Honduras – what REALLY happened

There has been so much erroneous information about Honduras in the media that it may be in order to once again sum up the chain of events in the 2009 political crisis.

Manuel Zelaya was elected president 4 years ago. The constitution of Honduras does not allow for re-election of the president, and it is forbidden to in any way try to change that prohibition. In spite of that, Zelaya in March of 2009 decreed a popular referendum on the matter, in an attempt to circumvent the prohibition. The prosecutor took the case to court, and the court issued an injunction forbidding everyone in Honduras to in any way work with the referendum, while awaiting the final verdict in the case (which came in the fall: the referendum was found to be unconstitutional).

However, Zelaya did not allow himself to be constrained by the decision of the Supreme Court, but continued with the plans as if nothing had happened. The whole cabinet put everything else aside. The ballots were printed abroad.

Many things happened in rapid succession on a few days from June 25th to 29th, 2009.

When the ballots arrived to Honduras (reportedly from Venezuela) they were offloaded on an air force base. As the military refused to distribute them, referring to the legal injunction, Zelaya fired the joint chiefs of staff, general Vasquez. The other generals resigned in protest. The Supreme Court intervened and declared the firing of Vasquez illegal, and that all the generals remained in duty with full authority.

Also at this time, Zelaya, in the head of a large mob, went to the air force base to physically retrieve the ballots from the military, in whose custody the court had left them. Legally speaking the president thus took by force evidential material that the court had impounded.

On the evening of June 25th, the Attorney General brought prosecution of the president to the Supreme Court, and on the 26th the court issued an arrest order for the president of the republic to the military. So far everything was in agreement with the constitution. However, when the military arrested Zelaya at dawn on June 28th they violated the law by letting the accused go into exile, rather than to bring him to justice as they had been ordered to.

The reason for the arrest to take place on the 28th at dawn was that the referendum was planned for that day, and the intelligence service feared (according to unconfirmed information, of course) that Zelaya planned to carry out a coup, a so-called “autogolpe”, within 24 hours, under the pretext of the (forged) results of the (illegal) referendum.

The military considered that the safety of the republic would be at risk if the president was put in jail. Exactly what they based their evaluation on I can of course not know, but the rumor says that they were concerned that the enemies of the nation already had plans to free him by force. According to media reports as much as a hundred armed foreign infiltrators were arrested in the next few days, which would seem to support that version. With the justification of national self-defense and necessity (I don’t know what the legal terms are), the generals thus deliberately violated the court’s order to bring the president before them to face justice. Instead, they let him escape the country by dropping him off in Costa Rica (although not in pajamas, he was dressed).

The popularly elected Congress convened the same day, declared Zelaya deposed according to the Constitution, and elected an interim president to replace him until the end of the term: January 27th, 2010. There is a succession order that starts with the vice president and ends with the president of the Congress and the president of the Supreme Court. However, everyone before the president of the Congress had already resigned, why he, Roberto Micheletti, was sworn in as president. That decision, as well as the decision to depose Zelaya, was reconfirmed in early December with a new vote in Congress, with the count 111-14.

On November 29th the regular election was held to the presidency, resulting in victory for Porfirio Lobo Sosa.

The Attorney General has been investigating the actions of the military on June 28th, and January 6th, 2010, a case was brought to the Supreme Court against 6 generals, the entire military leadership. The charges are abuse of power (by not putting the president in jail, in violation of the arrest order), and illegally expatriating a citizen (which violates the Constitution). Yesterday the Supreme Court agreed to take the case, and appointed its president, Justice Rivas, to take it.

It means that prosecution now has been initiated against all main actors who broke the law in the intense days from June 25 to 28, 2009. However, while the militaries have declared themselves willing to face justice, ex president Zelaya appears to have no intention to answer to his deeds. He has openly mocked both courts and Congress since last spring, and is now taking refuge in the former embassy of Brazil in Tegucigalpa. He cannot leave the building without getting arrested – no less than 18 charges on 2 separate arrest orders are awaiting him outside the door.

Looking ahead, since Brazil is not recognizing the head of state of Honduras, they can have no embassy in the country. They have made it clear to Zelaya that he must leave on January 27 at the latest – the day when Lobo takes office and Zelaya’s term would have ended anyway. Unless amnesty is granted before that, or he accepts political asylum in a country outside Central America, he will go directly from the embassy to jail. It is probably partly for this reason that Obama is now pushing for amnesty, something the Congress will start debating on Monday.

It is, however, already clear that the amnesty (as proposed) will not cover common crimes such as corruption, so regardless of any potential amnesty for political crimes (read: trying to rewrite the constitution), Zelaya will be arrested anyway on charges of corruption. An interesting aspect is that after he has been granted a possible political amnesty, he cannot apply for political asylum abroad. Which means that he cannot escape the charges of corruption, so the chances of getting him convicted on those charges might actually increase by granting him political amnesty. I wonder if those pushing for amnesty have considered that?

PS. Here is a good revealing blog post on how mishandled Honduras has been by MSM, mainstream media.

The sensitive issue of amnesty in Honduras

On Monday the National Congress of Honduras will start debating a political amnesty for the events of the recent political crisis which culminated with the deposing of president Manuel Zelaya on 2009-06-28. In the Guaymuras talks, which culminated in a pact signed by both Zelaya and his successor, interim president Roberto Micheletti, the question of amnesty was left out. Nobody asked for it. However, the president-elect, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, and the United States of America want it, and that is why it is back on the table.

It seems that amnesty is something the international community wants, but not the Hondurans. So where is the dividing line?

Nobody wants amnesty that leads to impunity for corruption. The amnesty that is discussed is for political crimes, such as Zelaya’s alleged attempt to illegally change the constitution, the militaries’ alleged crime in expatriating Zelaya, and acts committed during street protests by Zelaya supporters. I write alleged because everyone should be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, although Zelaya is also a fugitive of justice (and the military assisted him in escaping). The amnesty being discussed is specifically for political crimes and related non-political misdemeanors, or something like that. That is, participating in an illegal street protest would be covered, and also certain acts of vandalism and similar committed during that protest.

Corruption, for which Zelaya is also accused, is not covered by the amnesty as proposed in the bill.

Congress also has to keep in mind that the accord signed by Zelaya and Micheletti as a result of the Guaymuras talks, called the Tegucigalpa/San José Accord, stipulates that a truth and reconciliation commission is created by the next president – which we know now will be Porfirio Lobo. If a blanket amnesty is given without any form of confession to the acts, then what are the chances that the person will talk to the truth and reconciliation commission?

Furthermore, the right to a free and fair trial cuts both ways. Just as the state has a right to prosecute a suspect, the suspect has a right to defend himself against accusations, to get a court of law to declare him innocent, and to clear his name and honor. In other words, it may not be that everyone concerned want an amnesty.

The case that comes to mind primarily is the military leadership. There are prima facie evidence that they broke the law, but their defense is that it was justifiable national self-defense – as when you shoot an intruder in your home in self-defense. A court of law can judge them and declare them innocent of any wrong-doing.

If Congress decides to deny them the possibility to clear their names in a court of law, then the legislative body owes them the courtesy to explain why it is not in the national interest that the case gets tried in a court, and to clear them of suspicion of wrong-doing by explicitly accepting the argument of national self-defense.

However, Congress can avoid this problem by doing as follows: Stipulate that each person who wishes to benefit from the amnesty has to report in writing what acts he or she wishes to accept amnesty for. It has the additional benefit of enabling the police to declare the case solved and thus decrease their case load. Furthermore, it has a cathartic effect by forcing people to own up to their acts, thus truly creating a new baseline for society. In fact, it could provide much of the benefit of the future truth and reconciliation commission.

This amnesty can of course prevent the prosecution of the military leadership, initiated this week. I had hoped that the defense arguments from the military would provide interesting insights into the role of Hugo Chávez in Honduras’ political crisis, in terms of armed infiltrators on the ground. However, everything is up in the air now so we can just wait and see what happens. Stay tuned, because this thriller will continue.

PS. The amnesty bill as proposed focuses in the preamble entirely on those who helped with the illegal referendum, the so-called “poll” about installing a so-called “quarta urna”, fourth ballot box. It can be worth reminding that although so much effort was put on writing a new constitution, nobody ever, to the best of my knowledge, stated a single concrete example of what it was that needed to change, or why.