The following was taken from Real Clear Politics … follow the links to read the full stories.
July 3, 2009
By Oliver North
WASHINGTON — It took the Obama administration eight days to figure out whether Iranians being gunned down for protesting a fraudulent election and demanding basic civil liberties deserved to be acknowledged by the president of the United States. It took the O-Team less than eight hours to side with Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega over the ouster of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras.
As we now have come to expect, Mr. Obama got it wrong again, but this time, nobody noticed. The U.S. news media, preoccupied with the sudden demise of Michael Jackson, ignored the event in Central America. For those who care about things more important than the passing of a “pop music legend,” here’s the rest of the story:
Manuel Zelaya, a wealthy rancher and agribusiness executive and a self-described “poor farmer,” won a four-year term as Honduran president in November 2005, with 49.8 percent of the vote. Article 374 of the Honduran Constitution bars the nation’s chief executive from serving consecutive terms. Apparently, one term wasn’t enough for Zelaya, a protégé of Venezuela’s strongman, Hugo Chavez, and Nicaragua’s phobic anti-American leader, Daniel Ortega.
Late last year, as the Honduran economy tanked and unemployment grew to nearly 28 percent, Zelaya forced Elvin Santos, the country’s elected vice president, to resign and began holding conversations with Chavez and Ortega on how to hold on to power. In lengthy Chavez-like populist speeches, he denounced the U.S. and wealthy landowners and linked himself with leftists in the Honduran labor movement. On March 23, he issued an executive decree directing a national referendum on a Venezuela-style constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution in time for presidential and legislative elections in November. The Obama-Clinton State Department was mute about all of this.
Unfortunately for Zelaya’s aspirations, the Honduran Constitution requires that amendments be passed by a two-thirds vote of the country’s unicameral Congress during two consecutive sessions. By late May, the Honduran Congress, the Honduran Supreme Court, the commissioner for human rights, and the Honduran electoral tribunal all had overwhelmingly declared the referendum unconstitutional. Zelaya ignored the people’s representatives, had ballots printed in Venezuela, and announced that the vote would take place June 28. Again, the O-Team was silent.
In keeping with the rule of law, Honduran Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubi took the case to court. The Honduran Supreme Court ruled the referendum to be illegal and ordered the ballots to be confiscated. Late on June 23, Zelaya countermanded the court order and directed the army to distribute the ballots. Gen. Romeo Vasquez, the chief of staff of the Honduran military, sought legal opinions and decided not to distribute them. The following day, Zelaya accepted the resignation of the minister of defense, Edmundo Orellana, and fired Vasquez.
The Honduran Supreme Court unanimously ruled the Vasquez firing illegal and reinstated him June 25. That prompted Zelaya and a group of supporters to seize the ballots and issue another executive decree, which directed government officials to set up 15,000 polling stations at schools and community buildings across the country. In response to a request from Attorney General Rubi, the Honduran Congress — controlled by Zelaya’s own Liberal Party — opened an investigation into the president’s mental stability and fitness to govern. Zelaya replied with a two-hour broadcast harangue, in which he claimed: “Congress cannot investigate me, much less remove me or stage a technical coup against me, because I am honest. I’m a free president, and nobody scares me.”
On Sunday, just hours before the referendum was to begin, the Honduran army, acting on a warrant issued by the Honduran Supreme Court, arrested Zelaya and sent him, in his pajamas, into exile in Costa Rica. The Honduran Congress affirmed Zelaya’s departure and, in accord with the constitution, named Roberto Micheletti, who had been president of the Congress, as interim president of the country.
Honduras Fires Its Runaway President
Early on June 28, members of the Honduran military temporarily arrested President Manuel Zelaya. Within minutes he was on a plane bound for Costa Rica. In San Jose, Zelaya denounced the military’s intervention as a “coup d’etat” and a “brutal kidnapping.” The military’s actions, while swift and arbitrary, came after President Zelaya defied virtually every Honduran political and legal institution and propelled his citizens to the verge of polarizing violence. Zelaya’s swift removal from Honduras probably saved many lives.
In less than six hours, Honduras’s congress removed Zelaya as president for repeated violations of Honduras’s laws and constitution, as well as for his failure to observe resolutions of Honduran courts. In short, the congress fired the sitting President for multiple acts of institutional insubordination. The congress then named its speaker, Robert Micheletti, to serve as chief executive until after national elections in November. The military has begun a return back to the barracks.
The events of June 28 mark the culmination in a series of confrontations between Zelaya and virtually all of Honduras’s political and judicial institutions, including the congress, the supreme court, the two major political parties (including his own), and the military. At issue was Zelaya’s effort to convene a non-binding public referendum that, he believed, would open the doors for major constitutional revision. Given that the Honduran constitution does not grant its president the power to convene such referenda, there is no question that, while the response of the Honduran military may have been rash, President Zelaya was fired for a legitimate reason.
Zelaya’s March to the Left
President Zelaya won election by the slenderest of margins in 2005. A series of corruption charges involving state contracts and manipulation of public services–particularly in telecommunications (Hondutel)–hounded the Zelaya government, which began its term with earnest promises of fiscal probity and transparency.
With regard to foreign policy, Zelaya in August 2008 signed on as a member of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), a political and economic bloc controlled by senior members Venezuela and Cuba. Zelaya sought and received assistance from Venezuela via the oil-financing facility Petrocaribe and moved for closer ties with Castro’s communist-revolutionary regime.
The Obama Administration wants to reverse the events of June 28. It believes restoring political order and protecting the fundamentals of the Inter-American Democratic Charter via handing the problem off the Organization of American States (OAS) will work easily and promote the smooth, orderly return of President Zelaya. The facts on the ground, however, do not lend themselves to such a tidy and optimistic scenario. There is a grave danger that by acting against the new constitutional arrangement order established by the Honduran congress, supreme court, and military, bloodshed and political chaos are likely to follow.
Chávez’s Intervention Portends Bloodshed
There is little doubt that President Zelaya was emboldened to challenge the institutions of Honduras by the support of Hugo Chávez and other ALBA members. On June 25, ALBA members issued a public statement claiming that a coup was already underway, and they backed the June referendum, despite lack of institutional support. In short, they endorsed Zelaya’s defiant and reckless strategy.
On June 28, Chávez stepped up his interventions by directing calls to campesino leaders in Honduras to encourage resistance, putting his military on alert, calling on the Honduran soldiers to disobey their superiors, and vowing to topple the new government. “If they swear in Micheletti [or any other], we will overthrow them!” he proclaimed. Chávez also threatened to give a lesson to the military “gorillas” who do not respect Honduras’s constitution.
The relentless intervention of Chávez will serve only to harden the Honduran opposition, demonstrate that Zelaya is heavily compromised and dependent on foreign backing, and support tactics that can easily lead to potentially dangerous provocations. Demonstrations and resistance encouraged by Chávez and others threaten to make a shamble of institutional order in Honduras.
- Recognize the new Honduran government. Messy as it is, the Obama Administration should recognize the new interim government, as constitutional order has been preserved.
- Restore public order. The Obama Administration should work with the OAS and other international missions to promote national reconciliation and an end to polarization.
- Resist Chávez and ALBA intervention. The Chavistas consistently pushed Zelaya toward confrontational politics; now they threaten intervention. The Obama Administration must move to neutralize this negative and highly dangerous thrust.
The events unfolding in Honduras remain confused. Yet it appears the primary institutions of the nation–congress, the supreme court, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and the military as the guardian of public order–have spoken. While these institutions may have acted precipitously, the bottom line is that President Zelaya was fired for cause. The U.S. can ill afford to open the door to a counter-intervention by Hugo Chávez, one that would deliver Honduras into the Chávez brand of “democracy.”
Filed under: Barack Obama, Cuba, Fidel Castro, Honduran Congress Removes President Zelaya For Constitutional Violations, Honduras, Hugo Chavez, Oliver North | Tagged: Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubi, Daniel Ortega, Defense Minister Edmundo Orellana, Fidel Castro, Gen. Romeo Vasquez, Honduran Crisis, Honduran Supreme Court, Hugo Chavez, Manuel Zelaya, Oliver North |