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.