Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How is this a Coup?

When the Supreme Court of a country determines its President is acting against the country's constitution and requests the military to arrest him, and this move is clearly supported by the country's Attorney General and Congress, how is this a coup?

In declaring the ousted President of Honduras thecountry's only legitmte political leader, President Obama appears to be elevating democracy (populism and majority rule) over constitutionalism and the rule of law. This policy endangers the individual rights and liberty upon which the U.S. Constitution is grounded. Democracy unconstrained by individual rights and the rule of law is no less tyrannous than a dictator---just more people get to participate in the tyranny. Keep this in mind while watching process of appointing the next Supreme Court guardian of our own Constitution.

From Net Right Nation:

In Honduras, Freedom Restored
ALG News - Sunday, 28 June 2009

Earlier this year, in the face of strong public opposition, Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales declared that he would stage a referendum to have the country’s constitutional term limits law overturned, thereby allowing him to remain indefinitely in power. The people of Honduras had adopted the single, four-year--term limit as part of their Constitution in January of 1982. Significantly, the term limits provision is one of only eight “firm articles,” out of 375. By law, cannot be amended.

The Supreme Court of Honduras declared the Zelaya referendum unconstitutional, his own Liberal Party came out in strong opposition, and the public overwhelmingly opposed his power grab. Despite this, Zelaya, a leftwing politician with strong ties to Cuba’s Castro and Venezuela’s Chavez, scheduled the referendum for Sunday, June 28. At midnight, Wednesday, June 24, the strong-arm president gave a televised speech accusing his opposition of promoting “destabilization and chaos” by attempting to thwart his unconstitutional referendum.

As the situation in Honduras continued to deteriorate, the Zelaya’s attorney general called for his ouster; his Defense Minister resigned; he fired the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for stating that he would refuse to send out troops to put down public protests; the chiefs of the army, navy, and air force resigned; and the country’s Supreme Court ordered the nation’s army and police not to support the unconstitutional referendum. (All emphases added.)

From the Wall Street Journal:

Honduras Defends Its Democracy by Mary Anastasia O'Grady

The attorney general had already made clear that the referendum was illegal and that he would prosecute anyone involved in carrying it out....

It's not surprising that the
chavistas throughout the region are claiming that he was a victim of a military coup. They want to hide the fact that the military was acting on a court order to defend the rule of law and the constitution, and that the Congress asserted itself for that purpose too.

Coup Rocks Honduras

President Barack Obama said he was "deeply concerned" and called on all political actors in Honduras to "respect democratic norms"...

Honduras's Supreme Court gave the order for the military to detain the president, according to a former Supreme Court official who is in touch with the court.

Later, Honduras's Congress formally removed Mr. Zelaya from the presidency and named congressional leader Roberto Micheletti as his successor until the end of Mr. Zelaya's term in January...

Moves to try to stay in power through the ballot box have become increasingly common in Latin America. Leftist Latin American leaders such as Venezuela's Mr. Chavez, Ecuador's Rafael Correa and Bolivia's Evo Morales have used referendums for a similar purpose, and Colombia's right-wing President Alváro Uribe is trying to change the constitution to allow him a third term...

Latin America analysts said the Honduran coup will complicate President Obama's efforts to re-engage a region where anti-Americanism has flourished in recent years. They said Mr. Chavez is likely to seize on the crisis to depict Central America as under attack.

As a result, analysts said Mr. Obama will need to aggressively call for the reinstatement of President Zelaya, despite U.S. concerns that he is seeking to mirror Mr. Chávez's campaign to secure limitless rule.

From the New York Times:

In a Coup in Honduras, Ghosts of Past U.S. Policies

President Obama on Monday strongly condemned the ouster of Honduras’s president as an illegal coup that set a “terrible precedent” for the region, as the country’s new government defied international calls to return the toppled president to power and clashed with thousands of protesters...

American officials did not believe that Mr. Zelaya’s plans for the referendum were in line with the Constitution...

[O]ne administration official said that while the United States thought the referendum was a bad idea, it did not justify a coup.“On the one instance, we’re talking about conducting a survey, a nonbinding survey; in the other instance, we’re talking about the forcible removal of a president from a country”...

[A]dministration officials said that they did not expect that the military would go so far as to carry out a coup. “There was talk of how they might remove the president from office, how he could be arrested, on whose authority they could do that,” the administration official said. But the official said that the speculation had focused on legal maneuvers to remove the president, not a coup.

Roberto Micheletti, the veteran congressional leader who was sworn in by his fellow lawmakers on Sunday to replace Mr. Zelaya, seemed to plead with the world to understand that Mr. Zelaya’s arrest by the army had been under an official arrest warrant based on his flouting of the Constitution.

The Honduran president was forcibly removed from office with the assistance and support of the military. Power has been quickly returned to civilian control with the appointment of a new president by the country's legislative body. From what I am reading, the former President was in violation of the law and those who acted to remove him from office were acting to preserve the rule of law.

If a "coup" is simply a sudden take-over of power, then this term is being accurately used. However, the connotations which accompany the term imply an illegal act by the military against the proper supremacy of civilian government. Recent events in Honduras do not at this time appear to fall within this meaning of the term and it should therefore be avoided.



Sue said...

Couldn't they impeach? I know it would take longer, but why the military?

Beth said...

Interesting question.
If you have a President who has been determined to be acting illegally, told to stop by the Attorney General and the Supreme Court, but he continues with the illegal action, then it seems he needs to be arrested and stopped.
Who arrests a President?
In the US would it be the police of Washington D.C.? The FBI? The military?
I honestly don't know.

As far as the timing, from what I am reading, he was planning to distribute illegal ballots the next day. Seems that some kind of immediate action was called for--but trying to glean the facts through the media is less than perfect. It will be interesting to see what further information comes to light.

Beth said...

More on Honduras, Pt 1:
"Under the Honduran Constitution, What Really Happened Here?"
Written by Octavio Sanchez
Thursday, 02 July 2009 18:58

If you are not familiar with the country’s history and the Honduran constitution it is almost impossible that you would understand what happened here this past weekend. In 1982 my country adopted a new Constitution to allow our ordered return to democracy. After 19 previous constitution -two Spanish ones, three as part of the Republic of Central America and 14 as an independent nation- this one, at 28, has been the longest lasting one. It has lasted for so long because it responds and adapts to our changing reality, as seen in the fact that out of its original 379 articles, 7 of them have been completely or partially repealed, 18 have been interpreted and 121 have been reformed.

It also includes 7 articles that cannot be repealed or amended because they address issues that are critical for us. Those unchangeable articles deal with the form of government, the extent of our borders, the number of years of the presidential term; two prohibitions -one to reelect presidents and another one to change the article that states who can’t run for president- and one article that penalizes the abrogation of the Constitution.

In these 28 years Honduras has found legal ways to deal with its own problems. Each and every successful country around the world lived similar trial and error processes until they were able to find legal vehicles that adapt to their reality. France had 13 Constitutions between 1789 and the adoption of the current one in 1958 which has passed 22 constitutional revisions. The USA had one before this one which has been amended 27 times since 1789 and the British –pragmatic as they are- in 900 years have change it so many times that they have never taken the time to compile their Constitution into a single body of law.


Beth said...

Part 2
Having explained that, under our Constitution, what happened in Honduras this last Sunday? Soldiers arrested and took out of the country a Honduran citizen that, the day before, through his actions had stripped himself of the presidency of Honduras.

These are the hard facts. Last Friday Mister Zelaya, with his cabinet, issued a decree ordering all government employees to take part in the “Public Opinion Poll to convene a National Constitutional Assembly” (Presidential Decree PCM-020). The decree was published on Saturday on the official newspaper. With this event, Mister Zelaya triggered a constitutional protection that automatically removed him from office.

The key legal elements for that constitutional protection to be triggered are the following ones. Constitutional assemblies are convened to write new constitutions. In Honduras, you have 365 articles that can be changed by Congress. When Zelaya published that decree to regulate an “opinion poll” about the possibility of convening a national assembly he acted against the unchangeable articles of the constitution that deal with the prohibition of reelecting a president and of extending his term. His actions showed intent.

How is that kind of intent sanctioned in our Constitution? With the immediate removal of those involved in the action as stated in article 239 of the Constitution which reads: “No citizen that has already served as head of the Executive Branch can be President or Vice-President. Whoever violates this law or proposes its reform, as well as those that support such violation directly or indirectly, will cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years.” Notice that the rule speaks about intent and that it also says immediately –as in instant, as in no trial required, as in no impeachment needed. immediately

This immediate sanction might sound draconian, but every country knows its own enemies and it is the black letter of our supreme law. Requiring no previous trial might be crazy, but in Latin America a President is no ordinary citizen, it is the most powerful figure of the land and historically the figure has been above the law. To prevent that officer from using its power to stay in office Honduras has constitutional rules such as the mentioned one.

I am extremely proud of my compatriots. Finally, we have decided to stand up and become a country of laws, not men. From now on, here, no one will be above the law.

Octavio Sanchez: Lawyer (J.D. Universidad Nacional Autonóma de Honduras; LL.M. Harvard Law School). Former Presidential Advisor (2002-2005) and Minister of Culture (2005-2006) of the Republic of Honduras.

See also:
"Leader’s Ouster Not a Coup, Says the Honduran Military" NYT 7/2/09