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Manuel Zeyala


Honduras – “The Triumph Of The Rule Of Law”

Octavio Sanchez, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, takes exception to the charges that what happened with the removal of President Manuel Zelaya. was a military coup.

Instead, he says, it was a “triumph of the rule of law.” And he gives the world a little lesson in the Honduran Constitution.

In 1982, my country adopted a new Constitution that enabled our orderly return to democracy after years of military rule. After more than a dozen previous constitutions, the current Constitution, at 27 years old, has endured the longest.

It has endured because it responds and adapts to changing political conditions: Of its original 379 articles, seven have been completely or partially repealed, 18 have been interpreted, and 121 have been reformed.

It also includes seven articles that cannot be repealed or amended because they address issues that are critical for us. Those unchangeable articles include the form of government; the extent of our borders; the number of years of the presidential term; two prohibitions – one with respect to reelection of presidents, the other concerning eligibility for the presidency; and one article that penalizes the abrogation of the Constitution.

Sanchez makes the point that Honduras has gone through same sort of “trial and error” process with its constitution as has the US, France and other nations. But he then focuses on the 7 articles that cannot be repealed or amended. They form the crux of the case against Zelaya.

These are the facts: On June 26, President Zelaya issued a decree ordering all government employees to take part in the “Public Opinion Poll to convene a National Constitutional Assembly.” In doing so, Zelaya triggered a constitutional provision that automatically removed him from office.

Constitutional assemblies are convened to write new constitutions. When Zelaya published that decree to initiate an “opinion poll” about the possibility of convening a national assembly, he contravened the unchangeable articles of the Constitution that deal with the prohibition of reelecting a president and of extending his term. His actions showed intent.

Our Constitution takes such intent seriously. According to Article 239: “No citizen who has already served as head of the Executive Branch can be President or Vice-President. Whoever violates this law or proposes its reform [emphasis added], as well as those that support such violation directly or indirectly, will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years.”

Notice that the article speaks about intent and that it also says “immediately” – as in “instant,” as in “no trial required,” as in “no impeachment needed.”

Supreme Court Justice Rosalinda Cruz defended the ouster of Zeyala as well:

The arrest order she cited, approved unanimously by the court’s 15 justices, was released this afternoon along with documents pertaining to a secret investigation that went on for weeks under the high court’s supervision.

Others have also defended Zeyala’s removal:

David Matamoros, a member of Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal, also defended the military’s action.

He said Zelaya originally called the vote a plebiscite, then, when that was barred, shifted to describing it as a poll, creating uncertainty as to its legal standing and his intent. No government agency was willing to conduct the vote, he said. All the ballots and equipment for the illegal poll were flown in on a Venezuelan plane, he said. The court ordered the materials confiscated.

Nothing has been said about the apparent meddling by Venezuela.  Nor has there been any investigation by those so interested in immediately condemning the action taken by the authorities in Honduras as a “military coup” into the constitutional claims of the interim government.  Given Sanchez’s description of the evidence and the constitutional provisions, it appears he may be right – this was indeed a triumph of the law.

So why was Zelaya flown out of the country instead of being arrested?

The Supreme Court and the attorney general ordered Zelaya’s arrest for disobeying several court orders compelling him to obey the Constitution. He was detained and taken to Costa Rica. Why? Congress needed time to convene and remove him from office. With him inside the country that would have been impossible. This decision was taken by the 123 (of the 128) members of Congress present that day.

15 justices of the Supreme Court, 123 of 128 Congress members, the Attorney General, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the military all acted in concert and apparently within the law and the constitution, to remove someone who had violated the constitution and essentially impeached himself.

Says Sanchez:

Don’t believe the coup myth. The Honduran military acted entirely within the bounds of the Constitution. The military gained nothing but the respect of the nation by its actions.

I am extremely proud of my compatriots. Finally, we have decided to stand up and become a country of laws, not men. From now on, here in Honduras, no one will be above the law.

Given that explanation and assuming it is the case, it seems we should be celebrating what Honduras has done instead of condemning it.

~McQ

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