In any conflict, justice demands that you listen to both sides – even in Honduras, where the military pulled President Manuel Zelaya out of his bed on June 28, hustled him onto a plane to Costa Rica and told him that he is no longer welcome to return home. The media and most governments have ignored the complexity of the situation and condemned the “coup”.
But what about the Hondurans themselves? Little has been published in the world media about what they think – and what has emerged is biased towards Mr Zelaya’s left-leaning regime. But surprisingly, many Hondurans feel that it is Mr Zelaya who was plotting a coup and they are relieved that it was nipped in the bud.
In fact, it is sheer madness to write that deposing Mr Zelaya is more anti-democratic than what he was doing in his country, and what he was planning to do. Critics of the “coup” are worrying more about polishing their democratic credentials than about the excesses committed by this shameless politician. This is straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel – although in this case, swallowing a gorilla, Hugo Chavez, of Venezuela.
Some observers naively suggest hitting the rewind button and allowing Zelaya to return because he has promised nicely not to make reprisals against the democratic forces who have deposed him. Who in Honduras is going to believe that? If Zelaya returns to power he will be accompanied by an even bigger mob of foreign Chavistas, the ones who are rioting and smashing cars and shops in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa..
The truth about what has happened is slowly emerging. Significantly, even though President Barack Obama has condemned the coup, neither he nor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for Mr Zelaya to be reinstated.
Although this is the first time in 16 years in Latin America that soldiers have intervened to replace a president, it may have been necessary. Mr Zelaya was planning to follow in the footsteps of Hugo Chavez to create a thoroughly undemocratic state. He announced an innocuous-sounding referendum on the drafting of a new constitution. The resulting assembly would have sidelined Congress and the inevitable outcome would have been the re-election of Mr Zelaya, who is constitutionally impeded from running again. The vote-counting was to have been carried out by a company contracted by the President.
There have been reports that about 60 million lempiras (US$3 million) in cash was found in the Presidential Palace in envelopes, to buy votes. What democratic honesty!
Bear in mind that the Honduran constitution of Honduras cannot be altered by a referendum, only by Congress. And Congress declared his proposal unconstitutional and prohibited its implementation. Zelaya ignored his legislators.
Zelaya ordered the army to organise the referendum. The commander of the armed forces, General Romeo Vásquez, refused. So Zelaya fired him the day before the referendum, but Vásquez was immediately reinstated by the Supreme Court, which found his removal illegal. It was the President who had violated the law.
The provisional government, now headed by Roberto Micheletti, insists there was no coup. It claims that Zelaya was ousted legally, in accordance with the constitution. Strictly legal procedures were followed — a Supreme Court judge had issuedan warrant to arrest the president on the grounds of treason and abuseof authority. This interpretation of events is supported by the Catholic bishops of Honduras. However, they said that Zelaya should have been arrested, and not deported. They point out that the constitution also stipulates that “no Honduran citizen can be expatriated or surrendered to a foreign state”.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the army’s top lawyer, Colonel Herberth Bayardo Inestroza, exiling Zelaya instead of holding him for trial avoided bloodshed. And indeed, this is a sensible compromise, as people are more impressed by images than abstruse constitutional arguments.
Although the country is now crawling with foreign journalists, reporting on riots and demonstrations by Zelaya’s supporters, where were they before June 28? A few days before the coup, there had been massive demonstrations throughout the country against Zelaya’s plans. All of the television channels, except for the government channel, and most of the newspapers opposed him.
Zelaya was trampling underfoot the legitimate democratic institutions of Honduras, including the four political parties, the media, the Supreme Court, the Congress, the Attorney General, the Commissioner of Human Rights, and the Electoral Court. All of these had condemned the referendum as illegal.
Hondurans feel strongly about this. Article 4 of the Constitution states that “alternating in the exercise of the Presidency of the republic is obligatory. Breaking this norm constitutes treason to the fatherland”. And amazingly, Article 42 of their constitution stipulates that even promoting or supporting the idea of “continuismo” or the re-election of the President is grounds for depriving someone of citizenship. It is not difficult to see, therefore why many Hondurans regard Zelaya quite literally as a criminal.
Who, then, are the democrats in Honduras? Those who want to follow the constitution, or those who want to turn the country into a client state of Hugo Chávez? So I am puzzled by why the European Union is backing Zelaya, why the Organisation of American States has expelled Honduras and why the United Nations has condemned the new government. Has anyone done their homework about this shabby affair?
Luis Fernández Cuervo is a columnist for the El Salvadorean newspaper El Diario de Hoy