel Zelaya for the crimes of (a) Attempts against the form of government, (b) Treason to the country, (c) Abuse of authority, and (d) Usurpation of functions belonging to other branches of government.
The Supreme Court orders the Armed Forces to serve this arrest warrant because according to Article 272, the Armed Forces has the constitutionally-assigned responsibility to maintain and protect the alterability of the presidential office.
June 27, 2009: Country leaders meet intermittently throughout the day in an effort to find an alternate means of resolving the situation without recurring to an arrest that would incite unrest and possible violence within certain segments of the population. In the meantime, the Armed Forces study Citizen Zelaya’s agenda in order to determine the best moment to execute the arrest with the least risk to the lives of Citizen Zelaya and the Presidential Guards surrounding him.
June 28, 2009: Having found no better time for the arrest, at 5:45AM, the Armed Forces capture Citizen Zelaya in his home. The arrest is successful without any injuries or deaths on both sides. Citizen Zelaya is instructed to get dressed, but wanting to be victimized, he refuses, only grabbing his passport and wallet (with the presidential palace’s credit card, by the way).
The Armed Forces decide to put Citizen Zelaya on the presidential plane and take him to Costa Rica where he is left behind. The Armed Forces and whoever else decided to expatriate Citizen Zelaya violated Article 102 which states that “no Honduran can be expatriated or surrendered to a foreign government.”
The Armed Forces is defending its decision by arguing that they again relied on Article 59 (protection of human life as supreme obligation of the state). They said that, in this case, breaking the law (art. 102) actually saved lives since they felt that placing Citizen Zelaya in a Honduran prison would’ve incited violence, unrest, and possible harm to Citizen Zelaya himself. Nonetheless, the State Prosecutor’s Office has started an investigation into this crime.
Per Article 242, when the President is absent and when the Vice President is absent (or resigned in Honduras’ case), the third instance is the President of Congress. Thus, the President of Congress, Roberto Micheletti, became President of Honduras.
I have but one question that I would like to ask the international community that is so adamant about not recognizing our existing government and is so vociferous at demanding that Honduras reinstate our criminal ex-President Zelaya:
What part of our Constitution would you force us to change, amend or erase so that we can reinstate Manuel Zelaya as President of Honduras without breaking the law?
Ian Merriam Honduras Webster’s dictionary defines a coup d’état as “The sudden, forcible overthrow of a government.” A military coup d’état would be that forcible overthrow by the military with the military taking over the running the country. Clearly, neither of these definitions apply here – at no point were the military running the government because the order was issued by the Supreme Court and the next in line to the Presidency, Roberto Micheletti, was sworn in as President. Only one man lost his job….and the same political party is still in power.
Webster’s also defines the single word coup as “A sudden, brilliantly successful move”……much closer to accurate!
So, here is Honduras, a country with a strong, still in action democracy, and with the vast majority of its people supportive of the rule of law which demanded the removal of a leader who believed he was above the law; we are being condemned by international sentiment. When, in fact, Honduras has become the voice for democracy – almost unanimously, citizens are standing up to overwhelming odds to support their constitution – is there no better definition for democracy?
The Honduran people would rather give up the critical aid they receive in order to keep their democracy! Business is as usual here; transportation into and around the country is normal, regular seasonal discounts are available to tourists, cruise ships still visit and scuba divers enjoy some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world.
PEOPLE THROUGHOUT THE WORLD ARE SLOWLY REALIZING THAT THE IMMEDIATE REACTION WAS ERRONEOUS, BASED ON MEDIA REPORTS FROM NETWORKS WITHOUT CORRESPONDENTS IN HONDURAS
One man has disrupted the continuation of government, and continues to do so with his reckless (thank you, Hillary for recognizing it this time) actions on the Nicaraguan border.
And yet the country goes on with the business of living with almost no change, except that thousands of people have lost their means of making a living for their families because his continued showmanship. Thankfully, people throughout the world are slowly realizing that the immediate reaction was erroneous, based on media reports from networks without correspondents in Honduras?
Honduras should be held up as “The Little Country That Could” and its citizens praised for their willingness to protect what they hold most dear – their freedoms and their constitution. Who else has been willing to defend their country against the progress of communism in the face of overwhelming odds? We should be applauding their sacrifice and doing whatever we can to help instead of denouncing the country and cutting off its lifelines.
The U.S. State Department cautions against traveling to Honduras…do you have the same courage as the poor Honduran people? We’re here; living normal, happy lives…come and visit us…that is how you can help. Tourism and investment in Honduras is one way to give people back their livelihood, their self respect. Foreign governments interfering with the constitution of Honduras outrageous, and overblown, inaccurate reporting of the situation by an unknowledgeable media is deplorable.
I’ve never been so proud of the people of my adopted homeland; the courage and restraint shown throughout the country is admirable. To defend one’s constitution in a non-violent manner and to be successful in that endeavor is rare. Help support Honduran democracy – come and visit us, you won’t believe your eyes!
I hope I wasn't supposed to obtain permission to put this on my blog. Is there a lawyer out there????