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July 01, 2009

Morning Coffee - 1 July 2009


Cores e Sabores, originally uploaded by Dani Romanesi.

Hot off the French press, your Morning Coffee. Today's highlights include accusations by Amnesty International that Shell is blaming phantom "saboteurs" for massive accidental oil spills in the Niger Delta, the UN General Assembly's unanimous condemnation of the coup in Honduras, and explosive charges of state-sponsored antisemitism in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela.

Speaking of Honduras, I find it absurd that anyone would balk at calling the ouster of the democratically elected president a coup. The military claims it frogmarched the pajama-clad president to the airport and put him on a plane to Costa Rica because he wanted to hold a non-binding referendum on whether to investigate the possibility of modifying term limits.

Does anyone know enough about Honduran constitutional law to say whether the president was really acting improperly when he ordered the vote? The people who say he was defying the Supreme Court seem to be the architects of the coup, and I haven't seen any independent legal analysis of those claims.

A coup in response to a possibly illegal non-binding referendum is truly destroying the village to save it. Critics of the president point out that in many Latin American countries, strict term limits are an important check on the powers of a very strong executive branch.

The United States does the same thing Our presidents are limited to two four-year terms. Term limits are anti-democratic insofar as the people's most preferred candidate might be excluded simply because s/he has served before.

On the other hand, if compound interest is the most powerful force in the world, surely incumbency is a close second and presidential term limits may help democracy overall by preventing a single person from becoming to entrenched.

Mexican presidents are limited to one six-year term.

Honduran president is limited to a single four-year term, which strikes me as an unreasonably short in this day and age. Four years seems like scarcely enough time to enact any kind of agenda. Obviously, if the president wants to reform term limits he should be pursuing that change by constitutional means. However, if the military were entitled to intervene every time the Executive flouted the constitution, the U.S. would probably be under military rule by now.

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Comments

I find the Morning Coffee link to the article about anti-Semitism in Venezuela a lot more enlightening. Chavez really is trying to foment a third-worldist bloc, unified by hatred for the developed world (which was represented by Bush earlier this decade, but has now become more amorphous), Jews, intellectuals, and capitalists. Call it the Tehran-Caracas axis if you will.

Happy Canada Day

Speaking of Honduras, I find it absurd that anyone would balk at calling the ouster of the democratically elected president a coup.

Who's balking at calling it a coup? I've seen that description in both the Guardian and the Wall Street Journal.

It's a reflexive right wing thing. Here's an example of coup waffling from an op/ed writer at the WSJ. More.

A coup against a President who didn't respect his country's laws and who was a proxy for Hugo Chavez.

Phantom, do you know that the president didn't respect his country's laws? I'm asking because all I've read is that the military claims the referendum was illegal.

And yes, a coup is a coup, whether it's against a neo-liberal like Thaksin or against a socialist like Zelaya. While Zelaya's attempt to lift term limits should raise red flags, the proper response in case this escalated to indefinite reelection, rule by decree, or other Chavez-style abuse, should be to encourage an Iranian-style mass movement for democracy. The Iran protests have floundered because Ahmadinejad vigorously stuffed the Revolutionary Guard and other powerful organizations with his own supporters, preventing the elite from wavering too much in its support of him; the supporters of the Honduran coup have not charged that Zelaya did the same, suggesting that such a mass movement would be more successful than in Iran.

A coup would only bolster authoritarianism, even if it was meant to promote democracy: if it failed, it would give Zelaya carte blanche to do whatever he wanted, just like in Venezuela, whereas if it succeeded, it would likely lead to abuses like in Turkey in the early 1980s, or in Chile under Pinochet. A dictatorship is a dictatorship, and Honduras is small enough that it doesn't matter which side such a dictatorship is on.

A dictatorship is a dictatorship, and Honduras is small enough that it doesn't matter which side such a dictatorship is on.

I don't understand your point here. Why would which side a dictator is on matter in large countries but not in small ones?


"Today's highlights include ... explosive charges of state-sponsored antisemitism in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela."

There is a very interesting exchange on this topic at http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2009/06/antisemitism-in-ch%C3%A1vezs-venezuela.html

I don't know how the Honduran constitution works, but their Supreme Court ruled the referendum was unconstitutional, as did the Attorney General, and their Congress passed a law to stop it (I think the idea is that parts of the Honduran constitution can not be changed and that term limits is one, so a referendum talking about changing it is unconstitutional). I think it's therefore fair to say that it was illegal. The places I looked all said they weren't sure what the procedures were to get rid of the president (there is no vice-president, since he resigned to run for president).

This obviously is a coup. Some people might be saying otherwise, but, as far as I know, no countries have recognized the new government.

I've been getting some info from here.

Phantom, do you know that the president didn't respect his country's laws? I'm asking because all I've read is that the military claims the referendum was illegal.

According to the LA Times Army leaders, as well as the Congress, the Supreme Court and election officials had opposed the national vote, calling it illegal. In response, Zelaya fired the nation's top military commander and ignored a Supreme Court order to reinstate him. I've read similar accounts in from others newspapers that report the Supreme Court had ruled the referendum illegal and ordered the military not to distibute the ballots. (Several sources indicate that the military routinely distributes ballots for elections in Honduras, which is interesting in and of itself). So while the "coup" description appears accurate, the claim that Zelaya's behavior was illegal seems pretty widely supported.

The Honduran military did the right thing. El presidente broke Honduran law and endangered the polity of Honduras to the extent that the Honduran Supreme Court exercised it's right and responsibility under the Honduran constitution to order the military to depose el presidente.

Hey, in liberallandia supreme courts can do no wrong, right...except when there decisions are authored by a Roberts, Alito or Scalia, but since these signatures did not appear on the Honduran supreme court's decision we should all be applauding their action, no?

The Honduran constitution has it right by limiting el presidente to one 4 year term. We should do likewise. No executive is that important or indispensible. There is nothing "undemocratic" about limiting the executive's tenure. Wise men know that incumbency corrupts, that is why longstanding and successful democracies have always limited the tenure of executives. Work your agenda through the assemblies.

The referendum wasn't even binding. It had all the official weight of a public opinion poll. I'm not saying that the president was right to order it, but if we allowed a military coup every time a government disregarded the constitution, the USA would have become a junta a long time ago.

Obviously the military didn't overthrow the government over the non-binding referendum, that was just a pretext to get rid of an elected leader they didn't like.

Of course term limits are, to some extent, anti-democratic. Democracy is about the will of the people. Abolishing term limits doesn't mean abolishing elections. Without term limits the voters decide whether the president deserves to be reelected. If they think he's getting corrupt, or if they fear that he might become corrupt, they won't vote him back in. I'm not saying that term limits are a bad idea. On the contrary, they're probably a good thing overall. However, they do represent a check on democracy in its purest form.

Incidentally, the referendum question didn't mention term limits specifically. It was a more general question about constitutional reform.

I don't understand your point here. Why would which side a dictator is on matter in large countries but not in small ones?

In large or strategically important countries, you could make a realpolitik case that someone may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch. In small ones, it's just theatrics.

Of course term limits are, to some extent, anti-democratic. Democracy is about the will of the people.

Yes, but in this sense, representative government is anti-democratic.

I don't know why, but I really like that tea set.

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