The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and the Organization of American States have all denounced the ousting of Manuel Zelaya as President of Honduras three months ago. Zelaya has asked his supporters to descend upon the nation’s capital of Tegucigalpa in protest. This would be all well-and-good, except for one important detail:
It wasn’t a coup.
A little background:
Zelaya was the elected President of Honduras. Per the Constitution, he is limited to one term.
Zelaya attempted to have the Constitution amended so that he could serve another term. The nation’s legislature refused.
Zelaya called for a non-binding referendum on a constitutional amendment. The legislature refused.
Undeterred, Zelaya had ballots printed in Venezuela, shipped to Honduras, and ordered the military to hold the referendum. The military refused. A court battle between Zelaya and his own Attorney General ensued and Honduras’ Supreme Court ordered the referrendum stopped.
Still undeterred, Zelaya had his followers go to the mliitary base to take the ballots and distribute them.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting: Honduras’ Constitution specifically states that anyone who even suggests that a President should serve more than one term is guilty of treason.
You see, in 1982, when Honduras’ Constitution was enacted, the nation had just ended ten years of military dictatorship and wanted to be certain nothing like that could ever happen again. Central America has a history of dictatorships of many kinds, and Honduras is no exception.
So when Zelaya attempted to issue his “non-binding” referrendum, the Supreme Court ordered the military to arrest him, as the Constitution charges them to do. Indeed, most people who have commented on the Constitutionality of Zelaya’s ouster and who have actually read that constitution agree that the Supreme Court gave Zelaya more chances than he deserved before ordering his removal from office.
The military arrested Zelaya and escorted him to Costa Rica, and the whole word condemned the nation defending its own constitution. Obama denounced it as an illegal military coup and has since pressured Interim President Roberto Micheletti (who may not serve another term and has shown no interest in doing so) to return Zelaya to power.
But Obama is wrong. He is judging Zelaya’s ouster based upon the American Constitution, not Honduras’ Constitution. The law is clear. Again from the LA Times:
In addition, Article 239 specifically states that any president who so much as proposes the permissibility of reelection “shall cease forthwith” in his duties, and Article 4 provides that any “infraction” of the succession rules constitutes treason. The rules are so tight because these are terribly serious issues for Honduras, which lived under decades of military rule.
In other words, it’s not a coup, but the Constitutional machinations of another nation.
Now Zelaya has snuck back into Tegucigalpa. He is currently ensconced in the Brazilian Embassy, which keeps him safe for now (attacking the embassy would be an act of war). He is encouraging protests and accusing the Honduran military of gas and poison attacks, which they deny.
The United States has been on the wrong side of conflicts before, and it will probably be again in the future. This was such a clear-cut case, however, so easy to interpret, so simple decipher that it should have been a slam-dunk for American policy. It wasn’t.
We’re on the wrong side. Dictatorship and tyranny are winning.
Cross-posted at Seeking Liberty.