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October 30, 2009

Honduras deal: Breakthrough or fig leaf?

Real Eyes Realize Real Lies, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

The media are jubilant because the State Department has finally brokered a deal to "resolve" the standoff in Honduras between the ruling junta and ousted President Mel Zelaya. The accord between Zelaya and self-proclaimed president Roberto Micheletti is supposed to end the standoff in the capital city of Tegucigalpa where Zelaya has been holed up in the Brazilian embassy since sneaking back into the country last month.

To read the English language media, you'd swear that Zelaya's triumphant return is imminent. That seems highly unlikely. If congress ratifies the deal, the accord would create something called a power sharing government. But according to Democracy Now! the document doesn't spell out how the power would be shared. 

I predict that congress will not reinstate Zelaya. The real purpose of the vote is to allow the U.S. to gracefully back off from its earlier observation that the Micheletti regime is illegitimate. Realistically, it looks like Washington cajoled the self-satisfied Micheletti and the desperate Zelaya into signing a deal to provide a fig leaf for the coup.

Why does it seem unlikely that congress will reinstate Zelaya? Recall that Micheletti's last real job before proclaiming himself president was as the leader of the Honduran congress. As he himself noted in an Wall Street Journal op/ed, congress voted overwhelmingly to back Micheletti's putsch and remove Zelaya in the first place. 

It's possible that congress will want to ratify the power-sharing deal in order to legitimize the upcoming elections in the eyes of the world, but they didn't care about world opinion when they backed the coup in the first place. Furthermore, the U.S. has already show itself unwilling to impose real consequences on the junta. 

Media reports stress that Zelaya preferred to let congress decide. The other option was to give the Supreme Court the final say. Zelaya seems to think he has a better chance than Congress than he would if the matter were left up to the Supreme Court, which also colluded in his ouster. The Supreme Court has already ruled that Zelaya forfeited his presidency by backing a non-binding referendum on reforming the constitution. (Cf. Prof. Gary Weeks, the Juan Cole of Latin America, for more details about why that argument is transparently bogus.) 

Note that under the deal, the Supreme Court would still have some input into whether Zelaya wold actually be reinstated--a body that has already ruled that Zelaya forfeited his presidency. 

Why would Zelaya agree to such a deal? Keep in mind that he's not exactly negotiating from  position of strength. Actually, he's trapped in an embassy surrounded by armed guards. His only hope of regaining power was to provoke a standoff that would focus international pressure on the Micheletti regime. Now, the U.S. is losing patience with the embassy circus in Tegucigalpa and it doesn't seem prepared to back up its pro-democracy rhetoric with any real consequences that might induce Micheletti to relinquish power. The U.S. has immense sway with Honduras through millions of dollars worth of trade and aid. Honduras is one of the poorer countries in the Western Hemisphere and the U.S. is its best customer.

When the junta seized power, the world immediately and forcefully condemned the coup, the first military takeover of its kind in Latin America in years. The United States, the United Nations, and the Organization of American States denounced the ouster. President Obama called the overthrow "illegal" and said it set a "terrible precedent."

Under the circumstances, the world couldn't very well acknowledge as legitimate the upcoming presidential elections, set for Nov 29, unless Zelaya were restored to power.

How could an illegitimate regime hold legitimate elections? The even coup prompted the UN to withdraw promised election aid to Honduras on the grounds that to oversee a vote under Micheletti would legitimize a farce.

Elections under Micheletti can not be legitimate because, in addition to taking power illegally, the regime has been condemned by independent human rights monitors for media censorship, arbitrary detention, torture, and murder. This week, eight members of Congress urged President Obama to break the silence on human rights abuses in Honduras.

No date has been set for the reinstatement vote. In theory, the opposition could filibuster the vote to delay it until after the elections.

One way or another Hondurans will likely go to the polls with the brutal and repressive Micheletti regime firmly in place.

The state department is patting itself on the back and praising the negotiators as "heroes of democracy." Heroes of hypocrisy is more like it. Obama's top envoy to Honduras, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Tom Shannon wants to be confirmed as Ambassador to Brazil already--but jet-setting coup-booster Sen Jim DeMint (R-SC) has a hold on Shannon's nomination. Perhaps Shannon's desire to sip caipirinhas in Rio eclipsed his love of democracy.


It's interesting to see leftist hypocrites siding with the gringos and gringas in the thuggish interventionism of the Obama administration.

Lindsay, what you're saying is that the entire Honduran political apparatus, including congress and the courts, are against Zelaya. This isn't a reassuring argument that Zelaya equals democracy while Micheletti equals autocracy.

Yes, a fig leaf.

After siding with the likes of Chaves, Ortega, Castro and Morales, it allows Obama to claim a foreign policy "victory". John Kerry has been following orders and crowing about it.

I doubt Zelaya thinks he's going to be back in power. He still sits in the Brazillian embassy with 24 guards.

I blame the Obama administration for bungling this from the beginning.

So Delfin, Somoza, D'Aubuisson, Mobutu, Rios-Montt and Savimbi were the types who did the job right? Help us out here.

The government there is not a junta. A junta is characteristically and categorically conformed by senior military officer acting as a ruling committee. Using the term makes your article/post sound biased, by invoking terms for military governments. It needlessly takes away from your writing.

Second, Micheletti did not force himself into power. There was no force or coercion involved. The vast majority of the congress voted in favor of removing Zelaya, including the major opposition party. Had the opposition disagreed with this, they would have voted against it. In fact, the only people who were against it were about 5 UD congressmen. 5 out of 128. The forceful, and illegal, thing done was the deportation of Zelaya.

Another thing I find curious is the logical that legitimate elections cannot come out of a illegitimate government(if this, in fact, were the case). How else would, and have, other societies and nations moved out of illegitiamte or dictatorial governments? They had elections! This was the case in Spain and most of latin america. After "illegitimate" and miltiary governments came into power, elections were eventually held in order to move to democracy. These elections even took place under the auspices of these very dictatorial regimes.

No force or coercion? How about the force or coercion that the military used to kidnap Zelaya at the behest of the coup-mongers in Congress (proximately on the order of the Supreme Court)?

If a regime seized power illegally just weeks beforehand and that said regime is guilty of severe anti-democratic repression, then it's not going to be able to hold a legitimate election. Sorry. The vote is hopelessly compromised because the people can't participate freely and the press can't operate openly. Presidential elections under Micheletti would be a farce.

The vote is hopelessly compromised because the people can't participate freely and the press can't operate openly.

Do you believe elections in Venezuela are a farce?

I certainly hope "the real purpose of the vote is to allow the U.S. to gracefully back off from its earlier observation that the Micheletti regime is illegitimate." It would mean the current US administration is coming back to it's senses after calling it a coup without studying the situation at all. The Library of Congress report and UN reports have all upheld that the Supreme Court of Honduras legally removed Zelaya from office in their 15-0 ruling. Further, internal State Department reports also say the same thing, though the administration has censored them, and refused to make the Koh report available.

Viva Honduras! Viva 15-0!

There are some disputed parts of the report, which is why Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John Kerry has asked the Library of Congress to withdraw it. However, even Library of Congress report is unequivocally clear that it was illegal to for the coupmongers to kidnap Zelaya at gunpoint. Forced exile is explicitly prohibited by the Honduran constitution.

Basically, the constitutional dispute comes down to whether talking about the need for some kind of constitutional reform is tantamount to proposing abolishing term limits. The Honduran constitution says that the president may not advocate abolishing term limits and may be removed if he does so. There is no evidence that Zelaya ever proposed abolishing term limits. He called for a non-binding referendum on the need to reform the constitution in general. Propagandists claimed that this was an attempt to abolish his own term limits but even if the public opinion poll had somehow translated into a constitutional assembly, it wouldn't have happened until Zelaya was out of office and prevented from running again. So, the right wing talking point that they needed to kidnap the president to stop him from declaring himself president for life is total bullshit.

I think that the Honduran legislature does have a strong reason to back the agreement: from this poll, you can see that a majority of Hondurans did not support the coup (60% did not support it), not much more than a majority (54%) think an election would be legitimate as things stand now, and most think the country was moving in the wrong direction (only 15% think it was going in the right direction). The current protests would also continue. What's interesting is that Zelaya is much more popular now (supported by more than 40% of the people while Micheletti is only supported by 25%) than when the coup happened (when his support was only about 25%).
So, the general public seems to really want a resolution (although the poll shows they're divided on how to resolve it). Also, the National Party's candidate is leading in polls, so it's in their interests for the election to be seen as legitimate (inside and outside the country). Like you, I'm also wary but it seems I'm more optimistic than you.

Those poll numbers are indeed very favorable to Mr Zelaya. Unfortunately they were generated by Stan Greenberg, whose wiki entry describes him as "a leading Democratic pollster and political strategist who has advised the campaigns of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry" and "co-founder (with James Carville and Bob Shrum) of Democracy Corps, a non-profit organization which produces left-leaning political strategy".

There is also a CID-Gallup poll that has similar numbers for some of the questions. You can find it if you're interested. I assume you'll think they're biased because (I'm sure you'll find a reason).

Geosota, yes Greenberg is a Democratic pollster. Do you want to tell me what's actually wrong with the methodology of the poll, or do you want to stick with ad hominems?

Also keep in mind that the Honduras issue doesn't split American pols along party lines anyway. One of the leading stateside propagandists and the (erstwhile?) paid lobbyist for the coup is Lanny Davis, a former Clinton lawyer, a top adviser to the Secretary of State's presidential campaign, and a member of Democratic Party royalty.

Again, I agree that Zelaya's forced deportation out of the country was in fact highly illegal and forceful. However, him being removed as President of the republic was not. By the time he was flown out of the country he was no longer president, nor a Honduran citizen (this last point is very arguable and itself a whole different discussion).

However, Zelaya's removal did not occur weeks before the election, it occurred a full 5 months prior to the election taking place. Up until Zelaya's return into the country, free speech or any of the other rights granted by the constitution were not restricted (except for when curfews were in effect, but this was in reference to the right of free locomotion). Moreoever, the government in place is virtually the same, except for the Executive. I would also find it very hard to believe that severe antidemocratic actions were being taken. How do you come about this conclusion? Remember, it is the "resistance" members who spoke of boycotting and disrupting the elections.

The fact that Zelaya did or did not want to change presidential term is not the problem. The problem is that he disobeyed a Supreme Court and Congressional ruling on the referendum and anything in relation to it. We are not discussing the merits of the referendum or poll. The reason why he was ousted was for his blatant disregard for the law. A disregard he demonstrated on numerous occasions.

It was this disregard for the law, such as when he gathered a group of people to storm an Air Force base to retrieve ballots sent from Venezuela, that inspired distrust in him. A President, any president, should not be breaking legal procedure or jurisdiction by leading a mob of people to retrieve or steal material confiscated by the attorney general. It makes a joke of the entire institutionalism of the country! This should serve as an example of his methods and beliefs on republican government.

Ultimately, constitutional reform isn't the problem. In fact the current constitution isn't a problem either, nor source of Honduras' problems. The problems of Honduras are far more complicated and far reaching than that. None the less, even if a complete overhaul of the constitution were needed, the way Zelaya came about it was the problem. Instead of proposing reform through debate and consensus, he wanted to force into ALL of the populace. He utilized polarizing and adversarial populism to achieve it. He was attempting to make democracy a mobocracy, just like Plato feared (and Chavez succeeded at). This is what set people off. He was pitting the poor against the reach. Those from urban center against those in rural areas. He created a foreign threat out of Arab and Jewish immigrants (most of which have been living and dieing in Honduras for generations now...). It came to a point that people did not trust him.

Zelaya wanted to forcefully have some sort of referendum. He wanted to manage the election himself. He wanted everything to be to convenient to him. Although one may say that a constituent assembly wouldn't take place until after his election, the problem is the way people perceived him. People had a very real fear that he might invoke this constituent assembly by force once he had a good enough excuse to do it. In fact, the position of the military was not completely known until the 11th hour. Several people actually did think he might use the military to force a constituent assembly in the name of democracy.

And all of this brings us to our understanding of a Constitutional, Representative, and Democratic Republic. The basic tenets of a Constitutional Republic and rule of law (like in the United States), is to protect the rights of all individuals and groups. Whether they are majorities or minorities (racial, economical, religious, or otherwise). Just be cause 50% of the population + 1 wants something, it does not mean it should be done (i.e. racial segregation, forced redistribution of wealth and property, rape, murder, etc). Decisions should come from majority vote, but with in a framework. And that framework is the constitution. At the end, the military refused to disobey the constitution, Congress and the Supreme Court acted to what was perceived as intransigent and blinded populism, and rule of law and institutionality prevailed.

Up until Zelaya's return into the country, free speech or any of the other rights granted by the constitution were not restricted (except for when curfews were in effect, but this was in reference to the right of free locomotion).

This is incorrect - the reports about the military throwing journalists in jail predate Zelaya's return.

This is what set people off. He was pitting the poor against the reach. Those from urban center against those in rural areas. He created a foreign threat out of Arab and Jewish immigrants (most of which have been living and dieing in Honduras for generations now...).

Do you have a link for it? I'm willing to believe this, but I'd like to read more. For example, I know Chavez has promoted anti-Semitism to endear himself to Iran, but I've read nothing of that sort about Zelaya, even on sites with generally pro-Israeli views like B'nai B'rith.

To journalist being thrown in jail, I will agree to that being true. They were particularly Venezuelan reporters, if I remember correctly. However, they were released from jail with 24 hours, which is the time law allows for someone to be detained with out pressing charges. Furthermore, Cholusat sur and Radio Globo were still transmitting strong anti-government reports and propaganda in support of Zelaya, up until Zelaya's return.

In reference to anti-semitism, I may also elaborate on it. But first let me say that accusing arab and jewish immigrants and business people of being corrupt, stealing from the government, and anything else to that effect is not exclusive to Zelaya. It is an idea that has bounced around Honduran society for quite some time; probably since the arabs and jews became a significant, if not predominant, force in the national political and economic life. However, it was Zelaya to be the first to make it part of government discourse. It may not have reach an overtly extremist level, but it sure was a theme. Throughout Honduras, you may find graffiti saying "Turcos golpistas", "Muerte a los turcos", "Turcos traidores", etc. "Turcos", which literally means Turks, is slang for Arabs - since the first arab immigrants used Turkish passports as they were still part of the Ottoman empire.

An example of this is a quote from Zelaya's Secretary of State for Culture Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle: "And perhaps that is still the case and the explanation for the extreme form of economic “occupation” by recently arrived immigrants, mostly from the Middle East who today control the national economy, even though many do not have a national identity or a commitment to the nation and to the integration of social groups."

Or David Romero, Director of Radio Globo (one of Zelaya's supporters): “Sometimes I ask myself if Hitler wasn't right when he wanted to finish with that race, through the famous holocaust, because if there are people that are harmful to this country, they are the Jews, the Israelites.”

I would recommend searching google for reasons of the coup, people responsible of the coup, and so on and so forth. I guarantee you that you will find some reference to the "Arab elite". I can do some more in depth research if you wish.

JJS, obviously you don't know how a constitutional democracy that follows the rule of law works. Here's the basic process if someone is accused of breaking a law:

the person is charged with breaking the law;
if there's enough evidence, it goes to a court;
at the court the person gets to defend themselves;
a jury or judge then makes a decision based on the evidence;
if the judge or jury so decides, the person is sentenced.

In Honduras, they went straight from the first to the last which made it illegal and unconstitutional--thus a coup. The military did something unconstitutional and illegal (they have even admitted it, why can't you).

JohnL, in some democracies, such as Britain and Israel, it is legal for the government to arrest a person and detain him for 24 hours without charge. It's just that those countries don't use this rule to harass opposition reporters.


What you are saying is true - sort of. Zelaya should have been kept in the country and sentenced there. However, you must look at the situation from 2 different parts. One is Zelaya being removed from the presidency, and the other is him being deported from the country. Legally, the congress has the right to removed him as President and the Supreme Court has the authority to bring charges and subsequent arrest warrants towards high officials. Zelaya's destitution from the presidency was legal because, amongst many rights, congress is privy to make such decrees and to interpret the constitution. There is nothing in the constitution baring congress from removing a high official. Thus, his loss of the presidency was legal. There was no need for a trial for there to be a destitution.

The supreme court, after having declared the poll/referendum in all it forms illegal, advised the executive to desist or face further action. With a complaint brought forward by the AG's office, the supreme court issued an arrest warrant for the president for having had disobeyed a supreme court ruling.

So, As to two different actions, Zelaya was removed as president, and an arrest warrant and charges were issued. What was illegal was having had deported him, as that is considered unconstitutional by at least 3 different articles, particularly one barring the State of Honduras from deporting any citizen to foreign authorities or territory. So, was it a coup? No, because his separation from the executive was legal.

I don't believe it was right to have removed him from the presidency and having had deported him. Although certain remedies should be provided to him being for being deported from the country; but by no means does he deserve - or has the right to - return to the presidency. He was legally removed, for rogue and illegal behavior no less.

Lindsay, it turns out that you were right to be skeptical. Ah well.

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