Manuel Zelaya’s failed coup d’état

Today I will write on the background, what happened the week before I started this blog. Finally there is time for it. The interim presidency is nearing its end, a new elected president will take over soon, why the focus now will shift to the legal aftermath.

Last year, culminating in the week of June 25th, Honduras’ president Manuel Zelaya tried to make an autogolpe – a coup d’état against himself – but failed. An autogolpe is the Spanish word for a legitimate head of state putting himself over the other branches of government, thus becoming a dictator, or in the ancient Greek vocabulary, a tyrant.

Zelaya’s stated ambition was to replace the constitution with a new one more to his liking. Already there he ran afoul of the existing constitution, since it prohibits the change of certain paragraphs. Thus, he was taken to court and lost. They forbade him to, in any way, shape or form, continue with the plans aimed at re-writing the constitution, since only the congress has the authority to reform it.

Zelaya’s strategy was to shield himself against the prohibition to change certain paragraphs by (1) creating a constitutional assembly rather than reforming the constitution, (2) letting the people issue the call to the constitutional assembly in a referendum, and (3) letting the people decide to hold said referendum by holding a previous “national opinion poll”. The court did not fall for this stratagem but declared that also the “poll” was an illegal referendum.

Also the congress spoke out against the attempt, but the president did not care what neither the congress nor the supreme court said. He mocked the court by saying “Let them come and arrest me!”, and he called out a mob on the streets to challenge the legitimacy of the congress that had been elected by the people 3 years earlier.

The court impounded illegal poll material that Zelaya had received from abroad for his plans, and deposited it in the care of the military. In response, Zelaya gathered a mob and retrieved the material by force.

He allegedly had more things planned, such as forging the results of the illegal referendum, declaring his proposal the winner, declaring the congress and court illegitimate for having opposed it, and declare himself the “constituyente”, the president of the constituting assembly. Based on what I have heard there appears to be enough evidence for accusing him of this, but naturally, until he returns to Honduras and faces justice, he can neither be convicted nor exonerated from these particular suspicions.

So let us return to a fact that is public knowledge: Zelaya used force to prevent that a decision by the Supreme Court of Justice be implemented, with the intent of overthrowing the form of government. He also used strong intimidation tactics in an attempt to get the other branches of government to yield to his desires.

He did that when he stormed the Air Force base in the head of the mob, to retrieve ballots impounded by the court.

In Swedish law the act I mentioned is “Högmålsbrott”, defined in Brottsbalken Ch 18, 1 § as “uppror” (‘insurgency’), punishable by prison for 10 to 18 years or life. However, that is provided he did not receive help from abroad, which he did, since the ballots were printed abroad (Venezuela they say). That makes it a crime against the safety of the nation, defined in Ch 19, 1 § as “högförräderi”, ‘high treason’. I mention this as an example. Of course it is the law of Honduras that must be applied, but my point is that acts like that are forbidden in every constitutional democracy.

The word coup is not a legal term, nor is revolution, but they are both covered by those chapters of the criminal code of Sweden. The difference is in how the events are perceived; a coup has an element of surprise, a revolution has not; a coup is carried out by a limited number of persons, a revolution by many. If the legitimate head of government overthrows the form of government, it is also a coup, an “autogolpe”.

Zelaya’s acts fill the criterion in the Swedish law: He had the intention, he acted on the intention, and the act had the possibility of succeeding. The only thing that prevented the coup from succeeding was that the other branches of government reacted swiftly and decisively to stop the coup in its tracks. If they had not reacted, Zelaya would have completed a coup d’état in Honduras on June 28, 2009.

The fact that Zelaya made a very serious and deliberate attempt at carrying out a coup d’état in Honduras, with foreign backing, has not got sufficient attention internationally.

It is also a disgrace of huge proportions that the U.S. tried to prevent the democratic institutions of Honduras from stopping Zelaya’s coup d’état. It is unfortunately true that the U.S. was involved in a coup in Honduras, but not as Chavez says; quite the contrary, the U.S. tried to help the coup that Chavez was carrying out through his Quisling, Zelaya.

Update 2010-01-19: Today El Heraldo published an interview with Micheletti, in which he said, “I have never participated in a coup d’état, not now not ever, because we don’t consider that this was a coup d’état but a constitutional succession and we strictly replaced someone who was trying to commit a coup d’état. The facts clearly demonstrate what Mr Zelaya attempted to do: he wanted to perpetuate himself in power through an unconstitutional act and convert the country into a dictatorship.” (Emphasis added.)