President Manuel Zelaya has fled Honduras for Costa Rica after a military coup d’état today. Quick backstory: essentially Zelaya tried to make a big power grab by scheduling for Sunday a non-binding referendum on whether the constitution’s limit of one presidential term should be changed. The referendum was declared illegal by the courts and Congress, and the head of the armed forces, Romeo Vazquez, refused to allow the military to participate in the referendum process (the military is in charge of distributing ballots during elections.) Zelaya fired Vazquez this past Thursday.
Keep in mind, Zelaya seems to have made a ton of political enemies, and was unpopular with traditional Honduras power interests because of his left-leaning ideology and attempts to strengthen ties to other regional socialist governments in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia.
All the relevant international players, thankfully, are doing the right thing. The Organization of American States does not recognize the Micheletti government in no uncertain terms: “no government arising from this unconstitutional interruption will be recognized.” The Obama administration also still recognizes Zelaya as president of Honduras.
Coup d’états undermine countrys’ political institutions, but it’s hard to feel sorry for Zelaya when he was trying to subvert the Honduras political system to perpetuate his own power. None the less, this coup reveals how undeveloped Honduras’ political institutions are. Worse, it appears some elites are perfectly ok with using force to retain power. This is a bad situation with a lot of potential to get worse. I just hope for the citizens of Honduras that their government comes to its senses and reinstalls Zelaya. The possibility of international isolation because of the coup is real and would hurt an already sadly impoverished country’s people.
The referendum actually asked this question:
“Esta usted de acuerdo que en las elecciones generales de noviembre de 2009 se instale una cuarta urna para decidir sobre la convocatoria a una Asamblea Nacional Constituyente que apruebe una nueva Constitucion politica?” (via Hilzoy)
That roughly translate into: “Do you agree that in the November 2009 elections, there should be a ballot question to decide whether to convene a National Constitutional Assembly to approve a new constitution?”
Most observers interpreted that to signify that the presidential term limit would be changed, but it could have much more broader consequences than that. Chavez of Venezuela and Morales of Bolivia both has used constitutional assemblies to reshape their states into a more socialist mold. Though perhaps still a power grab by Zelaya, I think the traditional elite is scared of anything changing the current power structure in Honduras and a constitutional assembly could easily do just that.
Seems they decided to try to nip in the bud any possibility of change with this coup, but from the initial international statements I think they have overplayed their hand. The Honduras elites who orchestrated this seem to be incredibly paranoid of any threats to their power. This fear of change and the elite’s seeming ability to use force to retain control does not bode well for Honduras’ future.
Zelaya gave an interview (interesting read in Spanish) with El País in which he says that the coup asked for support from the U.S. embassy and that our embassy said it would not support any attempts to topple the Zelaya government.