Former Honduran President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales has been in and out of the news for months now, so I figured I had better write about him and the problems in Honduras. Most of the time when I mention Zelaya and his removal from power as president of Honduras, I get a response of “Who?” Since this is going to be fairly technical, here’s the Cliff Notes for people with a short attention span: Zelaya was legally removed from power because he violated the Constitution of Honduras.
In 1982, the Constitution of Honduras was approved by the people of that nation. Like the Constitution of the United States, it may be and has been amended many times. Article V of the American Constitution outlines how the amendment process is to be accomplished, and Articles 373 and 374 do the same for the Constitution of Honduras. Article 373 states that the Constitution may only be amended by a two-thirds vote of all the members of the Honduran Congress, and only if the next session of Congress likewise musters up a two-thirds vote. That is the only method allowed to change the Constitution of Honduras. Article 374 further states that there are eight articles that may never be changed, and those include Articles 373 and 374, as well as Article 239, describing the term of the office of President. Article 239 states that once someone has been President of Honduras, he may never again run as either President or Vice-President. It also states that anyone who breaks this law, or even proposes its reform, will immediately lose his position in government and is banned from any Honduran public office for the space of ten years.
Enter President Zelaya. Did he actually call for the Constitution of Honduras to be changed to allow him to stay in office, as President Hugo Chávez successfully did in Venezuela? Not specifically, but he did call for a poll of the people to determine if they wanted to convene an assembly to write a new constitution. The problem is that a constitutional convention is not allowed by Article 274, as it would change the constitution. In calling for the convention, Zelaya was working toward abolition of the current Honduran constitution, and that included Article 239. *zap!* Zelaya just touched the third rail of Honduran politics. And as soon as he touched it, he ceased to be President of Honduras.
The Honduran Supreme Court ruled that the referendum Zelaya called for was unlawful, but Zelaya chose to go ahead with his plans anyway. He ordered the military to pass out the ballots for the poll, but General Vásquez refused to comply with the order, citing Article 323 which prohibits the military from complying with an illegal order. Finally, the military, acting under the orders of the Supreme Court of Honduras, arrested Zelaya on June 28, 2009, and he was removed from office and sent out of the country.
“It was a military coup that tossed him out!” No, it wasn’t a military coup in the classic sense, because it did not leave the military in charge of the country. On the contrary, the Honduran military was exercising its responsibility as outlined in Article 272 to enforce constitutional law when needed. Nor was it a coup in the sense that a small group overthrew the government. This was the action of a united Supreme Court, Congress, and a plurality of the people of Honduras. So with the removal of Zelaya and no Vice President to take his place, the Honduran Congress selected its president, Roberto Micheletti, to be the next temporary President of Honduras. This act was similar to the line of succession in the United States, where the Speaker of the House is next in line after the President and Vice President.
“Well, Zelaya should have been impeached legally rather than forcibly deposed!” Our Constitution outlines the process for impeachment and conviction of a President, but the Honduran Constitution no longer has a provision for impeachment since Article 205 was amended in 2003. Article 313 gives the Supreme Court the authority to hear cases against the office of the President, and on June 26, 2009, the Supreme Court of Honduras accepted the case filed by the Chief Prosecutor against Zelaya. Because of the case filed against Zelaya, an arrest warrant was issued and carried out by the military.
Now it gets a bit sticky. The military had the authority to arrest Zelaya, but it did not have the authority to evict him from the country. Indeed, the Honduran Constitution states in Article 102 that no Honduran may be expatriated or extradited. By sending Zelaya to Costa Rica, the military did overstep their authority. This is the legal opinion of the Law Library of Congress’s Directorate of Legal Research:
V. Was the removal of Honduran President Zelaya legal, in accordance with Honduran constitutional and statutory law?
Available sources indicate that the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system.
However, removal of President Zelaya from the country by the military is in direct violation of the Article 102 of the Constitution, and apparently this action is currently under investigation by the Honduran authorities.
So what has been President Obama’s response to the removal of Zelaya? As a former Constitutional law professor, Obama should have the ability to understand the Constitution of Honduras. Heck, I’m no Constitutional law professor, and yet the Constitution of Honduras is pretty clear to me, but it helps that I can read it in Spanish. Rather than recognizing that Zelaya’s actions were illegal and his removal in compliance with the Constitution of Honduras, Obama and the State Department are siding with Zelaya, putting pressure on the current, and very legal, government of Honduras. The State Department has the following comment about Honduras:
A coup d’état against the elected government took place on June 28, 2009 when the democratically elected leader ,President Zelaya was ousted and exiled to Costa Rica . Neither the United States, the Organization of American States, the United Nations nor any other country has accepted the de facto authorities in Honduras as the legitimate government of that country.
That tells me that the United States, the Organization of American States, the United Nations and any other country that fails to recognize President Micheletti as the legitimate leader of Honduras are simply wrong. Either they are hugely ignorant about the Constitution of Honduras, or they are letting politics sway their decision-making. Quite possibly both. And while it’s possible for a stopped clock can be right twice a day (or once if it is digital), I find it increasingly creepy to see our administration siding with the Presidentes permanentes of Cuba and Venezuela in condemning the removal of Zelaya.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich explains simply and clearly why the administration is backing Zelaya:
Because the sympathy for the left in this administration is unending.
At this writing, Zelaya is hiding out in the Brazilian embassy in Tegulcigalpa, capital of Honduras. And his comments show he is a nutjob:
It’s been 89 days since Manuel Zelaya was booted from power. He’s sleeping on chairs, and he claims his throat is sore from toxic gases and “Israeli mercenaries” are torturing him with high-frequency radiation.
“We are being threatened with death,” he said in an interview with The Miami Herald, adding that mercenaries were likely to storm the embassy where he has been holed up since Monday and assassinate him.
This news article was posted September 24, 2009. Weeks later, Zelaya is still alive. Either the “Israeli mercenaries” are running late, or Zelaya is a paranoid, anti-Semitic fruit-loop, and the people of Honduras are well shut of him.