Truth Commission in Honduras

The Guatemalan ex vice president Stein, who Pepe Lobo put in charge of forming the Truth Commission that is to investigate what exactly happened in the crisis that started some time in early 2009, culminated on June 25 to 28, and ended either with the November 29 elections or the January 27 inauguration, depending on how you view it.

However, words of caution have been raised today saying that Stein was too close to Zelaya, that he may be a stooge for Insulza in OAS, and that his recent words that the objective of the commission is to propose changes to the Constitution, risks making him appear as little more than a continuation of the “Cuarta Urna”-project. That is the term used for the referendum on creating a Constituting Assembly, something the Supreme Court of Justice in Honduras has found unconstitutional.

Specifically, Stein mentioned that the role of the military in Honduras’s Constitution might need to be looked at. As is well-known, the deposed president, Zelaya, had turned to the military for help with police work, rather than giving the necessary resources to the police for doing their job. This is allowed in Honduras, but Zelaya made it the norm rather than the exception. It is frowned upon internationally, since the military are not trained in the human rights issues that the police must be well versed in. Still, judging from TV footage the military has routinely been more passive than the police in the riots after June 28.

Constitutional Crisis

In fact, in my personal opinion, the passivity of the military may actually be the singular cause of this crisis going international. The Supreme Court impounded the illegal ballots and left them in the custody of the military. On June 26, Zelaya went with a mob to retrieve them, and the military did not offer any resistance.

If the military had done their duty on that occasion, and prevented that the president took the ballots by any means necessary, as they were supposed to, including staring down death if it came to that, then the crisis would have ended very differently.

What actually happened was that Zelaya took the ballots, and his followers distributed them for the illegal referendum on June 28. This forced the Attorney General to request, and the Supreme Court to issue, an arrest warrant for Zelaya. He was arrested at dawn, just after daybreak as can be seen on photos, on June 28. The military as a cautionary action exiled him, which the Supreme Court in January declared justified as an action of national self defence. Congress swore in a new president. This ended the constitutional crisis in Honduras on June 28, but it created an international problem for the country, since the rest of the world declared it a coup and froze the diplomatic relations.

What could have happened if the military stopped them from taking the ballots is that no referendum could have been held, and thus Zelaya would have remained in office, Honduras would have remained recognized internationally, but the constitutional crisis would have continued. Zelaya had already violated the Constitution in such a way that there was ground for his arrest and immediate removal from power, but the U.S. had stated that they would consider any such act a coup, no matter how legal it was under Honduran law. So status quo would have continued, with a bankrupt economy, no budget, and a general election approaching. The fact that there was no budget for the general election was a big concern for all parties.

However, the above hypothetical peaceful scenario is very unlikely. It is well known among people with close insight into the Zelaya presidential palace that they were not preparing to leave power in only 7 months. It is just completely unbelievable that Zelaya and that mob would have left the air force base and the ballots peacefully. There would have been a bloodbath, and Zelaya would have blamed it on the military in an attempt at getting rid of those who did not obey him.

One must not forget that when the present Supreme Court was appointed in early 2009 (they sit for 7 years), Zelaya was not happy with the candidates to the 15 seats. He demanded that he appoint justices, but Micheletti among others refused to give in to his demands – even as he threatened to send out the tanks on the streets. Yes, Zelaya threatened to make a military auto-coup! His most outrageous demand was that the wife of his Minister of the Presidency was made chief justice in the Supreme Court.

The Congress did not yield. If they had, there would have been no way of legally stopping Zelaya’s violations of the Constitution in June, or him dissolving the Constitution and creating a Constituting Assembly with him as president and thus supreme ruler of the country. Of course, he would have used newspeak to describe those actions, since the world apparently only cares about words, not legal realities.

In conclusion, even though it theoretically would have been possible for the military to prevent having to do the action to prevent a coup on June 28, by resisting Zelaya on June 26, a final showdown would probably have been inevitable. From a military strategic perspective they acted correctly, refusing to take the fight on the enemies terms, and instead taking the fight on their terms two days later.

The only way in which things could have been better in this aspect is if the court had left the ballots in the custody of the police instead, and or the police had arrested Zelaya. But this does not require a change of the Constitution.

Diplomatic Crisis

Let us look now at the diplomatic crisis. It started the same day as the constitutional crisis ended, June 28. The reason for it was that the world mistook the action to end the constitutional crisis and the coup attempt by Zelaya for a military coup in itself. The world thus saw a successful white coup when in reality it was an unsuccessful red coup.

Could this have been avoided if the Constitution had been different? Yes, most certainly. Namely if the country would have had a parliamentarian system of government, as is common in Europe. The president in a parliamentarian republic is the head of state, and is thus representing the country internationally, but it is the prime minister who is head of government. In such a system Zelaya as president would not have had the power to create the Constitutional crisis that he created, and as prime minister he could have been dismissed without causing any diplomatic crisis.

If the president in a parliamentarian republic would be thrown out like Zelaya was, it would of course have caused a similar reaction internationally. The key to avoid that from happening, is not to give the president very much authority. If he cannot cause problems there is little reason to depose him. That is the way it is a monarchy such as the Kingdom of Sweden; the King (or Queen) has no power at all. Thus there cannot be any reasonable reason to dethrone him.

I must admit that I still haven’t read the entire Constitution of Honduras (it is quite long and not that well organized), so I don’t know if such a change would be possible. But that’s another story, one that I will probably have reason to return to when the Truth Commission starts working.

Media: Latin America News Dispatch. Statement from the Honduran NGO Pro-Justicia, pointing out biases and concluding that Hondurans have to be alert to defend their democracy and freedom without having confidence in that their government does it, like the previous one did.