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Latin America Law

The Collateral Damage in Honduras

The Associated Press sums up perfectly the factual case against the coup d’etat by the military and other elements in Honduras:

Despite a Supreme Court ruling, Zelaya had also pressed ahead with a referendum on whether to hold an assembly to consider changing the constitution. Critics feared he might press to extend his rule and cement presidential power in ways similar to his ally Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

But instead of prosecuting him or trying to defeat his referendum idea at the ballot box, other Honduran leaders sent masked soldiers to fly Zelaya out of the country at gunpoint, and congress installed Micheletti in his place. [my emphases]

These Honduran leaders feared what Zelaya might be intending – and so send soldiers to expel him from the country. The right-wingers defending these actions as “defense of democracy” are ignoring (or are ignorant of) these basic facts:

  1. These critics did not know Zelaya was proposing to amend the constitution to allow him to run again which would unconstitutional – they feared he was. (With good reason – but it is important to make the distinction.)
  2. Despite a range of options for blocking or removing Zelaya within the realm of law, they chose to go outside of this, thus subverting the law itself. They could have prosecuted him. They could have created some type of impeachment proceedings. Instead they asked the military to act against their commander-in-chief.

Another relevant fact is that the only Zelaya was not “removed” from office in a lawful proceeding. The military claims that Zelaya resigned – after being presented with the option of being imprisoned or resigning. Zelaya claims his signature on this document is fraudulent. This is a far different proceeding than – for example, Richard Nixon’s – when he resigned. The fact that all of this was done outside of legal channels makes it, by definition a coup, and as such, especially given the role of the military, it undermines any future executive as well as the institutions of democracy itself. Zelaya himself seemed to have little respect for these institutions – but they were collateral damage in these attempts to “defend democracy” and remove him as well.

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