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  Number 336 | Julio 2009
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Honduras

A Return to the Caverns

This text goes out from Nicaragua in solidarity with Hondurans who a few days after the military coup in their country defined themselves like this: “We’re young people, not as old as those who lived through previous coups, but we have enough critical reason to reject what was just perpetrated and to pay attention to the fact that what’s yet to come is still worse. We feel neither represented by nor identified with President Zelaya, but even less so with the military, Micheletti or any of that ultra-conservative group that took power by assault.”

Sergio Ramírez

For Latin America, the military coup consummated against the constitutional President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya Rosales, has represented a return to the era of the caverns, when armies would commonly act as the final arbiters of political power. The regimes that emerged from the military coups were Central America’s ill for decades, earning these countries the sad title of banana republics, a common denominator that extended to all other countries with an army willing to exercise its prerogatives of gorilla rule.

The images of Tegucigalpa’s streets we saw on television, with tanks and armored cars parading aggressively and patrols of soldiers in combat gear, turned the clock back to the blackest hour of a past that seemed buried forever. And a President taken from his bed by force in the pre-dawn hours by a platoon of hooded military who broke into his house, put on a plane in his pajamas and flown to another country are also images from an old movie we thought we would never see again. But there they are, before our eyes, part of the realities of the 21st century.

The legal justifications for the whole plot are dimwitted. I have heard legislative representative Roberto Micheletti, named President of the republic by the National Congress to succeed Zelaya after the coup, say the action was order by a judge and transmitted to the military command. Envision the stature of the stratagem. A judge who issues a command to someone he shouldn’t, since the army has no police functions except under a regime of occupation. Much less can he order the military to pull a duly elected President who enjoys immunity out of his bed and banish him from the country. Obviously banishment doesn’t exist under the law as either a preventive or punitive measure. The use of this alibi is pathetic.

President Zelaya put himself
in a precarious position

The magnitude of the aggression suffered by the democratic order in Honduras far overshadows any discussion of the precarious situation President Zelaya had put himself into in the days preceding the military coup. Nonetheless, poised on the knife’s edge, he failed to intelligently read the political balance of forces, as everything was stacking up against him. Hours before being violently thrown out of his house and country, he lost the backing of the National Assembly, which then unanimously voted in favor of replacing him; of his own Liberal Party, whose representatives cast their votes with those of the other parties for his substitution; of the Electoral Council and the Attorney General’s Office; of a good number of the media, with which he had entered into pitched battle; of the business leaders; and of the Catholic Church hierarchy. He was alone, and didn’t seem to realize it.

God knows why, but President Zelaya forgot about the ground beneath him when he insisted on calling for and personally organizing a popular consultation, to have been held the very Sunday he was overthrown even when it had been prohibited by the other state powers on the grounds of unconstitutionality. He hoped to obtain backing through this consultation to include a fourth ballot box in November’s general elections where citizens would vote on whether they wanted a change of Political Constitution, something the Electoral Council, backed by the Supreme Court, had already refused.

He was still behaving recklessly when he ordered the army to offload the electoral material for the consultation, which had just come from Venezuela, and distribute it to the voting centers. When the chief of the army refused, he had him dismissed, but his adversaries in the other branches of state immediately backed the army chief following the resignation of the entire Joint Chiefs in solidarity with their boss.

To trigger a crisis of this size, the President must have felt he had some kind of substantial support. But where was it?
In what institutions? In what grassroots organizations, what unions, what political parties, what corporations? Did he perhaps enjoy the majority of public opinion?

I think President Zelaya imagined himself in another country, not Honduras, and underestimated the conservative estates, which viewed with antipathy and distrust his alignment with the populist Left represented by Chávez and Ortega,
and his friendship with Fidel Castro, which was at least a legitimate personal choice. One of the overlapping arguments Micheletti used to justify the coup is that his Liberal colleague Zelaya changed ideology midstream and “became a leftist,” which at the end of the day he was made to for with the military coup.

President Zelaya’s errors of political appraisal in not taking note of the terrain he was standing on, and his confrontations with the legal order to promote a constitutional change that would permit his reelection, which is the current trend among government leaders in more than a few Latin American countries, are now moot, however. What matters is that he was illegally and brutally deposed.

The test by fire now falls to the Organization of American States (OEA), which must demonstrate whether it is capable of enforcing its Democratic Charter. No transgressors of the constitutional order or perpetrators of military coups can be allowed to get away with it.

Sergio Ramírez is a Nicaraguan writer and former Vice President of Nicaragua.

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