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This article is being written by the WebMaster of AboutUtila.com in support of the people of Honduras following the expulsion of now ex-President Mel Zelaya from Honduras on Sun 28-Jun-2009.
I have been living in Utila, Honduras for the past seven years, have married a Honduran and support two Honduran children, one of whom is my adopted daughter.
Many people in Utila and Honduras are very concerned that the external perception of the current political situation in Honduras is being sensationalized and incorrectly reported, and as such will significantly damage the reputation of Honduras in the "eyes of the world" as a peaceful and stable country. Of particular concern are the reports that this was a “Military Coup” and the continued use by several in the media of the phrase “Military Coup”. This was NOT a “Military Coup”, the Honduras Military did everything they could to stay out of the situation. Arguably, it was not even a Coup, since there is significant evidence that the Honduras Congress, Attorney General, and Supreme Court acted legally to remove President Zelaya from power for repeated and intended acts that had previously been ruled illegal and unconstitutional by those bodies. Read on and I will try and explain my perception of events.
I have just returned to Utila (on 2-Jul-2009) from a one day trip to La Ceiba on the mainland of Honduras with my family and have been urged by my Honduras friends there and here in Utila to publish something in English about the recent events in Honduras. Almost equally importantly (to Hondurans), I have been urged to comment about the distorted, sensationalist, and factually incorrect reporting of recent events by the International News Media, in particular CNN en Español, and the recent statements issued by political organizations such as OAS (Organization of American States), SICA (El Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana), The United Nations, The European Union, etc, supporting the re-instatement of the deposed ex-President Mel Zelaya.
The greatest disappointment has probably been the initial statements by Barak Obama and especially Hillary Clinton in support of the deposed ex-President, statements which seem in direct contradiction to the statements made in support of the people of Iran and their struggle for democracy. This is especially disappointing since the vast majority of Hondurans were delighted with the election of Barak Obama as the President of the United States and considered him to be principled supporter of the democrat process over the "politically expedient".
On 2-Jul-2009, peaceful marches were held all over Honduras and here in Utila in support of the current Honduras Government (the Congress, the Supreme Court) and Military. The marches were apolitical in that all political parties participated and the marches were an expression by the Honduras people in support of their Democracy and Constitution. The, almost universal view, within Honduras is that Honduras has followed a legal and constitutional process to oust a President who had committed illegal and unconstitutional acts and was trying to amend the Honduras Constitution in advance of the November 2009 elections so that he could remain in power beyond the Constitutions 4 year term limit, perhaps even going so far as to follow Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's policy of ending Presidential term limits as announced on August 15, 2007, (but narrowly defeated by a 51% majority in the Venezuela Referendum on December 2, 2007).
As a regular observer of Honduras Television (there are around 17 national and regional television stations, some Government funded, most are commercial), I have been following the Honduras political situation for some time now. Ever since the Honduras nation wide protests resulting from Mel Zelaya joining PetroCaribe on December 21, 2007, the Venezuelan oil-for-cash-and-goods initiative and thus saddling Honduras with a potential 25 year debt. Many Hondurans were further dismayed to see Mel Zelaya swing further left by signing an agreement for Honduras to join ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America), which provoked bitter criticism from the Honduras business community during which Chávez picked a fight with the Honduran press, whom he called "pitiyanquis" (little Yankee imitators) and "abject hand-lickers of the Yankees".
Ostensibly a free trade agreement, but unlike other free trade agreements, ALBA represents a Chávez inspired political counter action to CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement) [bi-lateral free trade agreements with the United States of America - Honduras largest trading partner, purchasing some 70% of Honduras exports] proposing regional economic integration that is not based primarily on trade liberalization but on a vision of social welfare, bartering and mutual economic aid. ALBA also proposes a new currency for its members, the SUCRE (System for Regional Compensation).
Worrying to many Hondurans were the statements made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on Honduras joining ALBA - "Today we are signing not only a fraternal pact of solidarity, but also an integration project for Latin America that stands out as an alternative to imperial hegemony and integrates progressive governments that are proposing a way out of oppressive imperialism," Chávez said.
Adding to the concern about damaging USA relations were the statements made by Mel Zelaya - Zelaya said. "This is a heroic act of independence and we need no one’s permission [referring to the USA] to sign this commitment. Today we are taking a step towards becoming a government of the centre-left, and if anyone dislikes this, well just remove the word ‘centre’ and keep the second one."
I have provided the above so that readers will hopefully gain an understanding that the recent crisis did not occur overnight. The events leading up to the current crisis have been brewing for many, many months. As President, Mel Zelaya been making increasingly bizarre left-wing and Chávez/Castro-like pronouncements and moving closer to the more radical leaders in Latin America, much to the concern of many Hondurans.
Similar to the USA, Honduras Government has three major branches, The Executive (run by the President), The Legislature (The Congress) and the Supreme Court. Article 239 of the Honduras Constitution states that no President can be elected to more than one term. It also states that any citizen who seeks to change the article needs to resign his or her public office. Moreover, Article 42, Section 5 of the Constitution states that promoting the re-election of the President is grounds for the revocation of citizenship, and Articles 5, 373 and 374 make it clear that the president serves only one term and that this rule cannot be changed - even by constitutional amendment or referendum.
In March 2009, President Zelaya issued a Decree (PCM-005-2009) to create a new Honduras Constitution, for what reason he did not say, but regardless the Honduras Supreme Court ruled the decree illegal and unconstitutional. However, President Zelaya persisted, and issued a further Presidential Decrees (PCM-019-2009), initially proposing an opinion poll, then ultimately a referendum be held on 28-Jun-09 on the issue of writing a new Honduras Constitution. Again these moves were ruled unconstitutional by the Honduras Supreme Court and leading to The Congress passing a new law on 23-Jun-09 making it illegal for referendums to be held 180 days before or after a general election.
On 24-Jun-09 President Zelaya ordered the Military to distribute the 28-Jun-09 referendum ballot boxes and when the military refused to participate in the illegal act, he fired the Defense Minister and the Head of the Armed Forces. The heads of the Honduras Army, Air Force and Navy also resigned in protest. The President then led a group of supporters to the Acosta Mejia Air Base where they broke down the gates and recovered the ballot boxes and slips that had been supplied from Venezuela.
On 25-Jun-09, the Attorney General (who is not part of the Executive Cabinet) that Congress vote to prosecute President Zelaya ffor repeated illegal and unconstitutional acts, which they did in a unanimous vote (even though the majority of the Honduras Congress members are from the same political party as Mel Zelaya). Article 313 of the constitution provides a mechanism to prosecute a sitting president or other public official who has broken the law, which is to say that the Supreme Court may begin proceedings against him, and the court may use the armed forces to arrest the president. Unfortunately, (and I am not a constitutional lawyer, there appears to be no clear constitutional mechanism for impeaching a sitting President). Also on this day the Supreme Court ruled 5-0 that Zelaya violated the Head of the Armed Forces constitutional rights by firing him without cause and ordered he be reinstated.
On the 26-Jun-09, President Zelaya held a press conference stating he would continue with the ballot and denying that he had fired the Head of the Armed Forces. The Congress initiated a commission to investigate the conduct of the President under Article 205, paragraph 20 of the Constitution which empowers the Congress to approve or reject the conduct of the President and arguably remove a President if it can be shown they have an "inability to govern". Apparently the Honduras Constitution does not have an impeachment process. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (the equivalent of the USA Federal Election Commission) ordered the military to confiscate the ballot materials ahead of 28-Jun-09.
On 28-Jun-09 around 5:00 am, the Honduras Military acting under the order of the Honduras Supreme court executed the warrant to detain President Zelaya. It is reported that 200 soldiers surrounded the Presidential House and 15 entered, over-powering his bodyguards. He was deported to Costa Rica (which was not legal and arguably a political mistake, but done to prevent potential rioting, bloodshed and pitting Honduran against Honduran). Now the international media was paying attention.
Also on 28-Jun-09 the President of the Congress (essentially the Speaker of the House), and constitutionally the next in-line following the resignation of the Vice-President earlier in the year, was over-whelming elected interim President.
In my opinion, the only issue that has not been confirmed as being 100% factual, was if Mel Zelaya’s really did sign his resignation letter (which was read out in Congress on the morning of Sunday 28-Jun-09) and that this letter really was witnessed by two members of Congress. The letter may well be a fake as Mel is claiming since apart from it being read out in Congress on Sunday morning, it has not been mentioned since. When Zelaya arrived in Costa Rica early Sunday morning, he held a press conference, reported on CNN, in which he variously claimed he was kidnapped, attacked, that the USA Government had overthrown his Presidency, etc, etc.
Watching Honduras television news on Mon 29-Jun-09, everything in the streets of Honduras was quiet during the curfew hours and the news reporters were struggling to find anything to report. The general feeling in Honduras is that the large majority of the population is glad to see President Zelaya gone. I am guessing about 90% of the population supports the interim Government and about 10% want Mel Zelaya to be reinstated. While curfews between the hours of 9:00pm and 6:00 am have continued, there appears to be few complaints about this and everyday life continues.
On 1-Jul-09 the Honduras Congress issued a list of 18 criminal charges against ex-President Zelaya.
The above is my understanding of the current situation (gleaned from watching Honduras national and local commercial television channels). Personally, I am feeling relaxed and confident that due process was followed as best it could in an increasingly difficult political situation. It could so easily have gone the other way.
Arguably, the greatest current concern of the Honduran people is what will happen when Mel Zelaya returns to Honduras, which is anticipated to be on Sat 4-Jul-2009. In the meantime the interim government seems to be functioning at least as well as (if not better than) the previous Zelaya administration. In Utila life goes on as normal, the only noticeable change being a drop in the number of visiting tourists.[Update - 25-Jul-09] The article Behind the Honduran Mutiny published in the Wall Street Journal on 25-Jul-2009 provides additional information supporting the above opinion, and illustrates that, finally and almost 1 month after the event, the international media is beginning to investigate the facts. Meanwhile Honduras continues to suffer the effects of adverse international opinion.