What happened in Honduras

Chávez threatened war if the vote to throw out liberal democracy did not take place

It is getting time to sum up what happened in Honduras before and during June 28th, 2009. After a couple of months there are still questionmarks remaining that I have had to do some investigation to straighten out. The core of the matter is that then president Manuel Zelaya wanted to hold a country-wide vote (which he called an opinion poll in an attempt to circumvent the constitution) about the creation of a constituting constitutional assembly.

Twelve weeks ago, on June 25th, he published the official decree on the vote, which had been declared illegal already in May. The same date the court ceased the illegal election material, and left it under the protection of the military. They furthermore declared that the head of the military, general Velasquez, remained in his duty since his firing the day before by Zelaya had been illegal.

At 9 PM local time the 25th I received a tip by phone from Honduras that an action against Zelaya could happen at any moment. My source did not want to reveal more since it was supposed to be a secret, and not even my source was supposed to have knowledge about it. However, nothing happened.

Later I asked what the action was supposed to have been. Well, the answer was, the Supreme Court had issued an arrest warrant for Manuel Zelaya to the military (which is entirely appropriate according to the constitution), but the military did not act on it, for whatever reason.

A second source of mine says that friends of Zelaya visited the president on that evening, and told him about the arrest warrant. They tried to talk him out of the crime he was about to commit, but to no avail.

It is worth noting, though, that a secret court order was known (by some) already on June 25th. However, a secret court order was not made public until June 30th, and the veracity of it has then been questioned (including on this blog initially before I had independent confirmation), partly because it was secret, partly because it lacked a record number. The latter can be explained as a precaution to make sure that nobody even knew that there was a secret order. Since friends of Zelaya told him it of course nullified that calculation.

On June 26, Zelaya marched in the head of a mob to the military base and took the impounded material from the court by force. At the same time the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez went on attack in media declaring that a military coup had been thwarted in Honduras, while also threatening intervention in Honduras. That is, he threatened war if the vote to throw out liberal democracy did not take place.

Clarification 2009-10-01: The Supreme Court issued only one secret arrest order for Manuel Zelaya to the military, and it is dated June 26th. The “arrest warrant” mentioned by several sources on June 25th was thus the request for an arrest warrant from the prosecutor to the court.

When Zelaya broke into the military base in the head of a mob, and thus used force in open violation of the Supreme Court, it surely made a lot of militaries to think twice about his suitability as commander in chief. In spite of that it was not until dawn on June 28 that Zelaya was arrested, the reason probably being, according to my second source, that they needed time to plan the action. Flying him out of the country was not a part of the order, and according to the military it was a deliberate violation of the law done to protect the country.

After Zelaya had been removed from office the National Congress convened. A letter of resignation was shown, signed by Manuel Zelaya and dated June 25, 2009. Zelaya claimed that the letter was a forgery, while Chávez claimed that the signature was not Zelaya’s. I have inquired about this letter, and got different answers. My third source did an investigation and responded that a person whose identity may not be revealed, but who is known to me, claims to have been in the room when Zelaya himself wrote that letter of resignation on June 25th, allegedly in a state of despair. Since my second source independently has said that friends of Zelaya visited him on that evening to persuade him, the stories seem to coincide. One can only speculate that Zelaya later, when alone, called Chávez who made him change his mind, instead opting for storming the military base in the morning, coupled with Chávez’s accusation of a military coup. It seems logical and in character, but I have no proof that it happened that way.

My second source had, however, another thought about the reason for the letter, namely that Zelaya had planned to resign in order to be eligible to be the “constituyente”, the one who leads the country during the creation of a new constitution and therefore has dictatorial powers. Zelaya had reportedly promised this role to no less than ten different persons to get their support and help. This led my source to the deduction that Zelaya planned to take that role himself, something he could not do while being president. However, the date and wording of the letter of resignation that was found does not match this explanation as well as the above. The rest could still be true, though.

In fact, in a recent interview with Roberto Micheletti on FOX News the interim president is explaining which extraordinary power Zelaya would have had as “constituyente,” namely that of a dictator. There is strong circumstantial evidence that it was in fact the plan: Chávez talked about how damaging checks and balances are; Chávez got rid of checks and balances with the help of a referendum; Zelaya talked about how damaging checks and balances are; Zelaya wanted to carry out a referendum Chávez style. The same thing has been done by Correa in Ecuador and by Morales in Bolivia. In July, Ortega in Nicaragua announced his plans to do it. Alarmingly, even Oscar Arias in Costa Rica, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is now bad-mouthing checks and balances and calling for a constitutional change. Make no mistake about it, democracy is under frontal assault in Latin America.

The claim that the letter of resignation is forged is less likely, since they had nothing to gain from forging it. It is totally redundant since Zelaya so blatantly violated the constitution and he lacked immunity. It seems clear that the letter was found, regardless of why it was once written, and they decided to use it — so far all versions agree. A mistake, no doubt. Unfortunately, the apparent secrecy has not contributed to build trust, but there may be a reason that we abroad may not have imagined: Zelaya ran his government with gangster methods, and many fear for their lives now if they reveal what they know. The one who had the last word in the presidential palace, in the absence of Zelaya, was not one of the bureaucrats, but an armed cowboy from Zelaya’s cattle farm, I’ve been told by someone who is now in hiding.

As I said, the letter of resignation was shown to the members of Congress. After they had accepted his resignation with only a few votes against, an interim president was selected according to the order of succession in the constitution: the president of the Congress, Roberto Micheletti. Fortunately the next presidential election was already well under way, primaries having already been held, so the interim presidency will last for less than 7 months. Thus the liberal democracy was saved for this time.