Thursday, August 27, 2009

Honduran Constitutional Crisis - Not a Coup

Even the New York Times, whose coverage of this critical event has been abysmally inadequate, continues to refer to the removal on June 28 of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya by the military as a "coup."[1] Such terminology unapologetically evokes images of the 1973 "caravan of death" mass execution of 75 political prisoners that began General Augusto Pinochet's 20-year dictatorship in Chile[2] and the 100-plus other examples of Latin America's not-so-distant propensity to end presidential terms prematurely by military force.[3]
No expert on the Honduran Constitution, I nonetheless feel compelled to call for media coverage of the actual legal context for Zelaya's being ushered out of the country by the Honduran military. As noted in an article published July 12 by Honduran Issa M. Faraj,[4] article 239 of the Honduran Constitution provides that if the president even proposes amending the Constitution to extend his rule, he shall "immediately cease to function in his post." According to Faraj, the Honduran Congress advised the Supreme Court that Zelaya's attempts to force a referendum on amending the Constitution were illegal because they could only be intended to amend the unamendable term limit provision. The Supreme Court agreed and ordered the military to arrest Zelaya. After decades of military dictatorships, Hondurans appear dead serious about preventing an authoritarian extension of presidential term limits.
It is not so clear why Zelaya was exiled to Costa Rica, but that should not cloud the justification for the president's removal from office. The only attempt in the U.S. media for legal accuracy came from a July 12 op-ed piece by Honduran Miguel Estrada, which I highly recommend.[5]What is now needed is a thorough airing of the documents on the Supreme Court's web site that explain the process. Do they justify Zelaya's removal? Did Zelaya receive due process?

[1] One Side Makes Offer in Honduran Impasse, AP, July 15, 2009, available in The New York Times on-line at
[2] Patricia Verdugo, Chile, Pinochet, and the Caravan of Death (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Pubs. 2001), from publisher's description at[3] Arturo Valenzuela, Latin American Presidencies Interrupted, 15 J. Democracy 5 (2004).

[4] Honduras: The Country the World Should Envy Today, July 12, 2009,
[5] Miguel A. Estrada, Honduras' Non-coup, Los Angeles Times, July 12, 2009 Opinion, available at,0,1570598.story?vote47975676=1.

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