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Sunday, November 1, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

From a WSJ editorial on the Honduras situation:

Hondurans had deposed Mr. Zelaya on entirely legal grounds for threatening violence and violating the country’s constitution in an attempt to run for a second term.

This is not a new observation, but I feel the need to call people out whenever I see it, especially because it has become a matter of received truth in some quarters, but:  whatever else one may be able to say about Zelaya’s pre-coup actions, he was not seeking a second term!  One need not be a fan of Zelaya to note this, nor is it an ideological or political observation, it is simply an established fact.  For the umpeenth time, I would refer my readers to the text of the plebiscite (click here).

As Greg Weeks has repeatedly noted:1  while there have been accusations that Zelaya was specifically seeking a second term in office,there has never been any evidence to back that claim.  The closest one gets, by the way, is that since Zelaya was tagged as a chavista  that obviously he was trying for an extended term, after all that’s what chavistas do (like, for example, Uribe).2

One of the various reasons it has been very difficult to take the pro-coup faction in the US seriously is that they really do not appear to have their basic facts straight and instead have always based their position on a combination of anti-Chávez/anti-Obama3 sentiments that have very little to do with things like legality and democracy.

Back to the quote cited above:  the inaccurate (to be kind) statement about a second term should cast a shadow over the rest of the statement.  Further, the statement ignores the fact that, at a minimum, Zelaya’s exile was unconstitutional.  Beyond that, while it appears to be the case that there was a legal basis for the Supreme Court to act against Zelaya, it is far from clear that they (in conjunction with the Congress) had the legal power to summarily remove the sitting president from power.  The allegations of violence are also speculative.  It is possible, I will more than allow, that had Zelaya proceeded to hold his consulta without legal sanction by using volunteers that confrontations could have resulted.  However, such a situation could have been handled well short of a coup. 

This should not be as difficult to comprehend as many seem to make it.

  1. For example, here, interestingly also in response to a WSJ editorial []
  2. Just in case:  the Uribe ref is utter sarcasm.  For those unfamiliar:  Uribe is usually viewed as the anti-Chávez and he has already managed to get the Colombian constitution amended to allow for one reelection and is poised for a second.  Uribe is also the US’ strongest ally in the region and yet somehow his question for a longer time in office isn’t seen as problematic. []
  3. i.e., reflexive opposition to any position taken by the administration []
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Friday, October 30, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

The BBC reports:  Honduras rivals resolve deadlock:

The interim leader of Honduras says he is ready to sign a pact to end its crisis which could include the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

Roberto Micheletti said the agreement would create a power-sharing government and require both sides to recognise the result of November’s presidential poll.

Mr Zelaya said the deal, which requires the approval of the Supreme Court and Congress, would be signed on Friday.

This is a truly historic event in the annals of Latin American coups in terms of an ousted leader being returned to power via negotiation.  Indeed, in terms of being returned to power at all the only other example that I can think of (and not just me, it would seem) is when Hugo Chávez was returned to power in 2002 after a very brief ouster.  And one could argue that in that case that coup was never consolidated.  In the Honduran case we will have seen over 100 days of an interim government as the result of a coup give way to a return to power.  At a minimum this is all quite interesting.

Beyond that, it strikes me as good for Honduras’ democratic health for the matter to have been resolved in this way.  There will, however, be longer terms affects one would suspect.   For example, the entire affair may hasten a movement towards constitutional reform, as there is little doubt that whatever one wants to say about the last several months, it is quite clear that those events revealed a number of difficulties with constitutional procedures in Honduras.  At a minimum, some sort of formalized process for leveling charges against a sitting president might be useful, not to mention some clarification of the roles of the various branches in these types of intragovernmental conflicts.

Clarification of whether having naughty thoughts about maybe, perhaps wanting presidential re-election violates the constitution would also likely be helpful.  Put in less colorful terms:   clarifying if wanting constitutional reform of any kind equals violating the no re-election clauses of the current constitution.  No small matter, that.  A look at decree powers wouldn’t hurt, as there appears to be some serious ambiguity there as well that helped start this whole problem in the first place.

Of course, until the deal is actually signed and goes into effect, all the above may yet be rendered moot.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYT:  U.S. Sending Envoys to Try to End Crisis in Honduras

This will be the first time since the coup that the Obama administration has taken a leading role in pressuring the leaders of the de facto government to restore democratic order in Honduras. The stepped-up pressure comes after months of apparently fruitless talks about whether Mr. Zelaya will be returned to power.

If anything this strikes me as too little, too late.  The coup took place about three months ago and there is roughly a month until the scheduled elections and so one has to wonder as the why the US is only deciding to get directly involved now.  Or, at least, why they didn’t get involved earlier.

Some of the politics of the situation:

The coup in Honduras has threatened to become a sore point between the Obama administration and the rest of Latin America, where an increasing number of leaders have accused the United States of failing to put sufficient pressure on the de facto government to force it to compromise and stop its repression of journalists, human rights activists and pro-Zelaya demonstrators.

The issue has also created political headaches for President Obama in Congress, where a few Republicans have held up key State Department appointments as a way of pressuring the administration to reverse its condemnation of the coup. The Republican group, led by Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, has said Mr. Zelaya’s opponents had no choice but to oust him because he had tried to illegally extend his time in power.

In regards to the last sentence, may I yet again point out that the plebiscite was not about extending his term (see here)?  I concur that Zelaya’s actions warranted legal action because proceeding with the plebiscite (as he appeared set to do) would have contravened a court order.  However, the legal justifications for acting against the plebiscite hardly justifies the coup and it is amazing how difficult this appears to be for so many to understand.  It is especially amazing (although, ultimately, not surprising)  that members of the US Congress are using the events to grandstand and to hold up appointments over it.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Via Human Rights Watch: Honduras: Stop Blocking Human Rights Inquiries

Since the military ousted President Zelaya on June 28, 2009, the small human rights unit of the Office of the Attorney General has begun investigations into numerous cases of killings, alleged excessive use of force by security officials, and illegal and arbitrary detentions. The unit has also filed motions objecting to a decree limiting freedoms of the press and assembly, which the de facto government has used to bar two media outlets from broadcasting. But the unit has met with resistance from their superiors in the Attorney General’s Office as well as acts of obstruction, including direct threats, from members of the armed forces.

“If anyone questions the damage that the de facto government has done to Honduras’ democratic institutions it’s clearly illustrated by these cases,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “And by obstructing the investigations, the public security forces are thumbing their noses at the rule of law.”

There are reasons why the reaction of persons (such as myself) who understand Latin American politics had an immediate negative reaction to the coup in Honduras: we know what tends to happen to other aspects of civil and political life in these contexts. Extralegal actions against a legitimately elected constitutional official will tend to reverberate into the society in a negative fashion. Indeed, I cannot think of a case in which a coup (or whatever one wants to call these actions) was perpetrated in the name of “democracy” that, in fact, furthered the democratic development of the case in question.

It is why, by the way, having US officials go to said country and likening the de facto government to Madison, et al., is so especially offensive.

I would recommend the entire HRW piece.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the LAT: Honduran talks deadlocked on reinstating Zelaya

De facto President Roberto Micheletti abruptly announced Friday that the Supreme Court was the body that should decide whether to reinstate Zelaya.

The head of Zelaya’s team, Victor Meza, called the proposal “absurd” and countered that the Congress should make the decision, arguing that returning Zelaya to office was a political matter, not a judicial one.

Of the things that are interesting and telling about all of this is the fact that despite the claims by coup apologists (like Senator DeMint or any number of members of the commentariat), it is clear that there was no clear and obvious legal process to oust Zelaya in the first place nor was there some simple legal formula that was simply short-circuited by the “oopsie” of the military accidentally exiling Zelaya.

In other words, if there was a clear and obvious legal process that was the basis of the clear, obvious, and legal removal of Zelaya from the presidency, why aren’t the Micheletti people using it as part of their negotiations with Zelaya? Surely it would bolster their position with Zelaya and his supporters, not to mention in the court of world public opinion, if they could demonstrate the obviousness of their pre-coup decision-making, yes?

Instead, the negotiations appear to have a a decided post hoc feel to them and do not appear to be based in anything approaching the application of previously established institutional parameters.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

The LAT says yes,  Progress reported in Honduras coup crisis: 

Negotiations, which began last week under the auspices of the Organization of American States, focused on a draft agreement brokered in July by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. It was rejected by Micheletti at the time, but members of the two delegations said this week that they had agreed on all but the final point.

The agreed points included formation of a "national unity" government and establishment of a truth commission. The two sides agreed to reject an amnesty for all involved, and to scrap Zelaya’s quest to hold a constituent assembly aimed at revising the constitution.

However, the BBC reports:  Honduras coup dialogue suspended:

Speaking from the capital Tegucigalpa, Mr Zelaya told Associated Press: "The dialogue is suspended. They say they will present something on Monday and if they do we will listen to it."

"But the dialogue is suspended due to this unilateral and practically disrespectful offer from them, which we consider to be just another mocking, dismissive act against the Honduran people and the international community," he added.

One thing that I find interesting about the situation is that the very fact that the de facto government is negotiating means that they take the proposition  that Zelaya was removed in a slam-dunk, obvious and utterly legal process less seriously than many of their defenders in the United States.1

Of course, I still think that their main goal is to continue kicking the can towards the elections which are scheduled to take place in roughly 6 weeks.

  1. For example []
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Thursday, October 15, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Confusion over Honduras agreement

There is more confusion in Honduras over whether an agreement has been reached to solve the political crisis.

Negotiators for ousted President Manuel Zelaya said a “unified text” had been agreed that could lead to an “exit” from the crisis.

But representatives of interim leader Roberto Micheletti said no agreement had been reached on the key issue of a possible return to power for Mr Zelaya.

That’s about par for the course in this case, yes?

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

A commenter notes that Ed Morrissey points to a Google translation of an editorial that reports on an UN report (no link provided) that purports to have proven that that the removal of Manuel Zelaya from power in Honduras was legal.

First off, that’s not exactly a high bar when it comes to sufficient evidence to reach a conclusion of any kind.  I would also note that while I am unfamiliar with Hondudiario, it has been the case that the media in Honduras have clearly taken sides and we also know that media in opposition to the de facto government have been harassed.  As such, a Honduran media source sans other corroboration, especially one with such a vague report, is hardly dispositive.

Second, I will be interested in seeing said report.  However, if what it does is conclude, like the CRS report that I noted over the weekend, that there were legal grounds from the Supreme Court and Congress to act against Zelaya because he was poised to defy a court order over his plebiscite, then this is not a justification for what happened nor does it alter the fact that the process was ultimately a coup.

Here’s the deal as simply as I can put it:  even if their were legal grounds to remove Zelaya from office, his seizure and exile in the absence of an actual legal proceeding was a coup.

Put another way:  if an arrest warrant was issued for a murderer for whom there is slam dunk evidence of guilt and instead of arresting the suspect the police simply shoot him in his bed the fact that there was an legal case with proper legal authority behind the arrest warrant does not mean that the police officer in question wouldn’t be charged with murder for shooting the suspect.  The police officer could not simply say that the killing of the suspect didn’t matter and it wasn’t murder because there was some legal authority behind the original charges.

Likewise, even if legal authority existed for the SC and Congress of Honduras to act against Zelaya’s plebiscite, that does not justify events as they happened, nor does it change the definition of what happened.  One cannot divorce the exile from the overall process.

I am curious as a)  why this is so hard to understand, and b) why so many people are hellbent on supporting the actions of the de facto government.

Of course, I do know that at least part (and perhaps all) of the answer to “b” is a combination of chavezphobia and opposition to any position taken by the Obama administration.

(It is, of course, likely, that all of my desire to understand the process, as well as my respect for institutions just makes me a Commie lover (amongst other things), but so it goes…)

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Saturday, October 10, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Andy McCarthy at The Corner quotes DeMint on the the legality of the Honduran coup:

Senator Jim Demint writes in the Wall Street Journal about his factfinding visit to Honduras, where Zelaya — a thuggish would-be dictator who was trying to destroy the rule of law in his country — was ousted as president in a manner consistent with the Honduran constitution. The Obama administration — which couldn’t roll over fast enough when Ahmadinejad had to steal the already-rigged Iranian "election" and the regime brutally jailed, tortured and killed dissenters — is playing hardball with Honduras (at least when it’s not slapping Israel and the Dalai Lama around), demanding that the thug be restored to power. But, as Sen. Demint notes, "the only thorough examination of the facts to date—conducted by a senior analyst at the Law Library of Congress—confirms the legality and constitutionality of Mr. Zelaya’s ouster. (It’s on the Internet here .)"

The same mistake is made  by Fausta and jdamn @The Astute Bloggers.

Again, I give you the last sentence of the report that DeMint  cites as confirming “the legality and constitutionality of Mr. Zelaya’s ouster”

removal of President Zelaya from the country by the military is in direct violation of the Article 102 of the Constitution, and apparently this action is currently under investigation by the Honduran authorities.

By the way:  the statement is also made in the executive summary, so one need not read the whole thing to find the information.

This is the not insignificant and does not support DeMint’s position on the topic and, further, does not help the pro-coup arguments being made by folks like McCarthy. et al.

See my previous post on the subject for more details.

I continue to remain utterly vexed at why this situation is so hard for some to understand. Yes, I acknowledge that Zelaya was operating against a court order in regards to the plebiscite. That means that legal proceeding were warranted. One, however (in contravention of the constitution) he was removed from the country and his office by the military, it was a coup, whether one liked what he was doing before or not.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) has a piece in the WSJ about his trip to Honduras to visit with the de facto government run by interim President Roberto Michelliti.  The piece presents the pro-coup narrative in concise form, including a statement equating the coup government to the Founding Fathers of the United States.

What follows is some commentary on the column.

DeMint starts as follows:

In the last three months, much has been made of a supposed military "coup"1 that whisked former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from power and the supposed chaos it has created.

Of course, this is where the divergence starts over the events of June 28, 2009.  The defenders of the ouster claim that the Constitution of Honduras allows the Supreme Court to order the military to rousted the elected President out of bed early on a Sunday morning, place him on a plane to Costa Rica, and then declare his presidency ended.  However, this  is demonstrably not the case, as the Honduran constitution forbids exiling its citizens (see here and here).  That fact alone casts substantial doubt of the legality of the events of June 28th.   Further, there was no due process in this case, but rather, summary judgment without any kind of trial, hearing or proceeding of any kind.  So yes, yes it was a coup.

The combination of transgressing the clear language of the constitution, a lack of actual due process, and the military placing the president on a plane in his PJs (during a media blackout, btw) all sums to “coup.”

Interestingly, DeMint references a report from an analyst at the Law Library of Congress as support for his position on the legality of the events under discussion [PDF here].  However, the report concludes:

Available sources indicate that the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the
Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system.

However, removal of President Zelaya from the country by the military is in direct violation of the Article 102 of the Constitution, and apparently this action is currently under investigation by the Honduran authorities.

Emphasis mine.

Zelaya’s removal from the country is the issue here in the coup/not coup discussion.  Yes, there was a constitutional basis for charges to be brought against Zelaya over his plebiscite (and I have consistently noted this fact).  However, once the military summarily removed him from office and the country the legal basis for the behaviors in question went out the door.  It is his removal from office and the country without proper due process that made the event a coup.  One cannot just chalk it up to a big “oopsie.”

DeMint describes his trip thusly:

While in Honduras, I spoke to dozens of Hondurans, from nonpartisan members of civil society to former Zelaya political allies, from Supreme Court judges to presidential candidates and even personal friends of Mr. Zelaya. Each relayed stories of a man changed and corrupted by power. The evidence of Mr. Zelaya’s abuses of presidential power—and his illegal attempts to rewrite the Honduran Constitution, a la Hugo Chávez—is not only overwhelming but uncontroverted.

[…]

Indeed, the desire to move beyond the Zelaya era was almost universal in our meetings.

What does DeMint think is going to happen on a trip wherein his hosts are the interim government?  Does he really think that he is going to get anything other than encounters with anti-Zelaya actors?  They are in classic (and fully expected) CYA mode here.

Further, while it is true that Zelaya was attempting to hold a plebiscite in contravention of court orders, the appropriate response to his behavior wasn’t coup (again, see above).

The “almost” in the sentence refers to the US Ambassador, who holds to the Obama administration’s position (along with every other government in the hemisphere, left or right) that Zelaya is the legitimate president of Honduras.

Here’s DeMint’s Founding Fathers’ comment:

America’s Founding Fathers—like the framers of Honduras’s own constitution—believed strong institutions were necessary to defend freedom and democracy from the ambitions of would-be tyrants and dictators. Faced by Mr. Zelaya’s attempted usurpations, the institutions of Honduran democracy performed as designed, and as our own Founding Fathers would have hoped.

The irony here is astounding, given the discussion above.  There was a clear short-circuiting of institutional processes in Honduras.  There is no credible argument to be made on this point.    Yes, there was a legal justification for issuing charges against Zelaya, but since that process never took place, one cannot argue ex post that what could have happened is what happened.

The argument that “if they hadn’t exiled him, a trial could have been held, so the process was legal” is kind of like saying “my team won the game because if the receiver had caught the ball in the endzone  at the end of the 4th quarter we would’ve had more points.”

I know I repeat myself:  but the unconstitutional exile of Zelaya trumps any hypotheticals about what might have/could have happened.

DeMint concludes:

Hondurans are therefore left scratching their heads. They know why Hugo Chávez, Daniel Ortega and the Castro brothers oppose free elections and the removal of would-be dictators, but they can’t understand why the Obama administration does.

First, this is a non sequitur, as I am unaware of opposition to free elections by the Obama administration.

Second:   the issue should not be the Castros, Ortega or Chávez, but rather the actual facts on the ground and legal context in Honduras itself.

Let me conclude that I find DeMint’s concern for “our poor and loyal allies in Honduras” to be amusing and disingenuous, as I can’t imagine that he gave the place much thought at all prior to the coup.  The fact of the matter is that this is about political points vis-à-vis Obama and basic chávezphobia.

  1. I guess this is the week of scare quotes (see also, here). []
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