Coups Everywhere

Over at Abiding in Bolivia there’s a good post about how Evo predicted that the American conservative penchant for right-wing military coups might one day threaten Obama. I’m sure if a military coup took down Obama, it’d be completely constitutional as well.

The original Newsmax column calling for a military coup was taken down on the site, but Andrew Sullivan reposted the article.

Coups Everywhere

Latin American People Fear Coups

A Gallup Poll looked at people’s views on the stability of their governments in Latin America in 2008. In particular, it looked at if people expected a military coup. Honduras had the second highest percentage in the region of people who expected a coup, and, unfortunately, they were vindicated in their fear of a coup.

The country with the highest percentage of respondents expecting a coup was Bolivia. This isn’t exactly irrational or unexpected. Considering the level of state violence, whether it be at the national or department level, the idea that a group might succeed in a coup attempt is not out of the picture.

What’s also interesting is the sizable groups of people in all Latin America that fear a coup. 11% of Costa Ricans expected a coup in the future. This is a country that disbanded its military in 1955 and has been a relative oasis of governing calm in Central America. The fear in Costa Rica underlines the dangers of pretending that the coup in Honduras is not a coup. This region is incredibly sensitive to military interference in politics and a policy denouncing all such actions is the surest way to safeguard democracy.

(Hat tip: Greg Weeks)

Latin American People Fear Coups

Making Moves in Honduras

Guessing how the situation in Honduras gets resolved is a fool’s game. The EU states have recalled their ambassadors. The US has put off any decision on cutting off U.S. aid until Monday and the completion of the OAS mission, presumably to give Zelaya a bargaining chip to bring to the table today when the OAS mission arrives in Honduras. And Jose Miguel Insulza, chief of the OAS, says the mission is not going to negotiate with the Micheletti government (even though they obviously will in some form.)

Meanwhile, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) has publicly backed the coup. He recites the normal conservative line about how this military coup was a grand triumph for democracy. Even if you take the suspension of constitutional rights during curfew hours with a grain of salt, given the history of military intervention in Central America, you might want to question what effects a coup can have for a country with young and underdeveloped political institutions. Then again, maybe DeMint understands the undercurrent of skepticism in the region towards this whole democracy thing. On second thought, I highly doubt that.


Making Moves in Honduras

The Honduran Constitution

A bunch of people have a bunch more time than me and have waded through the Honduras Constitution. It appears that the military shipping Zelaya out of the country and barring his re-entry is in of itself unconstitutional (via Greg Weeks):

Article 81: Every person has the right to circulate freely, leave, enter, and remain in the national territory.

Article 102: No Honduran can be expatriated or handed over by the authorities to a foreign state.

These provisions put a whole bunch of cracks in the theory that the military was following constitutionally valid orders from the Supreme Court.

But the Micheletti government is not content to merely appear to have taken power by an illegal coup. They want to really prove that they are an old school Latin American junta. Yesterday the government suspended the following provisions of the Constitution during the hours of curfew, 9 PM – 5 AM (via IKN):

Article 71: No person can be detained for more than 24 hours without being presented to the orders of the competent authority for judgment. Judicial inquiry detention cannot exceed six days from the moment of detention.

Article 78: Freedom of association and reunion is guaranteed as long as it does not contravene public order and good custom.

Article 81: All persons have the right of free passage, to leave enter and stay in national territory. No person can be forced to move from their domicile or residence, except in special circumstances and when the requisits of law allow.

Article 84: No person can be arrest or detained without the virtue of a written mandate of the competent authority, expidited with legal formalities and for a motive previously established by law. However, in-fragranti criminals may be apprehended by any person in order to deliver them to authorities. The arrested or detained must be informed in the act and with total clarity of their rights and the reasons for the arrest; also, the authority must communicate theri detention to a family member of choice.

Article 88: No class of violence or coercion may be exercised on persons to force or make them declare. In a penal, disciplinary or police issue, nobody can be made to declare against themself, against a spouse or living companion, or against family members inside fourth grade of bloodline or second of affinity. Only in front of a competent judge make statements be taken. Any decalration obtained by infringement of these dispositions is null and void.

Article 99: The domicile cannot be violated. No entry or register can take place without the consent of the person who resides in the domicile or without a resolution from acompentent authority. However, the domicile may be searched in the case of emergency to impede the commission or the impunity of a crime or to avoid serious harm to person or property.

The Honduran Constitution

It’s a Coup

Nearly all the commentary about the coup in Honduras has emphasized two things: (1) that Zelaya is a completely unsympathetic figure here as his attempted power grab through a constitutional assembly precipitated the coup, and (2) that this certainly was a coup and Zelaya should be reinstated. I say nearly all, because some people actually don’t believe it’s a coup. Instead, it’s a run-of-the-mill “military impeachment” and part of the country’s “checks and balances”. The most extreme suggest we should not worry if this was a coup, we only need to ask: “[d]oes the fact that the coup is in the interests of the United States even matter to our president?”

I want to focus on The Wall Street Journal opinion piece because it tries to square the circle in the most coherent manner. What this says about the Journal’s worldview I want to leave aside and focus on a couple of points the article tries to make. First, the piece takes as sacrosanct all the legal fig leafs the supporters of the coup has trotted out. Then it tries to make a point that this coup is part of Honduras’ checks and balances. I’m no expert on Honduras constitutional law (and the Constitution is not a simple document to understand), but I don’t seem to be able to find the provision which gives the Supreme Court the ability to order the military to take the President. No doubt some would say, that the military was acting for the legislature and the Supreme Court. Besides the fact that the Court has a reputation as “one of the most corrupt institutions in Latin America” (according to Larry Birns, director of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.) Greg Weeks sums it up nicely:

Roberto Micheletti and other coup supporters insist everything was legal. If their actions could be deemed legal by virtue of specific laws, that would bolster their assertion that Zelaya’s removal was legitimate. Yet the coup is now about 36 hours old, and to my knowledge no one has explained what law was followed, who issued the court order for picking up Zelaya and flying him out of the country, and what legal basis the new government has for remaining in power until the next presidential election.

Moreover, the coup threatens the democratic order that Central America has tried hard to instill in the past two decades. This region only recently emerged from several longstanding civil wars (in Nicaragua and Guatemala) and democracy has a weak footing with the exception of Costa Rica. A military intervention into civil politics threatens this nascent order. The fact that Zelaya was himself acting beyond the letter of law does not make the military’s also unconstitutional actions any better. The military removed the democratically-elected president of Honduras and assumed control of the country. The Brookings Institute put it best: “While bearing by far the greater responsibility for this crisis, Mr. Zelaya is still the legitimate president of Honduras and must be reinstated in his position.”


To put the Wall Street Journal op-ed in perspective. Here is Mary O’Grady in 2003 defending the ’73 Pinochet coup in Chile on very similar grounds as with the recent coup in Honduras.

It’s a Coup

Coup in Honduras

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.

Update II:

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.

Coup in Honduras