The Honduran coup that wasn't
Despite howls by organizations that should know better, the nation's president legally removed himself from office by trying to alter the Constitution. The military just helped him out the door.
By William Ratliff
July 18, 2009
We have heard a lot about Honduras lately, but there is much more at issue than the nighttime removal of President Manuel Zelaya on June 28 and its aftermath. The far bigger story is the disgrace of the world's major international political and economic organizations.
The Organization of American States and its ambitious leader, Jose Miguel Insulza, took the lead in dealing with the crisis. The OAS gave the new de facto Honduran government three days to restore Zelaya or suffer suspension from the organization. Tegucigalpa responded by quitting first.
But the OAS, the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank and others were all shooting from the hip into the dark. These leaders had nothing to inform their decisions but fuzzy idealism, ideological prejudices, assorted self-interests and profound ignorance of realities on the ground in Honduras.
But that was good enough for them. Insulza rejected conversations among contending parties in favor of macho confrontation, ultimatums and polarization, to the cheers of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other Chavistas. To their great shame, every OAS member-nation went along with Insulza. The OAS is indeed the Organization of American Sheep.
The Obama administration kept a low profile while setting up talks between the two sides, mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. The talks themselves -- as well as the U.S. focus on mediation rather than just confrontation -- brought howls of rage from Chavez.
The OAS declaimed its eternal rejection of the "anti-democratic," "anti-constitutional" "military coup" by the new government. But it was Zelaya who was in the wrong. The OAS diplomats can't have it both ways -- professing their unshakable dedication to national constitutions and the rule of law even as they militantly make a hero of a country's No. 1 lawbreaker.
What didn't the OAS, the U.N. and other leaders know that before ordering Hondurans around? As Honduran lawyer Octavio Sanchez pointed out in the Christian Science Monitor, when Zelaya issued a decree ordering a referendum on changing presidential terms, he "triggered a constitutional provision that automatically removed him from office." (Google the Honduran Constitution and read it for yourself -- Article 239.) Zelaya had ousted himself, so impeachment was unnecessary.
So it was quite legal for the military to remove Zelaya, though the nighttime act gave an impression of a military coup to outsiders.
It is Zelaya, Insulza, Chavez, the U.N. and all the OAS member-states who are playing at banana republic politics, not the government in Tegucigalpa.
William Ratliff is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and the Independent Institute.