Honduras: frequently unasked questions that should be asked

Inevitably I must go back to the topic of Honduras. In spite of trying to dispel much of the disinformation floating about, people are still making the same incorrect claims. Obama is now being accused of being a commie! If we should be so lucky! ;-)

Here is an excellent article (in Spanish) on the coup that does a very good job of explaining the situation, but perhaps what’s needed is more of an FAQ, though I’m not calling it an FAQ because the questions that need asking aren’t actually being frequently asked. So here’s a little FUQ on the situation in Honduras (you work out if the pun was intended).

Didn’t Zelaya break the law when calling the referendum to extend term limits? Zelaya didn’t call a referendum. Zelaya didn’t call a consultation to extend term limits. Zelaya called a non-binding popular consultation, essentially a poll, to find out what people thought of the idea of calling for a constituent assembly on the upcoming elections in November.

Right, but wasn’t Zelaya’s term over when the army acted because he wanted to keep in power? No, Zelaya’s term ends at the end of this year. In November there will be elections in Honduras, which will elect a new president. The candidate list is already final. Zelaya is not on it. I must make this point again, because people seem to have some problems digesting it: the candidate list for the upcoming November elections in Honduras is already final, Zelaya is not on it.

OK, but the Constitution forbids an attempt to increase term limits: isn’t this what Zelaya was implicitly doing? No. Let me go over this once more, slowly:

  • Zelaya did not call for a referendum.
  • The non-binding consultation did not refer to term limits.
  • Whatever would have been the result, Zelaya would stop being president at the end of his term.

OK, but a new constitution could have increased term limits, couldn’t it? Yes–and then again, it could not. The whole point is that a new constitution would be a new constitution. By definition, it would be outside the constitutional purview of the currently existing instrument. If it would have increased term limits, this would be a result of the constituting power of the sovereign people of Honduras democratically expressed in a constituent assembly. Whatever the case would be, though, Zelaya would not directly benefit from it, certainly not these upcoming elections: the constituent assembly would have taken place after the elections, when Zelaya would have stopped being president of Honduras.

Right, but doesn’t article 239 forbid the breach or modification, or direct or indirect support thereof, of the provision that sets presidential term limits? Yes, it does. It is extremely far-fetched though, to believe that this provision is breached or modified by the non-binding consultation on whether to call a constituent assembly. The following could have happened:

  • The people could have said no.
  • The people could have said yes, but the assembly not be convened (Remember? Non-binding)
  • The assembly could have been convened and no agreement could have been reached on a new Constitution.
  • An agreement on a new Constitution could have been reached, and the people not have approved it.
  • The people could have approved the new Constitution, which could contain the same term limits.

Holding that all these contingencies can be ignored and that the popular consultation itself breaches article 239 is utterly laughable, and, not to put too fine a point on it, completely lacking in any basis in law. If we’re going to do a reductio ad absurdum, why not say running for elections breaches this disposition? After all the president of the republic is the one with the power to propose the popular consultation, placing themselves in the position to breach term limits! Yeah, right. The verbs on the article are clear: to breach (not done) and to propose its reform (not done). End of story. A weak argument could be made that if the constituent assembly had been convened, people proposing the removal of term limits may be breaching this article. It’s a weak argument for several reasons, chief of it being that no constituting power can bind the future with its will. If a constituent assembly were chosen by the people of Honduras and then through referendum the people would have chosen to rule itself under a new Constitution, the constituting power from 1982 has nothing to say about that. No person can, even willfully, enter slavery, nor nation can be hostage of a Constitution: the people of Honduras is the full sovereign subject who can, if it so wishes, abolish this arrangement and institute a new one.

OK, but didn’t Zelaya breach the law, at least, when going against the Supreme Court’s writ? Maybe. This is a difficult question I don’t pretend to have a definite answer for. I do have a definite answer for some other issues that should be considered in reference to this question. The popular consultation law had never been decreed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Disobedience by the military to the president of the republic–whose chain of command terminates–is certainly contrary to law. The president can dismiss military leaders who disobey orders, contrary to the Supreme Court’s claim. There is no provision in the Constitution or the laws for the president to be kidnapped and exiled by the military, completely without due process.

OK, so you say what the military did was not legal, how should they have gotten rid of a president who broke the laws? Zelaya probably didn’t break the laws, but let’s assume for a second that he did. The proper procedure in this case would be impeachment by the National Congress. Let’s recapitulate what actually happened: the president was kidnapped through force of arms, put into a plane, and flown abroad by the military; a resignation letter was forged, and the president of Congress assumed the presidence of the republic.

Perhaps the president’s exile was illegal, but didn’t the president of Congress have the right to assume power now? No. Congress should have impeached, for which there are also some laws to follow, and which conditions are in all likelihood not satisfied. Instead, Congress contradicts itself, claiming on the one hand the separation of the president from his powers due to breach of article 239, and on the other hand the substitution by the president of Congress on the basis of that ludicrous ploy, the resignation letter. Be honest here: does it look to you like Zelaya really did resign?

OK, but now that Zelaya is abroad, isn’t the right thing to let the people of Honduras sort their own future out? Sure, and they are trying to do that, through protests, civil disobedience against the illegal de facto regime, and so on. The people of Honduras want their constitution restored and their legitimate president reinstalled. At least this is the feeling I get from most sources. Incidentally, they’re acting legally on the basis of article 3 of their Constitution, a rather elegant expression of the people’s legitimate right of resistance against naked force and lawlessness.

But if Zelaya is reinstalled, communism will spread over the world, Ch├ívez/the terrorists will win and America fwill lose a vital partner and a friend who protects its interests in Central America, won’t it? That’s bad, isn’t it? To the first, all I can say is the same I’ve said about Obama: if we should be so lucky! To the second, bad for who: the US? Perhaps, in which case maybe it should consider stop giving implicit (or even explicit) backing to military coups in Latin America. For the people of Honduras? It doesn’t look that way to me, but, more to the point, it doesn’t look that way to them: it’s their country, it’s their call. In any event, in November they will be able to make these choices through democratic elections. So let the sovereign people decide!

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