A Closer Look at Honduras
By Rebekah Ries
If political leaders around the globe unanimously profess the same opinion, it must be true, right?
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Organization of American States Secretary-General Jose Insulza, and U.S. President Barack Obama are all calling the recent change of power in Honduras a “coup,” harkening back to the frequent overthrows of South American military regimes during the Cold War era. At first, it seems reasonable that an American president would denounce a military coup, which by definition is, after all, anti-democratic. But one by one, concerned citizens are beginning to suggest that the world was too quick to condemn the new government in Honduras.
A closer look at the situation in Honduras reveals a triumph of democracy, not tyranny.
The events of June 28 had the earmarks of a military coup — military forces seized power and exiled a democratically-elected president. But there is another side to this story, one that is not immediately apparent.
Three months prior, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya attempted to violate Honduras’ Constitution by seeking to extend his term in office by asking for an illegal referendum. When the Congress and Supreme Court of Honduras declared the President’s actions unconstitutional, the President ignored their orders and tried to go ahead with a referendum to rewrite the Constitution anyway. When the Honduran military, the body in charge of conducting elections, followed the Supreme Court’s order and refused to distribute the ballots, President Zelaya seized the ballots and fired the minister of defense. The Supreme Court ordered Zelaya to reinstate the defense minister, and Zelaya refused.
Against this backdrop of power-grabbing and defiance of the rule of law, Honduran patriots ousted Mr. Zelaya from his position as president. Thus, Mr. Zelaya was not ousted in a military coup, but by the legitimate government of his own country. Acting under the Constitution, the Supreme Court and the Attorney General ordered the minister of defense to arrest President Zelaya for his actions. The Legislature, including members of President Zelaya’s own party, voted 125-3 to accept President Zelaya’s resignation and instate Roberto Micheletti as the interim president.
The Honduran Constitution contains several unique provisions. One of these is the immutability of certain articles, including the article that imposes a one-term limit on the office of President. The only constitutional way to change this provision is to completely rewrite the Constitution. However, according to Honduran law, only the Congress — not the President — has the power to call for a referendum to rewrite the Constitution.
So when President Zelaya began distributing ballots for his referendum, he violated not only the mandate of the other co-equal branches of the Honduran government, but also the Honduran Constitution. In response, the Honduran government took advantage of its constitutional recourse.
Octavio Sanchez, a Honduran citizen, lawyer, and former presidential advisor, points out that the Constitution forbids any citizen who has previously held the office of President to hold it again. Further, it requires that any citizen who violates or proposes to reform this proposition be immediately relieved of his post and banned from holding public office for ten years. “[President Zelaya] through his own actions had stripped himself of the presidency,” Sanchez told the Christian Science Monitor on July 2.
Days after the ouster, roughly 5,000 anti-Zelaya demonstrators celebrated at a main plaza in the capital of Tegucigalpa, the Associated Press reported on June 30. Marta Lorena Casco, the newly appointed deputy foreign minister, told the crowd, “Freedom has won, peace has triumphed, Honduras has won.” She said Zelaya had planned to make the country a pawn of socialist Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. “Chavez consumed Venezuela, then Bolivia, after that Ecuador and Nicaragua, but in Honduras that didn't happen,” she said.
Interim President Roberto Micheletti told Colombia’s Caracol Radio, “We have not committed a coup d’etat, but a constitutional succession.”
But why should Americans care whether the world sees Honduras’s new government as legitimate or illegitimate? Because America, the defender of freedom and democracy, has turned a blind eye to the abuses of Manuel Zelaya. Rather than applauding those trying to preserve democracy in Honduras, President Obama demanded that Honduras reinstate a political leader who violated the Constitution and the rule of law to establish himself as a dictator.
“It took extraordinary courage for Honduran leaders to ensure it remains a country ruled by the Constitution,” stated Concerned Women for America President Wendy Wright. “Facing withering denunciations and potential punishments by the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and ill-informed world leaders did not deter Hondurans from their duty and dedication to uphold the rule of law. Their example should embolden us to vigilantly guard our own Constitution from those who seek to undermine it, and humbly, yet resolutely, ignore unwarranted criticism from foreign leaders when we uphold our Constitution.”
We should all urge our leaders to critically examine the events in Honduras, and we should pray for the Honduran patriots who are standing up for democracy against the outcry of the rest of the world.
This article was based on the following sources; please consult them for further information on the situation in Honduras:
“A ‘coup’ in Honduras? Nonsense,” Christian Science Monitor, July 2, 2009.
“Honduran Attorney General: Ousted President Faces Possible 20-Year Sentence,” Associated Press, June 30, 2009 (Published on Fox News).
“Honduras Defends Its Democracy,” Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2009.
Letter from GOP Senators to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, July 8, 2009.
Letter from Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to President Barack Obama, July 1, 2009.