Hondurans Deny Coup

Honduras’ former president Manuel Zelaya was removed as Honduras’ constitution required, not in a “coup d’etat”. This was announced yesterday in a statements by five members of the provisional government that replaced Zelaya.

The five — Felicito Avila, Amb. Norman Garcia, Amb. Roberto Flores, former attorney general Leonidas Rosa, and Con. Enrique Rodriguez — spoke for approximately an hour explaining what pushed Honduras to remove Zelaya. Their aim, Garcia said, is to engage in a dialogue to restore peace to the people of Honduras, so that children can go back to school and workers back to work.

Leonidas Rosa stated that when the definition of a coup is researched and contrasted to the recent events in Honduras the conclusion would have to be that this was not a coup. The leaders who threw Zelaya out of office followed the terms of the Honduran constitution, and their actions rested upon a desire to protect the constitutional democracy, which remains in place.

The international community prematurely called the events in Honduras a “coup.” President Obama has joined with Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro to condemn Zelaya’s removal.

As the five said, the Hondurans, through their elected officials, understand that the rule of law is the essential element of a democracy and that even the president is not above the rule of law. Felicito Avila compared the events in Honduras as similar to the American experience with Nixon who acted above the law.

Since March of this past year Mr. Zelaya has attempted to accomplish a chavismo — a slow expansion of executive power through a façade of democracy. It began on March 23 when Mr. Zelaya ordered an unconstitutional referendum in support of a new constitution.

The Honduran Constitution states that the President’s one term limit may never be amended, and that an attempt to do so results in the removal of the President. Ignoring this article, Mr. Zelaya brought ballots and election materials in from President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela for a vote to keep himself in power.

In response, on May 11, the office of the Public Prosecutor stated that the referendum violates the Constitution. Following that pronouncement the Administrative Law Tribunal declared on three separate occasions that Mr. Zelaya’s actions violated the constitution.

Mr. Zelaya continued to run television commercials advocating the referendum he planned for June 28. Mr. Zelaya then fired military leaders who refused to violate the constitution.

In response, on June 25, the Honduras Supreme Court of Justice unanimously ruled that Mr. Zelaya’s dismissal of General Velasquez was unconstitutional. On the same day the Supreme Electoral Tribunal declared that the referendum violated the Constitution, and ordered the military to take all election material.

The day after this ruling, June 26, Mr. Zelaya published an executive order for a national poll on the issue of a new constitution and led a mob of supporters to break into the Honduran Air Force Base and seize all election materials under Army control. That same day, the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Zelaya.

Two days later, June 28, the Special Congressional Commission issued a report on Mr. Zelaya’s actions and voted 124–4 to have him replaced by President Micheletti. One of the congressmen who voted with the majority, Hon. Enrique Rodrigez, a member of Zelaya’s liberal party, said at the press conference that it was his representation of the people — his role as a legislature — that compelled him to vote to replace Mr. Zelaya on June 28.

Democracy is not solely the act of voting. Democracy is a system of government in which checks and balances ensure that the law is the governing force. The five officials representing the provisional government emphasized that Honduran’s followed this truth in the removal of Mr. Zelaya.

Rodrigez, a Honduran congressman said “my country is united in respect of the rule of law” and people are “marching in [the] streets because no man is above the law.” Despite the small number of protesters who supported Mr. Zelaya, the dominate majority of citizens support what the government has done to follow the rule of law.

Americans should understand that, for the Hondurans, this is the first time they have been given the opportunity to protect their democracy in the face of an authoritarian. Their constitution was drafted in the 80’s, making it fairly new. While they may not have acted “ideally” in their removal of Mr. Zelaya, their motives and acts were legal.

At the press conference they shared their hope and prayer that the international community will recognize what they are doing, and will accept instead of reject their government. They left the press conference with the plea “we must be understood.”

Democracy is government of the people, by the people, and for people. Thomas Paine, a revolutionary era writer, stated that “in America the law is king.” The Hondurans are trying to make that true for their nation as well.