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New Reports Demolish Justifications for Ouster of Zelaya

Honduran Coup Myths Dispelled

by STEWART J. LAWRENCE

Two new reports dealing with the June 28 military coup in Honduras have demolished the arguments of the current de facto government and its foreign apologists that the coup was consistent with the Honduran constitution and that most Hondurans welcomed the illegal ouster of the country’s democratically elected president, Mel Zelaya. 

In a recent commentary published on the Forbes Magazine web site, two veteran human rights lawyers, Juan Mendez and Viviana Krsticevic, take to task the authors of a recent analysis prepared for the US Congress that suggested that the Honduran constitution allowed the Honduran Congress to remove Zelaya from office.  In fact, the Honduran Congress has no formal impeachment power and the vote to remove Zelaya was merely a legislative decree that was of dubious legality, the authors note.   In 2003, the Honduran Supreme Court had struck down the efforts of the Honduran legislature to assert its independent authority – but according to the authors, that didn’t keep the legislature from invoking this same authority to try – wrongly – to justify legal action against Zelaya..

The Honduran Supreme Court was also complicit in violating the Honduran Constitution, Mendez and Krsticevic note.  Most notably, the Court ordered the armed forces to capture Zelaya and search the presidential residence, despite the fact that article 293 of the Constitution explicitly establishes that the national police, not the army, execute all legal decisions and resolutions, in accordance with the principle of civilian rule. There were also due process violations that occurred throughout the criminal proceedings against Zelaya.   Zelaya was never read his rights, informed of the charges against him, or provided access to his lawyers while being detained, then forcibly expelled from the country.

And then there is the matter of the expulsion itself, which as Mendez and Krsticevic note, has no grounding whatsoever in Honduran law.   In theory, Zelaya should have been held for trial, or arrested and then released, pending trial.  Amazingly, the Supreme Court cited the threat of a “flight risk” to justify an indefinite detention of Zelaya – as if Zelaya had any interest in leaving office, much less the country. 

The only “flight” that occurred, in fact, was the airplane trip that Zelaya took into exile courtesy of the armed forces. They rousted him at night in his pajamas and at the point of a bayonet, demanded that he leave – or else.   Some “democracy.”

The aftermath of the coup has also given rise to speculation, and charges, that whatever the legality of Zelaya’s ouster, most Hondurans were fed up with his rule, and were happy to see him go.   Conservatives have noted that protests on Zelaya’s behalf have been fairly limited, while Zelaya’s supporters, and international human rights observers, have pointed to post-coup military repression, including extra-judicial killings, and other military abuses, as the primary reason for cautious popular protest.    

Now, a recent polling survey conducted by the highly respected polling firm Greenberg, Quinlan and Rosner thoroughly debunks the latest conservative propaganda.  According to the poll, conducted just two weeks ago, 60% of Hondurans still oppose Zelaya’s ouster, and just 38% support it.  19% say Zelaya had performed “excellently” in office while 48% say his performance was “good” (a total of 67%).

By contrast, by a margin of 2-1, Hondurans say they have a negative opinion of the coup plotter who supplanted Zelaya, Roberto Micheletti, the current de facto president.

The survey also found that contrary to conservative propaganda, most Hondurans (by a 53% to 43% margin) support amending the country’s Constitution to allow the president to be re-elected – the very issue that became the pretext for Zelaya’s illegal ouster.  Zelaya, of course, never actually tried to stand for re-election.  He was accused of “high treason” and overthrown merely for suggesting that ordinary Hondurans be polled on the matter in a strictly non-binding referendum. 

Therefore, the pollsters at Greenberg, Rosner and Quinlan polling should probably consider themselves lucky.  In the US, clients sometimes fire you when a poll brings them bad news.  In Honduras, they throw you in jail, tear gas you – or worse.

Stewart Lawrence is a recognized specialist in Latino and Latin American affairs, and author of numerous policy reports and publications.   He can be reached at stewlaw2009@gmail.com