Last week, the Honduran Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Commission) confirmed that the June 28, 2009 forced removal of former President of Honduras Manuel Zelaya was a coup d’état. This is good news. Unfortunately, the report goes on to recommend a series of unnecessary constitutional reforms intended to allow for a legal process to remove a president from power.
Problem is: procedures for a special trial against high-ranking state officials are already clearly and unambiguously articulated and regulated in the current constitution. They just weren’t followed. Amending the beleaguered Honduran constitution again to address this phantom problem will not only fail to address the fundamental issue behind the events of June 28th, they will further confuse and weaken Honduran rule of law.
The Commission’s report, “To Prevent These Events from Happening Again” claims (1) that “the Honduran system for checks on the executive power is problematic and has substantial omissions, along with contradictory and dispersed legal rules, open to a lax interpretation;” (2) that “a basic modern constitutional principle is that a president may not be removed by a court decision, but only by a resolution of Congress with due process of law;” (3) that “the constitutional crisis of June 28, 2009 demonstrated that Honduras lacks an impeachment process;” and (4) that “to prevent these events (the coup) from happening again, the constitution should create this procedure.”.
But these assertions are simply not true. Article 313(2)(c) of the Honduran Constitution gives the Supreme Court the power “to adjudicate on the legal actions brought against the highest state officials and congressmen.” Articles 414 to 417 of the current Code of Criminal Procedure outline each of the steps that a criminal suit against the president must follow.
At last week’s 40th General Assembly of the Organization of American States, member states agreed to form a commission to evaluate Honduras’s return to the OAS following the June 2009 coup and the election of President Porfirio Lobo. OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, who had expressed support for allowing Honduras to rejoin the organization but recognized pending concerns, has now indicated that the high level commission will be formed next week, and it will include two members from South America, two from Central America and one each from the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean.
The names of those participating have not yet been released, pending confirmation of the full slate of committee delegates.
The commission will meet separately with representatives of the current Honduras government and with representatives of ex-president Manuel Zelaya. A report is due back to the OAS on July 30. Insulza has said that the main obstacle to readmission is Zelaya’s continued exile in the Dominican Republic and called for his being allowed to return “in a condition without humiliation.”
News director for Channel 19 in El Paraíso, Honduras, Luis Arturo Mondragon, was assassinated last night as he sat with his son outside his home. This brings the number of media professionals killed this year to nine. Mr. Mondragon had been the target of threats in the weeks leading up to his death for his work in exposing corrupt local and national officials. All the journalists killed this year had been reporting on corruption as well as human rights violations and drug trafficking.
Violence against journalists in Honduras has increased since last year’s coup in June. Both journalists and their families alike have been the targets of over 300 reported attacks including assassinations, abuse, intimidation, and censorship. Honduran Security Minister Oscar Alvarez insists that the killing of journalists is not an organized effort to silence or intimidate the news media. However, only one murder case has plausible suspects while all other cases continue to go unsolved.
The violence has made Honduras one of the most dangerous places for journalists and has forced some to flee the country for their safety. Last week, Karol Cabrera fled to Canada and sought political asylum after surviving two attempts on her life. The first attempt in December left her pregnant 16-year-old daughter dead.
The Honduran government has officially announced the launch of a truth commission to investigate the military overthrow last year of then-President Manuel Zelaya. The commission includes Guatemalan former vice president Eduardo Stein, Canadian diplomat Michael Kergin, and Julieta Castellanos, head of the National Autonomous University of Honduras, and was a key campaign promise of current President Porfirio Lobo.
The government’s hope is that the commission will help restore the country's international standing and allow it to move beyond last year’s events. President Lobo says the commission, "exemplifies our resolve to heal wounds, learn from our mistakes and build together the future of this country."
There is support for the initiative at the UN and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, said in El Salvador today that Lobo's government had now taken the "necessary steps" to return to the international community. Critics contend the commissions findings will be biased and will not report abuses committed by government troops during and after the coup.
The commission will deliver its findings in 6 to 8 months, according to reports.
Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes called for Honduras to be readmitted into international forums at yesterday’s meeting of countries located in Central America’s northern triangle. The presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador met with other politicians and business leaders from the three countries (Panama also sent business representatives) to discuss trade ties and diplomatic ties. Funes lobbied alongside President Álvaro Colom of Guatemala for the reintegration of Honduras into the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Central American Integration System (SICA), and offered to mediate Honduras’ return to such international bodies.
Funes, speaking in reference to Honduran reintegration into the OAS, said President Porfirio Lobo received “the majority backing…and therefore is the legitimate president.” Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged neighboring countries to recognize the new government of Honduras.
Honduras was suspended from the OAS and the SICA following the June 28 coup. President Lobo won the presidency with 55.9 percent of the vote and was sworn in on January 27.
The leader of the Honduran Army, General Romeo Vásquez, and five of his top officers were charged this week with “abuse of power” in connection with the June ouster of deposed President Manuel Zelaya. The country’s chief prosecutor, Luis Alberto Rubí, did not appear to question the military’s initial detention of Mr. Zelaya, which had been ordered by the courts, but rather their decision to forcibly remove the president from the country.
Since his November 19 election, President-elect Porfirio Lobo has consistently advocated for amnesty and reconciliation between the military, the interim government and the deposed president. This public stance has lead to widespread speculation that the charges against General Vásquez and his subordinates will likely be dropped when they reach the Supreme Court as part of a deal to ease the country’s tensions.
Deposed President Zelaya reacted to news of a possible amnesty in a communiqué from the Brazilian embassy, where he has been holed up for months, saying the Attorney General is using “a new strategy that ensures impunity for the military officers.” Shortly thereafter, hundreds of Zelaya sympathizers marched in Tegucigalpa in opposition to amnesty.
Brazil occupied a central role in Honduras’ ongoing political crisis on Monday when it permitted ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and members of his family to take up residence in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. Zelaya’s return to Honduras has sparked protests outside the embassy that left scores of demonstrators injured on Tuesday. Another 200 people have been detained by police following efforts by de facto President Roberto Micheletti to stifle protests by quickly imposing a curfew on Monday.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defended his government’s decision to grant asylum to Mr. Zelaya, saying that “Brazil only did what any democratic country would do.” The Brazilian President also admitted to speaking with Mr. Zelaya over the phone and to warning the former Honduran leader against doing anything that could provoke an invasion of Brazil’s diplomatic mission.
The Brazilian and international media are reporting on Tuesday that the embassy's lights, water and phones have been cut off and that the only contact is by cell phone. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorin has said his country will not tolerate any actions against its embassy in Tegucigalpa and that Brazil may ask for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the safety of its diplomatic mission. Both Amorin and President Lula are in New York attending the UN General Assembly.
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As I wrote here earlier, de facto President Micheletti’s refusal to accept President Arias' San José Accord was a serious mistake. The stumbling block was the provision to allow President Zelaya to return to
The intransigence led to the breakdown in the talks and drove Zelaya—never a cool head to begin with—out of a sensible, moderate process and back into the arms of Presidents Chávez of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of
Let me say upfront, unequivocally: what occurred on June 28, 2009, in Honduras was a coup and should be condemned for the violation of constitutional, democratic rule that it is. And unlike the street coups that removed Presidents Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (Bolivia) or Lucio Gutiérrez (Ecuador), this one was positively 1970s-style retrograde: the marching of military officers into President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales’ residence, his forced removal (or kidnapping as he called it) at gun point, his being placed by military brass on a plane to be flown out of the country, and the swearing in of a new president, Roberto Micheletti—the speaker of the Honduran Congress. But let’s be clear. This event has been brewing for some time and regional governments and multilateral institutions have sat on the sidelines. Their reaction now—while correct—underscores their passiveness earlier, and turns a President who had been bent on steamrolling the checks and balances of power to secure re-election into an unnecessary victim.
Despite the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court’s superficial efforts to give this a constitutional fig leaf, the sacking of President Zelaya represents a genuine threat to the shared democratic vision and system of governance that most of the region has enjoyed for over two decades and violates the body of regional law and precedent defending democratic governments from the “interruption of the constitutional order.” In short order, as they should have done, the governments of the region have denounced President Zelaya’s removal and called for the restoration of democratic government.