The reporting about the political crisis in Honduras that started with the president’s violations of the Constitution in June, is typically characterized by a severe case of cognitive dissonance. The same reaction I have met when talking to foreign political observers.
Cognitive dissonance is when you at the same time hold two beliefs that are mutually exclusive. In the case of Honduras, the two beliefs are that “the popularly elected Congress represents the will of the people in a democracy,” and “Congress carried out a coup d’état.” There is actually a third assumption in this, namely that a coup is carried out by a small group, and that it is always un-democratic.
The problem is of course that a popularly elected Congress, one that truly represents the will of the people, cannot carry out a coup d’état by any reasonable definition of it.
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any definition of a coup d’état, but if we try to create one, then the first and most obvious criterion is that it is a change of government that is executed by surprise. As opposed to a revolution. However, a more common definition says that it is executed by a small group, whereas a revolution is executed by a large group.
What a coup d’état and a revolution have in common is that they violate the form of government, they violate the constitution. This is another point of cognitive dissonance in regards to Honduras.
According to the constitution it is the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) that has the last word in interpreting the law. The SCJ remains intact after the alleged coup in Honduras, and it has declared that it, the court, ordered the arrest of Zelaya for violating the constitution.
One cannot at the same time hold the belief that the SCJ has the final word in interpreting the law, and that it was a coup in Honduras. Doing so will lead to cognitive dissonance.
When people are affected by cognitive dissonance, the reaction is typically not to change opinion, but to rationalize the opinion that violates the deeply held belief. The rationalization in relation to Honduras is to say that the Congress and the SCJ are biased, beholden to the oligarchy, and therefore the normal rules for who can and cannot carry out a coup d’état do not apply to Honduras. Honduras is a special case, they tell themselves. It is a banana republic, they add. It is so small and poor and underdeveloped that the normal rules of logic cannot possibly apply there, their subconscious is whispering to them.
Then came the election. Free and fair constitutionally mandated elections, with primaries held long before the crisis drew international attention to the country. A new cognitive dissonance, perhaps the greatest of them all: The coupsters insist on holding free elections, whereas the deposed, once democratically elected, president insists that the people must boycott them, and urges the international community not to recognize them.
It must be hard to reconcile the ideas that the “dictator” wants free elections, but the “democratic president” does not.
So a new rationalization is called in, namely that the elections are not free; that the voter turnout was much less than reported; that the opposition was not allowed to go vote; that the “coupsters” are running a brutal, repressive regime; that tens of people have been murdered or disappeared; and so on. Those afflicted with cognitive dissonance want to believe these things. It is therefore the easiest thing in the world to spread these lies, since the world wants to hear and believe these lies. The truth is much harder to sell.
OK, you may say, but how to convince a person suffering from cognitive dissonance and rationalizations? Unfortunately, it is not easy. Every person takes a different path. It always starts, it seems, with some piece of evidence that does not fit into the puzzle, that becomes the drop that makes the whole thing start unravel, as the person himself starts searching for facts, and stops accepting what he or she hears from “trusted sources”.
There are no trusted sources, by the way. Only you yourself.
However, there is a simple explanation of the facts that does away with the cognitive dissonance. It is to separate two acts on June 28th: The deposing of president Zelaya, and the exiling of citizen Zelaya.
People believing it was a coup do not separate those acts.
The deposing of the president was legal, constitutional, and democratic.
The exiling of a citizen was illegal, unconstitutional, and should be brought to trial. And it still may.
If one distinguishes the issues at hand in this manner, there will be no cognitive dissonance. Just disappointment that it takes so long for the prosecutor to prosecute. However, if the international media had focused on this issue, instead of irrelevant mud-slinging on the country, perhaps they would have worked faster? Just a thought…