Two climb-downs

Copious updates on Honduras in italics – but as of July 6th I’m stopping because this has more mainstream attention now, so hopefully the truth will out. But as Andrew Sullivan wonders, “Can you remember a story where pundits have varied so widely on the basic facts?”.

President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya of Honduras aims to return on Thursday (Update: Thursday became Saturday) from his brief exile in Costa Rica, to which he was removed by the military in his pyjamas. He has pledged to abandon plans to ignore the law of his country and carry out a non-binding referendum on setting up an assembly to rewrite it (in order to run for a second term). The constitution can be changed, but not in the way he went about it (update – or was it? What is the difference between a non-binding referendum and a constitutional, binding one? Is one answer that going about things the Zelaya way is either a waste of money, because in order to be constitutional there would have to be another binding referendum, or that he is in fact abusing the constitution in a way which makes him seem distinctly despotic? The Honduras constitution is available in Spanish, and running this through Google Translate suggests that Articles 4 and 5 regarding the constitution, and 237 regarding the Presidential term, are operative here.)

His political opponents perceived distinct shades of Chavez, the military performed a coup and moved to exile him before he could install himself as emperor-for-life. He had got as far as having the ballot papers shipped from Venezuela and distributing them himself, having sacked his Attorney General and despite a Supreme Court ruling against his conduct. Now he has abandoned the referendum and is asking to see out his term in office, which ends in January.

For obvious reasons – it’s a coup! (update – the US is avoiding ‘coup‘ – there are strings attached to that designation, the US is calling it ‘coup’) – here is little support for this coup, however. The UN is backing the Zelaya. Hugo Chavez backs Zelaya (update – Honduras is an important oil customer; Chavez threatens military intervention). The International Coffee Organization isn’t sure. Although the US President and Secretary of State have declined to meet Zelaya, the Wall Street Journal‘s Americas columnist is very frustrated with the double standard:

“Yesterday the Central American country was being pressured to restore the authoritarian Mr. Zelaya by the likes of Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Hillary Clinton and, of course, Hugo himself. The Organization of American States, having ignored Mr. Zelaya’s abuses, also wants him back in power. It will be a miracle if Honduran patriots can hold their ground.”

It does indeed seem unsuitable for Chavez and Castro to be castigating Honduras for breaches of democracy.

Zelaya has already been replaced: Roberto Micheletti was sworn in yesterday as Interim Executive, strictly according to the constitution.

I’m not sure if Zelaya is being mistranslated or unsympathetically translated, but his words suggest he’s a bad combination of silly and tyrannical. Ah, OK – perhaps badly translated, that post had him referring to how on his return people would call him “Commander”, but this one, the less silly but still slightly pathetic-sounding “‘At your command, Mr. Constitutional President”. Update: aha – Wikipedia says: “The President is also Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces”, and it was of course the armed forces who expelled Zelaya.

Like the worst of the left with respect to Iran, he is referring to his deposers as “elites” and himself as against “the system of privileges they upheld”. Update: but Roberto Micheletti comes from the same political party – the Liberal Party – as Zelaya. His supporters also lapse into dusty dialectic:

“It was a coup, Mel Zelaya did not resign,” agreed Amilcar Umanzo, brandishing a human rights manual in his hand. “The political and economic class united to overthrow the constitutional president.”

Update: the coup supporters are also sloganeers. Update 2: The coup’s new Congress has removed fundamental freedoms from Hondurans. This is not looking at all good.)

It is genuinely difficult to figure out what is going on in the time I have available. Update: disappointing that you can pretty well predict who supports the coup (mostly self-declared conservative sites). On the other hand Chavez supporters support an unconditional reinstatement.

The reinstated (according to Supreme Court Ruling) Honduran Attorney General insists Zelaya will be prosecuted for, among other charges, abuse of authority and violation of the constitution.

This leads to the obvious question: military coups suck, are totally undemocratic, so why was Zelaya exiled rather than impeached? There is a curfew and unrest in Tegucigalpa. How many of his supporters have been arrested, how many hurt and how many killed?

Update: it seems to me that Zelaya claimed undue power unconstitutionally and contra to Supreme Court ruling, that it is very ominous that he was exiled at gunpoint instead of being impeached which would have been the democratic way to deal with him, that calls for him to be unconditionally reinstated make little sense when he has fucked with the constitution, and that four years is a short amount of time but he left his attempts to change the constitution too late in his term to be credible. As you can see from the above, I have very little other context to go on.

Further update: Zelaya wasn’t unconstitutional and the coup was conducted by an undemocratic elite says Alberto Valiente Thorenson in a Counterpunch article you can find for yourselves; I don’t link there. He removes one motive for Zelaya by introducing the information he wasn’t going to contest the November 09 election, and gives a motive to the orchestrators of the coup:

“It is evident that the opposition had no legal case against President Zelaya. All they had was speculation about perfectly legal scenarios which they strongly disliked. Otherwise, they could have followed a legal procedure sheltered in article 205 nr. 22 of the 1982 Constitution, which states that public officials that are suspected to violate the law are subject to impeachment by the National Congress. As a result they helplessly unleashed a violent and barbaric preemptive strike, which has threatened civility, democracy and stability in the region.”

Final update: read Greg Weeks, academic and editor of the journal Latin Americanist. He is asking good questions and, speaking Spanish, equipped to get some answers. Good. Facts first, ideology later.

More – a photo essay, a chronology.

It’s bedtime now, so this post is about to reveal itself as obscenely imbalanced, much too internationalist, much too unprepared to engage with the complexities of far better-reported stuff here at home. I have really got to sort this out, and I take Barkingside 21 as my inspiration. But for now, the other climb-down is that it’s No to ID cards. Alan Johnson could simply have said “We can’t afford it” – instead he properly shafted it by admitting that the government had found it convenient to present ID cards as a panacea to solve terrorism. Update: excellent. If I had time I’d try to find out which lobbying worked and how.


9 thoughts on “Two climb-downs

  1. No Kellie, I didn’t read that. Spent all the time I had trying to figure out what was going on in Honduras 😦 because it seemed like a case study in democracy. But I’m still confused about it. I wonder if there are any polls of how Honduran citizens would have voted in Zelaya’s plebiscite – you kind of get the impression they would have voted to extend the term as stipulated in 237 of the constitution. If Honduras society is split enough on this, the interim government should pursue the plebiscite by constitutional means.

    I will, look at India’s scheme though – read something about it a while back.

    Matt, you think so? I will have to go and have a look.

  2. I held off on having an opinion about this until today, but I have got one now. It is true that Zelaya is not someone I admire. He is clearly a megalomaniac and a populist. However, the coup is clearly a coup, and not the restoration of democracy. The coup has been effected by an elite, by the white oligarchs. The results have been quite fierce repression and a genuine curtailment of the rule of law. I am off the fence and opposing the coup.

    More in the penultimate paragraph here
    particularly the links, which go to The Field, which I found via Modernity for the excellent Iran coverage.

  3. Bob, I have to dig around to discover what a “white oligarch” is, and similarly Field also introduces the term “oligarch diaspora” in one of his piece without explanation. Field’s rhetoric doesn’t do his arguments any credit. Cockroaches? Vampires? Does the conduct of the orchestrators of the coup speak for itself or not? Why does the person claiming to give us a straight story not give us a straight story?

    I think the Supreme Court of Honduras must have integrity, else it would not have found Zelaya’s conduct unlawful at the same time as (I surmise) deterring the self-serving orchestrators of the coup from moving to impeach Zelaya i.e. it would not have been a foregone conclusion. Given what Field has reported, you wonder whether this integrity is on borrowed time.

    The question of what is best for Honduras is the same question as what is best for upholding the Constitution. The Valiente Thorenson piece about the constitution was most incisive in this respect (obviously Counterpunch and others republish this because it suits their pro-Chavez line, and I’m not sure what he missed out.)

  4. Oligarchs:
    I don’t know enough about Honduras, but I know about more about some of its neighbours, and most of them have an entrenched, mainly white, ruling class, who are closely tied through family, business and social connections, who are used to having all them power, providing most of the members of the legislature, judges, media ownership, control of key economic agents, command of the armed forces, etc- in a region where white people are in the distinct minority. Zelaya has clearly challenged this status quo, and that upsets them . Perhaps Field and I should explain this before using such terms. However, I don’t think “oligarch” is in the same category as “cockroach” or “vampire”. People also use it in relation to Russian politics.

    Thanks for all the useful links though.

  5. Oligarch I understand no probs – it’s the racialisation I’m worried by considering Field – who didn’t use the term “white oligarch” – was slinging around terms like cockroach and vampire with abandon. This white/non-white aspect hadn’t come up in anything I’d read.

  6. Pingback: Friday Misc. Roundup « The New Centrist

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