Spinning…When a President who Seeks Dictatorial Powers in an Illegal Move is Removed by the Congress and by the Supreme Court, is it a “Military Coup”?

by Tom Palmer on June 29, 2009

The media discussion of events in Honduras is remarkably confused. Here’s CNN:

The president of the U.N. General Assembly scheduled a noon session Monday to discuss the situation in Honduras, following a military-led coup that ousted the sitting president.

and

Micheletti, the head of Congress, became president after lawmakers voted by a show of hands to strip Zelaya of his powers, with a resolution stating that Zelaya “provoked confrontations and divisions” within the country.

….

The coup came on the same day that he had vowed to follow through with a nonbinding referendum that the Honduran Supreme Court had ruled illegal.

Imagine that George Bush, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan or some other American president had decided to overturn the Constitution so that he could stay in power beyond the constitutionally limited time. To do that, he orders a nationwide referendum that is not constitutionally authorized and blatantly illegal. The Federal Election Commission rules that it is illegal. The Supreme Court rules that it is illegal. The Congress votes to strip the president of his powers and, as members of Congress are not that good at overcoming the president’s personally loyal and handpicked bodyguards, they send police and military to arrest the president. Now, which party is guilty of leading a coup?

This is another example of populist, dictatorial, anti-democratic thought parading as “democratic.” I discuss the issue in my recent lecture on enduring democracy in New Delhi.

{ 6 trackbacks }

Conservative Compendium » Did Honduras Have A Coup?
June 29, 2009 at 2:24 pm
Ken’s Weblog » Blog Archive » Media perspective
June 29, 2009 at 6:48 pm
Stogie Guys Friday Sampler CXLVIII
July 3, 2009 at 11:43 am
Kuppen i Honduras « Erik Herbertson
July 3, 2009 at 5:22 pm
Tom Palmer on the Honduras Coup « Unkategorized
July 5, 2009 at 12:50 am
The Crossed Pond » Honduran Coup / Not Coup Discussion
July 7, 2009 at 4:14 pm

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniil Gorbatenko June 29, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Yeah, Dr. Palmer, it’s outrageous. Do you think Obama will reverse course on his Administration’s mistaken stance on this issue?

Kevin Ross June 29, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Excellent point Dr. Palmer. It just shows the ignorance many people have regarding the difference between a constitutional republic and a direct democracy. I imagine a good chunk of our fellow countrymen would see no problem in this supposed “democratic” referendum. That’s what scares me the most.

Alan Gura June 29, 2009 at 10:43 pm

Wait, I’m confused… I thought the President didn’t want to “meddle” in other countries’ elections? Nice to see that “the Supreme Leader” in Iran is deferred to, but the Supreme Court and Congress of Honduras, well….

A more pressing question than whatever is going on in Honduras: does the USA have a Chavista president?

Arthor Bearing June 30, 2009 at 11:09 am

“The media discussion of events… is remarkably confused.”

I think this statement is generally applicable to media coverage of anything complicated or unusual. On the bright side, CNN’s coverage of Michael Jackson’s death has been spot-on.

Jack June 30, 2009 at 2:11 pm

I would adjust your analogy to include mention that the proposed referendum, though clearly illegal, was a non-binding proposal for adding a real referendum to a later election, and that the “seeking dictatorial powers” is an assumed intent. I would further adjust it to include that our President was not merely arrested, but was deported to Mexico.

I would hope that the illegal actions of our President would prompt impeachment and trial proceedings, rather than automatic, extra-constitutional exile.

I freely admit that: Zelaya’s referendum was illegal and that he was aiming towards changing the constitutional rules such that he could run for a zecond term next year. I hold that belief while still seeing the arrest and exile of Zelaya as unconstitutional, heavy handed, and technically meeting a loose definition of military coup.
I addressed it at a bit more length here: http://thecrossedpond.com/?p=9006

Daniil June 30, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Jack, what would have the Honduran opposition do? The Honduran Constitution does not provide for an impeachment or an analogous procedure. Do you not agree that a President so blatantly violating the Constitution and the rule of law should be immdiately removed from office? Especially taking into account that both the Congress and the Supreme Court, and even Zelaya’s own party stood for his resignation?

The rogue president led his acolytes in stealing the ballot blanks and was planning to arrange the vote anyway. Even if the voters rejected Zelaya’s plans he could scream bloody murder and claim that the referendum was rigged. The inability of the law enforcement authorities to deal with such blatant criminality may have emboldened Zelaya’s acolytes and demoralized the defenders of the rulw of law. Overall, I think that power grab attempts should be pre-empted as sson as possible. Sometimes you need swift bold action to prevent disasters. The tragic Russian history of the 20th century is a good example of that.

Tom G. Palmer June 30, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Jack raises good points. My point was not to endorse the action, but to question whether “military-led coup” was the proper description of what happened. It’s not clear what the procedures in Honduran law are for a president who exceeds his powers and whose actions have been ruled blatantly illegal by the courts. Perhaps removal from office and arrest would have been preferable, but that would have also have raised important issues. It’s hard to know what is going to happen in Honduras, but the idea that Zelaya was a voice of democracy is absurd. He was attempting a coup, and was removed by the Congress, with the support of the judiciary, before he could do it.

Note that the US president cannot simply order a referendum, either. Were an American president to do so, it would certainly be grounds for impeachment and removal from office. A big difference is that the US legal order has a mechanism to accomplish the removal from office of a president who violates the law and exceeds his authority, and it seems that the Honduran legal order does not. The upshot is that the coup plotter is presenting himself as the victim, with the support of the big power in the region, whose oil and drug money can finance a lot of mischief.

Jack June 30, 2009 at 10:55 pm

Daniil,
I am not clear on the Honduran impeachment process and law; I am receiving conflicting information from various sources. It seems that impeachment proceedings of some sort were started, but were preempted by the .. coup/notcoup. But to answer your question: Best case: there exists an impeachment process, and they (legislature/supreme court) should have carried through with it, while continuing to directing the military to take no involvement with whatever half-baked referendum Zelaya attempted, and declaring any results, regardless of what they are, invalid. Keep in mind that Zelaya had about a 30% approval rating at the time of these events. Worst case: there is no impeachment proceedings, so the AG files criminal charges against the president consistant with Honduran law, and their criminal process takes its course. Riots probably occur. So be it, the rule of law at the highest levels is observed by the opponents of Zelaya.

Mr Palmer,
Agree on some points, but I think it too easy to state complete knowledge of the authoritarian intentions of Zelaya, and justify draconian response based upon that supposed knowledge. He had not called for a dicatorship (though I recognize the threat and possible pattern he could follow), he had called for a non-binding ref. It is his actions that must be responded to, not the fears of his intentions. I’m betting that Honduras does have some mechanism to accomplish Presidential removal from office, and if it is not explicitly spelled out, I still opt for criminal proceedigs rather than military arrest and forced exile based upon… what? Nothing at all.

As I alluded to in my post on The Crossed Pond: I am offended that I have to defend this creep, but in this instance, he was wronged more than he wronged.

Daniil Gorbatenko July 2, 2009 at 3:28 am

Dr. Palmer,

I don’t wholeheartedly endorse the Honduran army’s action, either.

However, I am afraid that short of swift action the situation might have been worse. Zelaya might have used Chavez’s financial or other support to buy off voters. One should ask a question why Zelaya was pushing for a referendum even though it would be “non-binding”. Was he just clowning?

For me a somewhat analogous situation happened in the Russian history. The Interim Government in 1917 failed to defend the rule of law against the leftists with whom it shared power. Financed by the Germans, the bolsheviks saw the legitimacy of the government wane as it failed to uphold the rule of law, and did not miss the opportunity. I think one can find many such examples in the history of other countries.

Of course, a preferred solution to the Honduran debacle would be a settlement whereby Zelaya would undertake to not violate the rule of law and go seamlessly once his term expires in November and the Congress would reinstate him on such consitions. But I am more than certain that this is not what Zelaya and Chavez have in mind.

Daniil Gorbatenko July 2, 2009 at 4:05 am

Jack, ideally I would also prefer the legalistic approach from the opposition side.

But one could look at this matter from another angle and conclude that allowing Zelaya to carry on with his activities would be a much greater insult to the rule of law than his removal.

And I don’t know which those paths in defending the rule of law is right. This situation resembles a trap. Anyway, the US and UN response to this has been a disgrace. There was not a word of official condemnation of Zelaya.

nickyj@live.com July 2, 2009 at 10:30 pm

yeah right: they burst into Zelaya’s bedroom in the early hours of the morning, rile him out of sleep, shove him in a plane in his pyjamas, and haul him off to Costa Rica. That’s not a coup. It also isn’t a coup when all SMS messages, all media, are shut down except for two “private” tv stations playing soap operas and futbol. That’s not a coup, either. Demonstrators beaten in the streets — do you approve of that?

The referendum said nothing about presidential term limits: it was a nonbinding poll asking people if they thought a constitutional convention ought to be convened. It would have been held during the November elections, when someone else would have been elected president.

Tom G. Palmer July 3, 2009 at 5:13 pm

We should ask who started a “coup.” Was it the president, who started the process by ordering the military to seize and distribute ballots for an unauthorized ballot on Sunday (not in November), after the electoral court, the supreme court, the attorney general, and the congress had said it was illegal and who, after the military refused an illegal order, sacked the military commanders (for following the law, rather than his personal order) and went with a mob to seize the ballots that had been legally impounded?; or was it the supreme court, which ordered the arrest of the president for his illegal actions and attempts to subvert the constitution, an act that was then carried out by the military? It’s not hard to make the case that Zelaya started a failed coup and was removed for treason against the constitution. Rather than being taken out of the country, where he could rally his forces, perhaps he should have been arrested and put on trial, instead. Makes sense to me. I am not endorsing what was done, which seems to have been very ill thought out, but it seems wrong to assume that the president is always right in a conflict with the other branches of government. It also seems (from my perspective) that no television should have been shut down, even for the brief time it was, nor any curfew imposed, even if also for only a short time. The best way to avoid the impression that the removal of a would-be dictator from office is not itself a military coup is for it to be very clearly not a military coup. A military coup puts military officers in charge of the state, and that was not done in Honduras. The Congress stripped the president of his powers for violating the constitution and elected a successor in a move that ratified by the legal institutions of the country. That does not sound like a military coup to me. But even a curfew or curtailment of media for a few days is unjustified and sends a bad signal, indeed.

But let’s take a look at the very important issue of media freedoms. It is worth noting that former president Zelaya cannot claim that he represents or supports any form of “freedom of the press,” since (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6690217.stm )

“Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has ordered all the country’s TV and radio stations to carry government propaganda for two hours a day.

He says that the short-term measure is necessary because of unfair coverage of his government.
….
Last month, Mr Zelaya unsuccessfully tried to get Congress to ban the publication of reports on violent crime – a massive problem in Honduras.

However, in this latest measure he has imposed his will on the country’s media outlets.
From Monday, 28 May, hundreds of TV and radio channels will be forced to broadcast simultaneous interviews with him and with government ministers.”

Oh, and a little bit about Zelaya’s illegal attempt to create an illegal “referendum” to subvert the constitution:
http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/06/25/honduras.general/index.html
Imagine if other political leaders around the world had done that. Would that not qualify as a coup? If Richard Nixon in the US had ordered a national “referendum” to be held on eliminating the two-term limit on his power, with ballots distributed at polling places without legal authorization, and had ordered the military to seize the ballots that were impounded by the courts, and after sacking the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, had gone with a big group of “Nixon’s the One!” supporters to seize the ballots…would that not have been seen as an attempted coup? What is the difference with this case?

Lastly, let’s look at the important issue of “demonstrators beaten in the streets.” It’s no surprise that Zelaya’s militants demonstrated after their Fuehrer was removed. It’s also no surprise that they were hugely outnumbered by those who demonstrated for “our constitution.” The only references I could find online to what NickyJ alleges are from the LA Times
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-honduras-coup30-2009jun30,0,4319817.story (note the photo and the story; the photo suggests it’s the Zelaya militants who are beating the soldiers, not the other way around) and from a very reliable source….Venezuelan state media!
http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4571

nickyj@live.com July 4, 2009 at 2:02 am

The question that was to have been decided, before the coup leaders stopped a democratic vote from being held, was this:

“Do you agree with the installation of a fourth ballot box during the 2009 general elections so that the people can decide on the calling of a national constituent assembly? Yes or no.”

So the nonbinding poll that was never held, if passed, would have stipulated a November plebiscite on changing the constitution in an unspecified manner. In which case, someone would have already been elected president — but not Zelaya. So this whole business about Zelays being the “real” would-be coup leader is a canard.

The media have not been shut down “for a brief time.” They are still shut down. From the Global Post, July 4:

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/the-americas/090703/honduras-media-crackdown

“At the Channel 36 TV station in this sweltering capital, the buzzing, hectic atmosphere of a news network has been replaced by an ominous silence.

“The doors are held shut with huge industrial padlocks, bored-looking soldiers stand on the sidewalk and the journalists are nowhere to be seen.

“Since taking power Sunday after a coup against elected-president Manuel Zelaya, the new administration has shut down a major TV station, several radio stations and a newspaper. It has also cut off signals from some international networks, including Venezuela-based Telesur.

“Meanwhile, those media outlets still running heap praise on the regime of Roberto Micheletti. “Defending the Constitution,” blears the headline in one newspaper reporting the consolidation of the new government. “Zelaya Out, We Want Peace,” says another.

“Such control of the media is perhaps a predictable development from a government that came to power after the elected head of state was forced out of his home at gunpoint and taken on a plane to neighboring Costa Rica.”

The demonstrations in favor of Zelaya have been violently suppressed:

“The situation in Honduras turned violent when over 10,000 people gathered in the streets to protest the coup Monday evening. Using tear gas, high-powered water and guns (it is still not clear whether soldiers were armed with rubber bullets or otherwise) many people were wounded and there has been one confirmed death in the capital, Tegucigalpa.”

http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2009/06/30-6

Are you seriously defending the violent overthrow of an elected government, in the name of “preserving democracy’?

Tom G. Palmer July 4, 2009 at 11:58 am

Nickj, you are not being straightforward on this. You even seem to be dissembling, making the case exclusively for one side of the story, without seeing any possibility of another account.

The issue is complicated and it’s especially hard from afar to know what the best course is. It certainly seems likely that a better outcome would have been simple arrest and trial for attempted military coup, which is what Zelaya himself attempted when, as commander in chief, he ordered the military to seize the ballots and run an election that the electoral court, the supreme court, the attorney general, and the congress had ruled was unauthorized, illegitimate, and illegal. If president Bush or president Obama had ordered the military to run a “referendum” after the supreme court, the congress, and the electoral authorities had ruled it unauthorized, would that not be considered a military coup? What do you do when the “commander in chief” tries a coup, but the officers refuse and he sacks them and then appoints others who he thinks will carry out his illegal orders? Is it “democracy” for a commander in chief to order the army to carry out a “poll” to remove controls on the commander in chief’s power? (Latin American democrats have struggled against the tradition of “Strong Men” and “Caudillos” for a long time; that’s one reason for the limits on the terms in office of people who have the power of commander in chief of the armed forces, the very power that Zelaya tried to exercise to get the army to subvert the constitution and to use force against the other branches of government.)

Zelaya attempted a coup and it failed. Do you deny that? What else do you call it to order the army to seize the ballots, when every other branch of government affirmed that it was unauthorized and illegal? Really. Be serious. After his attempted coup failed, what is the proper response of the legal authorities? There it’s more complicated, and the Honduran constitution seems a bit vague on the proper procedures for removal of a president who has exceeded his authority. But removal by the other branches of government (representative/deliberative and judicial) was certainly a legitimate option. You and others think that when “Der Fuehrer spricht,” it’s the voice of “the nation.” We’ve been there before. We don’t need to repeat that experience.

Next: the media. I agree that media restrictions should be removed, as they also should have been under Zelaya, who seized control of much of the media and forced them to broadcast his propaganda. Do you deny that? Do you deny that he used force against the media to control them and to force them to broadcast his own propaganda? Admit it. Events in Honduras show good reasons to get rid of state broadcasting altogether. First Zelaya establishes a state propaganda channel to promote his ambitions and power; then he is removed and the next government uses it to promote their ambitions and power. That’s not a free press. Get rid of it and let opinions be discussed and weighed freely, without the violent hand of the state on the scales. And don’t do what Zelaya tried, which is to gag the media from reporting on the news. He tried to stop them from reporting on violent crime, a scourge in many nations. Rather than trying to provide security for ordinary citizens, Zelaya tried to make it illegal to write or speak about crime. Now there’s a democrat for you!

Is it a surprise that there are demonstrations for and against a controversial politician? Of course he had his supporters. Not the majority, but certainly some. He did, after all, have an agenda and a lot of money to hand out. (It seems that oil — and possibly and quite likely drug — money from the Venezuelan government had to be spent somewhere.) There are demonstrations for Zelaya and against him. The LA Times reported that “Demonstrations continued Thursday, including a march by thousands of Zelaya’s supporters through downtown Tegucigalpa that started at the army headquarters.” Yes, including one by his supporters, but also some by those who favored his removal, which was not reported. No surprise. The photos I’ve seen don’t look so much like violent suppression of demonstrations by the police as violent attacks: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-honduras-coup30-2009jun30,0,4319817.story Take a look at the photo from the LA Times, not a paper that is critical of Zelaya; people smashing large paving stones and bricks onto the heads of the police. It’s hard to know whether they are responding to unjustified force, or initiating it, but it’s not easy to reconcile with the image you wish to convey.

It seems that the courts and the congress were foolish in exiling Zelaya. He attempted a coup and failed when the military refused to carry out his illegal orders to seize the ballots; the best thing may have been simple removal from office, or arrest and charge. But it seems pretty clear that this is not a case of “military seizes power”; the new president is not a military officer, but an elected member of the congress who was elected to replace Zelaya. Moreover, Zelaya attempted to use the military to enforce his will against the law. Was he attempting to impose his will through the illegitimate use of military power? If so, wasn’t that a coup – in a region that has had far too much experience of such things? So what do the legal authorities in the courts and the representative branch of government do in such cases? Removal from office seems in order. Expulsion from the country? Probably not.

The good news is that there is talk of an early election for a new president. I hope that Hondurans can have an open, fair, contested election and turn the page on Zelaya’s attempted coup and the response of the congress and the courts. And that they will have learned that following the strict letter of the law is better than a panicked response to an attempted coup; the law is a precious possession, and when it even appears to be undermined or flouted, it is not an easy thing to recover.

nickyj@live.com July 4, 2009 at 1:30 pm

I see you concede my point that the nonbinding poll had nothing to do with President Zelaya extended his term. Or, at least, you don’t contest it, which leads me to ask: what, then, was the justification for the coup? The nonbinding resolution itself, which — it’s true — was not authorized by the constitution? In that case, no doubt you would have advocated or supported the US military overthrowing Franklin Roosevelt because he tried to pack the US Supreme Court — a far more serious incursion into unconstitutional territory than anything Zelaya ever attempted.

It’s all about Chavez, not Zelaya: the Honduran president was getting too close to Venezuela, and so the military — which has seized power many times in the history of Honduras — did what they always do. The military has veto power over the civilian sector, that’s the way it’s always been in Honduras, and the only difference this time is that they don’t have official US support: oh, but no worries, because they have support from libertarians like Tom G. Palmer.

Tom G. Palmer July 4, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Sad case, Nickyj. You’ve retreated very far.

I don’t concede your point that this was not about Zelaya’s power. He would have tried to get back into office. Duh. That’s what Strong Men do, Nickyj, just like Chavez and all the other dictators who have preceded him. A lot of Latin Americans think it’s time to put that legacy of dictatorship behind them. (Remember when Chavez, the victim of a coup, had earlier organized his own military coup in 1992 as an officer? Here’s something to remind you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venezuelan_coup_attempts_of_1992 . Having failed at a military coup, he has pursued other means to achieve total power, rule by decree, absolute power, and all the other trappings of maniacal dictatorship.)

Is the current president a military officer? No. Is the Supreme Court made up of military officers? No. Is the Congress filled with military officers? No. Did the military install an officer in power? No. Is that a military coup, or the military 1) refusing an illegal order from the commander in chief to carry out a coup, and 2) following a legal order from the judiciary to remove a despot?

I note that you did not address any of my points, only my failure (I admit that…sorry) to address one of your less consequential points.

So do you admit that Zelaya attempted an illegal seizure of power by ordering the military to carry out an illegal order…or not? Would that be acceptable in any democratic constitutional order?

As to Roosevelt, that was a disgusting display of power and it shocked the nation. It was not, however, technically unconstitutional, as the constitution does not specify the number of justices of the court. Had the president given an order to the military — I repeat: to the military — to use force to overturn a perfectly legitimate decision of the court and to override the vote of the Congress, that would have been different and, had that happened and had the Congress impeached the president, I would certainly have applauded his removal from office.

Term limits on presidents are a damn good idea. Almost everyone, when they have tasted power, wants more. That’s why they have them in Honduras. Maybe it should be changed, but only after a legitimate process, not through the exercise of military force by the sitting president, who could not get his way legally and, having failed in his coup attempt, was removed from power.

Tom G. Palmer July 4, 2009 at 1:57 pm

As to what to do now, it seems that the best course may be for the current president to step aside for an early election. That, too, should be constitutionally authorized, of course, and conducted in an open, transparent, and fair manner. But Zelaya, having attempted to use military force to get his way against the other branches of government, should not be able to run. There should be no presidents for life.

nickyj@live.com July 4, 2009 at 2:53 pm

The irony of accusing Zelaya of “using the military” to carry out a “coup” should be apparent to anyone reading this — and I’m wondering why you, being an intelligent person, don’t acknowledge this. Zelaya may be the titular commander in chief, but the Honduran constitution stipulates that it is Congress that “elects” the real commander of the armed forces, from a list provided by CONSUFFAA — the Supreme Council of military commanders, all trained in the School of the Americas by the US. This is how the military has retained its power, and still exercises a veto in Honduran politics. Zelaya and his supporters want to end this situation, but, according to you, that would be a “coup” — but it isn’t a coup when the actual military comes in with guns blazing. Yes, Micheletti is “president,” but the real rulers are those with the guns — your friends, the Honduran military officers who have presided over forty years of repression, “disappearances,” and corruption. The military, in case you didn’t know, controls much of the Honduran economy, including telecommunications — isn’t that the “socialism” you despise?

In Iran, the “constitution” says the mullahs rule — and when the people revolt, you cheer them on. In Honduras, the “constitution” gives the military near complete autonomy, and when the people revolt — you condemn them. That same people would have voted FOR constitutional reform — which is why the military moved in quickly. How is a democratic vote an attempted “coup” ?

You’re not thinking in terms of broad principles, just in terms of Good Guys (the “free market” rich people who rule Honduras) versus the Bad Guys (the supposedly socialist Zelaya and Chavez). So, according to you, Pinochet’s dicatorship in Chile was a good thing — right? It did prevent the “marxist” Allende from becoming president.

Tom G. Palmer July 4, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Poor Nickyj. You give shallow, one-sided cheerleading a bad name.

Was it constitutional for Zelaya to order the military to use force against the decisions of the supreme court and the legislature? Was that not a coup? Get real. Imagine that in any other legal or constitutional order. Then ask if it would have been a coup had Richard Nixon or George Bush or Bill Clinton done that. The question answers itself.

You don’t know anything about me, you sad and pathetic little cheerleader for dictatorship. I have opposed US intervention in Central America and elsewhere. It’s a really, really bad policy. I do favor people challenging theocracies, it’s true. Gosh, I apologize. I do not see Zelaya in that light. HE is the one who first tried to use the military to overturn the constitution. You implicitly admit it. Zelaya ordered the military to use force to seize ballots because the other branches of government did not approve of his scheme to remove limits on the power of the president and turn him into a president for life. You show your cards when you refer to Zelaya as “the people.” He isn’t. He didn’t have majority support, or the support of the representative branch of the government — the Congress. Nor of the judiciary. Your remark is very, very telling. It’s an old tradition that Der Fuehrer is the people: Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuehrer is your motto. We know where that leads.

Now, as to malicious name calling. I have no friends in the Honduran military and I strongly oppose military government. That’s why I am disgusted by scum like Chavez, who organized a military coup in 1992 and, when foiled, found other means to create a regime of arbitrary power through rule by decree. There is now no legislature in Venezuela. Der Fuehrer rules alone.

You ask “How is a democratic vote an attempted “coup”?” That’s really easy. It’s not a democracy when the president imposes his will on the other branches of government to create a phony plebescite to extend his rule.

I do indeed oppose socialism and dictatorship, whether it’s by one side of a political divide or the other. That’s what separates us. You favor socialism and dictatorship when you or your friends are in power. One man, one vote, one time. Not for me.

Oh, by the way, Uribe is going for a similar — albeit less openly anti-constitutional — attempt to extend his term of office in Colombia. BIG mistake. In his attempt to defeat Chavez, he is emulating him. I oppose any and all efforts by people in power to extend their own power by changing the rules, whether by giving orders to the military (Zelaya’s route) or by legal means (Uribe’s). No law should be changed by someone in power when that rule will extend his own term of office or power. (And please, don’t insult anyone’s intelligence by claiming again that Zelaya would not have tried to benefit personally from a change in the rules. How stupid do you think people are?) It’s not about which side of a conflict one prefers — and I have too little knowledge of Honduran politics to have a strong preference; it’s about the rule of law and avoiding dictatorship. You favor coup and dictatorship when it’s your guy seizing power. I oppose them regardless. That’s the difference between us.

Tom G. Palmer July 4, 2009 at 3:55 pm

One last thing, Nickyj: I am not a supporter of the actions of the courts and congress in Honduras. I’m not sure what the best policy would have been. But it is not a “military led coup” when the courts and the congress removed the president and someone had to arrest him. A “military led coup” means that the military “leads” the coup, rather than obeying legal orders from the other branches of government, and that the military then takes over the government, rather than standing aside as the congress elects a successor. Words matter.

Oops…another! It is not ironic to refer to Zelaya as a coup organizer. He gave an illegal order to the military to overturn the decisions of the other branches of government, in order to extend his own power. However, your hero, Hugo Chavez, organized a coup and was then the victim of one. Is that ironic? Well, yes, but not in the sense you meant.

Samuel July 4, 2009 at 7:54 pm

This is a really interesting discussion. I did note an inconsistent part. Nicky says that under the constitution of Honduras the Congress of the country ““elects” the real commander of the armed forces”. If that is true, how could President Zelaya fire him? Is it in his power to do that? If he gave the officers an order that was illegal and then fired them and appointed loyalists, against the Constitution, is that not a case of grabbing power illegally? If the Constitution places that power in the Congress, then if he tried to take it, he was exercising a coup. Where I am I wrong?

In my understanding of military coups the army takes power. It looks like one politician (the frmer President) wanted to use the army to grab power for himself, but they refused. I find that somewhat reassuring. I would trust a freely elected Congress with an opposition voicing its views, before I would trust one man who wanted to take control of the army for his own purposes.

nickyj@live.com July 5, 2009 at 1:15 am

I am not a supporter of Chavez, or of Zelaya. I merely recognize a coup when I see one, and so, I might add, does most of the rest of the world, outside Fox News and the Wall Street Journal op ed page.

I’m not clear, by the way, what this business about “seizing” ballots is all about. An odd word choice for trying to hold a free and democratic referendum.

nickyj@live.com July 5, 2009 at 1:21 am

The old constitution of Honduras, I would like to point out, explicitly stated that the army did NOT have to obey the orders of the President. This separation of presidential and military power is how the army has managed to carve out its own autonomous zone, and set itself up as a competing center of power in Honduras. This is why the constitution needs “reform”: the military is not answerable to the civilian arm of government, and never has been. That is the root cause of the conflict: the military versus the civilian. You are siding with the military.

By your lights, the military was right to overthrow Allende in Chile: and surely bringing in Milton Friedman to run the economy is a plus, right? Or am I wrong to say that you would consider Pinochet a hero?

Tom G. Palmer July 5, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Nickyj, you are deliberately being obtuse. Read the history, even on CNN and BBC online. Zelaya did indeed order the military to seize ballots. That is NOT a democratic procedure. He ordered a “referendum” to extend his power that was not constitutionally authorized. Imagine Obama or Bush doing that. Then he ordered the military to seize and distribute the ballots. Is that the rule of law? Is that “democracy”? The military refused the would-be Caudillo and said no. So he fired the officers. That is a coup by the president. The military of Germany does not have to obey the president’s personal orders, either. Are they undemocratic? You put all your “democracy” into the President/Duce/Fuehrer. That is dictatorship, not democratic constitutionalism.

Of course you’re a Chavezista. Your posts simply stink of it, including accusing me of supporting Pinochet, which is simply, unequivocally false. I don’t support military government, including Pinochet. The “model” of Chile is not a model at all; it was a historical accident that that regime was removed from power, after creating policies that strengthened civil society enough to challenge the dictator. Of all the military takeovers in Latin America, it’s one of very, very few that ever turned into civilian rule in such a manner. That is an accident, not a model. Never, ever put your faith in dictators. You love them. I don’t. As to Milton Friedman, he gave lectures in Santiago, as he also did in Shanghai and Beijing. So was he a Pinochetist, or a Maoist? Or an economist who gave lectures on monetary policy?

Your reference to Zelaya as “the people” is very, very telling. Zelaya had and has his supporters, as every politician in office must — and his detractors, including his own party, the democratically elected members of the legislature, the courts, and most of civil society, including — it seems from the public opinion polling — most of the population at large. A president is not “the people.” He’s a politician and in this case, unsurprisingly, one who thirsted for more and more power. When he uses force to grab for more, he should be opposed. Removal from office and arrest would have been better than expulsion, but removal from office was in order. (I note that by “the old constitution” you mean “the constitution.” Nice try. Imagine the German president ordering the military to seize ballots and polling places and saying that that was illegal only under “the old constitution.”)

Daniil July 5, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Great point about the old (sic) constitution, Dr. Palmer! It’s a good example of a freudian slip.

Nickyj, I would like to hear your answer to just one question. Suppose it were not the military but the police to arrest Zelaya at the order from the Supreme Court. Would you still oppose it so passionately?

RINA CALLEJAS July 12, 2009 at 2:55 pm

ALL THIS DISCUSSION IS EXTREMELY INTERESTING. TO NICKY I WOULD LIKE TO CLARIFY CERTAIN THINGS:
FIRST, EXCUSE ME, LET ME INTRODUCE MYSELF, I AM A HONDURAN CITIZEN, NO GOVERNMENT TIES, I RESIDE IN TEGUCIGALPA AND THEREFORE AM AN EYE WITNESS.
THERE HAS BEEN NO REPRESSION, I AM PERSONALLY SURPRISED OF THE TOLERANCE OF OUR POLICE IN THE MANIFESTATIONS: THEY WERE UNARMED, LOOK AT THE PHOTOS PLEASE, THEY ARE USING THEIR SHIELDS AND CARRY ONLY A “BATON”. I MUST ALSO TELL YOU THAT MOST OF THOSE MANIFESTANTS ARE NOT HONDURAN, BUT SALVADORIANS, VENEZUELAN, CUBAN AND NICARAGUANS SPECIALIZED IN RIOTS. READ THE GRAFFITTI ON HE WALLS OF MANY BUILDINGS AND YOU WILL IDENTIFY WORDS, TERMS, THAT ARE NOT FAMILIAR TO HONDURANS. FOR EX. “GORILETTI”, A NAME USED ONLY BY CHAVEZ HIMSELF WHEN REFERING TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL PRESIDENT OF HONDURAS, MR. ROBERTO MICHELETTI. THE “GORILETTI” TERM WAS WRITTEN ON THE WALLS BEFORE CHAVEZ USED IT PUBLICALLY FOR THE FIRST TIME . I AM NOT GOING TO TRY TO CONVICE AN ALREADY CONVINCED PERSON AS YOU, NICKY, BUT IF YOU DONT RECOGNIZE TRUTH WHEN YOU SEE IT, YOU SHOULD AT LEAST NOT SUPPORT UNTRUTH. TO ALL OF THE OTHERS POSTING COMMENTS, I MUST SAY THAT 80% OF HONDURANS DO NOT WANT ZELAYA BACK. HIS OVERTHROW IS MORE THAN CLEAR FOR THOSE WHO SEARCH TRUTH. THE MILITARY EXPELLING HIM OF THE COUNTRY WAS WHAT IS CALLED “STATE OF NECESSITY” (I TRANSLATE LITERALLY FROM SPANISH “ESTADO DE NECESIDAD”) WHICH MEANS THE BEST CHOICE AMONG BAD ONES. IF ZELAYA WOULD HAVE STAYED IN HONDURA S FOR TRAIL, IMAGINE THE BLOODSHED THAT WOULD HAVE OCURRED, WITH THE SUPPORT OF CHAVEZ. YOU CAN CALL IT WHATEVER YOU WANT, AGAINST ZELAYA OR CHAVEZ, WE HONDURANS LOOK AT THEM AS THE SAME GANG, SO THE RESULT IS THE SAME. WE FEEL SAD FOR WHAT WAS NECESSARY TO HAPPEN, WORRIED OF OUR IMMEDIATE FUTURE, BUT HOPEFUL FOR OUR LONG TERM FUTURE AND PROUD OF HAVING, A TINY AND NON SIGNIFICANT COUNTRY LIKE US, STAND UP AND DEFEND REAL DEMOCRACY. WE HONDURAS ARE PEACEFUL AND LIKE OUR LIBERTY. EVEN THOUGH OUR YOUNG DEMOCRACY HAS ENORMOUS ERRORS OR FAILS, WE DO NOT CARE FOR IMPORTED CONSTITUTIONS AND IDEOLOGIES THAT DO NOT MATCH OUR IDEOSINCRACY. I AM A PROUD MOTHER AND A HAPPY GRANDMOTHER AND BELIEVE ME, I DONT WANT MY DESCENDANTS TO LIVE UNDER THE BOOT OF A TOTALITARIAN GOVERNMET. WE, THE ONES THAT THE WORLD HAS CALLED “BARBARIANS” WILL STAND FOR OUR BELIEVES AND WE DO NOT WANT ZELAYA BACK, BECAUSE HE DOES NOT REPRESENT THE “PEOPLE”OF HONDURAS, HE REPRESENTS THE INTERESTS OF CHAVEZ IN CENTRAL AMERICA, THE POSSIBILITY OF EXTENDIND HIS EMPIRE IN LATIN AMERICA. BE PATIENT AND LET US SHOW THE WORLD ALL THE CORRUPTION PROOFS THAT ARE PILLING UP AGAINST HIM, HIS FAMILY AND HIS NEAREST COLLABORATORS. THE TRUTH ALWAYS SHINES, SOONER OR LATER. HAVE YOU NOTICED THERE HAVE BEEN NO DRUG CARRYING PLANES LANDING IN HONDURAS SINCE ZELAYA LEFT? WOULD YOU CONSIDER THAT A COINCIDENCE? I AM NOT A POLITICIAN, SO I CAN ONLY OFFER MY VIEWS FROM MY OWN POINT OF VIEW, BUT I ASK MYSELF, AND MAYBE YOU, TOM, CAN CLARIFY THIS QUESTION FOR ME: WHY IF ZELAYA INTENDED TO TAKE OVER THE USA PALMEROLA BASE UNDER THE EXCUSE OF NEEDING TO CONVERT IT INTO THE TEGUCIGALPA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, DID NOT GIVE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT THE HINT OF WHAT WAS BEING SEEKED BY ZELAYA? REMEMBER HONDURAS HAS A PRIVILEGED GEOGRAPHICAL POSITION FOR CHAVEZ PLANS.

RINA CALLEJAS July 12, 2009 at 3:00 pm

BY THE WAY, FOR ALL THOSE INTERESTED IN TRUTH, I INVITE YOU TO VISIT THE FOLLOWING SITE:
LA VERDAD EN HONDURAS.COM

RINA CALLEJAS July 13, 2009 at 2:25 am

I need to apologize at using all capital letters when commenting, I did not realize I had done so until I saw the comment published.
Thanks for your understanding.

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