Tag Archives: democracy

Advice to the Red in Honduras

Are you a sympathizer with the “resistencia” in Honduras? Then this is for you. Learning from the history you can avoid some costly mistakes.

We all know Honduras needs democratic reforms, rule of law, and an improved standard of living for the poor. If someone wants to make you believe that the rich in the country don’t want that, they are selling you snake oil. The only thing they object to are the false prophets who are preaching solidarity, while in reality they have a completely different agenda.

Let me take two examples from history, the French and the Russian revolutions, as examples to learn from.

A French journalist who writes about Honduras in US newspapers, wrote as follows: “Working in Central America, where journalists are often accused of conspiring against the status quo, can be daunting. Perched on the highest rungs of government, a crypto-fascist element continues to regard incorruptible and outspoken journalists as gadflies and muckrakers, meddlers, purveyors of social discontent, and blabbermouths who threaten the established order. People in positions of power and influence still equate popular aspirations — the quest for truth, justice, respect for human rights and calls for transparency by the governing elite with political agitation and left-wing subversion.”

Since the deposal of Zelaya last year, I have consistently tried to get the truth out, argued for justice and the respect for human rights, and called for transparency in government in Honduras. Have I been rejected by them? No. On the contrary, they have thanked me for doing exactly that. So why has this journalist such a different experience? Perhaps the real reason is revealed in a letter he sent me, in which he wrote: “… and the “Constituyente” of 1790 rid France of its parasitic gangrene — a bloated aristocracy and a corrupt, all-powerful clergy. It drafted and promulgated the Declaration of the Rights of Man, established a secular state and instituted a radical and absolute separation between Church and State — a mandate that is fiercely enforced to this day. A few heads in a basket is not too high a price to pay to purge a country from its feudal masters….”

“A few heads in a basket”? He is advocating political murder, and wonders why those he wants to murder don’t like him? Is he for real?

Lesson: You have to respect human rights yourself, if you want others to respect your human rights. The one who breaks the law becomes unprotected by the law. It is never, ever, justified to kill any person for any reason, nor to torture.

But what about the French Revolution, doesn’t he have a point? Keep in mind what happened next, before you declare it a success. A dictatorship under Napoleon, the self-declared emperor, who threw all of Europe in war, who killed millions through his wars. Is that a success? Not in my book. The French Revolution is an example of what NOT to do.

But let’s take another example, one that is more relevant to Honduras today: the Russian Revolution. In 1809 Russia conquered the part of Sweden known as Finland. They were allowed to continue using the Swedish laws and form of public administration, since it was more advanced than the Russian. Also the Congress was kept in place. By 1860 the Finnish language, spoken by the poor majority, was given official status.

The social gap in Finland at that time was perhaps the strongest one anywhere in the world. The Russian capital St. Petersburg was built to be the world’s most splendid capital, and it was close to the border to the Grand Duchy of Finland. Not far on the other side of the border Finns still lived in primitive huts in the forest, at about the same standard of living as the poor in Honduras today. The gradient was mind-boggling, and it was accompanied by an ethnic division; the swedish-speakers were the economic elite, the Russians had the power, and the finnish-speakers had nothing but growing ambitions based largely on socialist ideals.

However, by 1899 an intense Russification started, led by general governor Bobrikov. The oppression was intense, the “walls had ears” as my grandfather said. On one occasion his 10-year old classmate was to be sent to Siberia for calling a man who worked for the Russians a “traitor”, but luckily the boy’s father sent him abroad before the police came. Most time in school was taken up with learning Russian, and they used Russian officers as teachers. In 1904 Bobrikov was murdered, and in 1905 the first Russian Revolution came – including in Finland, where a general strike was held in late October.

At the general strike the White and Red united. The White demanded Rule of Law; that the Czar respect the agreement with the Finns, that he respect their Constitution, their Congress, their laws. The Red demanded a constitutional assembly, a “constituyente”. In distress, the Czar agreed to the demands of the White, and they ended the strike.

The Red, however, continued in their demands for a constituyente. What I am about to tell you does not appear in the Wikipedia article about this time, but the Red turned their anger against the White. They went around murdering businessmen and other swedish-speakers whom they considered to be with the White side, with the “oligarchy”. They came also to my great grandfather’s house, but his workers stopped them, saying that he was a good employer and pleaded with them to save him. But it was a terror at the time.

In 1906 the Constitution of Finland was changed to become more democratic still. They created a unicameral Congress with equal rights not just to vote, but also to be elected, regardless of land ownership and sex. It was the first place in the world where women could be elected, and the second, after New Zealand, where women could vote. It would seem that this should satisfy the Red, right?

It did, for a while. But then the oppression from Russia started again, World War I came, and in early 1917 a second Russian Revolution at which the Czar abdicated. After that, Finland started working to be more independent from Russia. The Finnish Congress, which had a socialist majority, passed a law that it, not the provisional government in Russia, was the head of state of Finland. The Russian prime minister Kerenskij did not accept that, dissolved the Finnish Congress and called for new elections. This time the liberals won. Shortly after, in late 1917, the third Russian Revolution occurred, the Bolsheviks took power, and Russia started its long period as the Soviet Union.

However, Finland declared itself independent when that happened. The socialists considered the dissolving of the Congress and subsequent election invalid. Russia acknowledged Finland’s independence on January 4th, 1918, and the liberals in Congress started preparing for converting Finland into a sovereign parliamentarian monarchy. The socialists terminated their cooperation, and an uprising started. This led to what the left has called the Finnish Revolution, the right has called the War of Liberation (since Russian troops helped the Red), but which is now neutrally called the Finnish Civil War. The White side won, but the loss of lives was great on both sides.

World War II also brought great hardship to Finland. Attacked by the Soviet Union, and abandoned by the western democracies that chose to cooperate with Stalin (even though he at the time was a much bigger murderer and dictator than Hitler), Finland fought, at one time or another, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and Nazi Germany. It was the only belligerent on mainland Europe to maintain democracy throughout the war. Together with London and Moscow, the Finnish capital Helsinki was the only one in Europe never to be occupied, of the countries taking part in the war.

The Finns got a rough deal after the war, and had to pay restitution to the Soviet Union – while Germany got the Marshall help from USA.

Today Finland is one of the richest and most successful countries in the world. Why?

They learned the lesson, and they learned it well. You are the master of your own destiny, you and nobody else. To the White and Red in Honduras the message is clear: You have to cooperate and find common ground. If you let others interfere in your country, they will not have your best interest in mind. Only you can have your best interest in mind. And that common interest is best served by a fair and just democracy, in which all have a stake, and in which no minority is oppressed, but the rights of everyone are assured.

Saving Democracy in Latin America

Under the leadership of Venezuela’s president and former failed military coupster Hugo Chávez, self-declared Marxist, a number of Latin American countries in the ALBA alliance are moving towards what they call more “popular democracy.” Fidel Castro calls it communism, though.

The call for this “popular democracy” has reached also Honduras, where former president Manuel Zelaya argued that the people have a right to decide their own destiny, and therefore nobody should object when he was to hold a referendum that would lead to the constitution of the republic being thrown out. Never mind that the poll was fixed, and never mind that it had not been decided in democratic order. If The People does something, it has to be approved. And now the new president, Porfirio Lobo, is using the same arguments, the same words, while trying a different strategy that at the end of his term will lead to the same result: The constitution being thrown out so that he can be re-elected.

While neither of the two gentlemen say openly that their re-election is the one and only purpose of the maneuvers, one can deduce as much, since no other purpose would explain their acts.

I’m the first to admit that Honduras needs some reforms to decrease corruption and increase the rule of law and democracy. What these presidents are doing is, however, the polar opposite – while managing to convince part of the population that they are doing it to help them. It’s the classical trick of popular tyranny, practiced for thousands of years.

Forms of government, with Presidential Republic - the present form of government in Honduras - in the center.
Forms of government, with Presidential Republic - the present form of government in Honduras - in the center. Chávez, Zelaya, and the boys want to go left and make the parliament weaker. Experience shows more democracy is found to the right, with a stronger parliament. Click for full size.

Honduras – as most of Latin America – has a Presidential Republic form of government today (center in the illustration). Chávez’s “Socialism in the 21st Century” changes the constitutions to undermine the democratic institutions and introduce organizations that are outside institutional control (left in the image). Adolf Hitler did precisely the same thing to undermine the democratic checks and balances. They claim that it is done to give more popular democracy, but it is done at the expense of rule of law. The only one who really benefits is the president – now turned dictator.

A change that can be made totally legally in Honduras, without running afoul of the articles “cut in stone”, is to go to the right instead. A parliamentary democracy increases the rule of law and decreases corruption, there is empirical data to support that. It also provides a better protection against coups such as the one attempted by Zelaya.

The democracy can thus be strengthened by Congress, today, without changing the fundamental form of government. It will still be a Republic, the President will still be separate from Congress and elected directly by the people for a single four-year term. The only change is that his cabinet must be approved by Congress, and that Congress can fire them if they disapprove of their work. Also, the decisions must be taken by the Cabinet in a quorum, although formally it is the President as the head of the executive who will sign off on them.

Democracy in Latin America is under attack. With this little graph I hope that I have illustrated what can done to protect and improve democracy on the continent instead.

An earlier post on a similar topic: http://blog.erlingsson.com/?p=3319

Why Parliamentary Republics beat Presidential Republics

Parliamentary republics have separated the roles of head of state  and head of government. They are thus quite  similar to parliamentary monarchies, but the head of state is an elected president rather than a king or queen. Parliamentary constitutions are based on the premise that all power emanates from the people, and that the power is vested in their elected representatives in congress between the elections – just like the shareholders of a corporation elect a board of directors to manage business between the annual meetings.

Parliamentary constitutions are based on the principle of the sovereignty of the people, whereas presidential republics are based on the principle of separation of powers.

In practice this means that the government is dependent on the support of the congress, since the congress has the power to dismiss the head of government (and thus all of his cabinet). While in a presidential republic it would take a recall vote to depose the president (and thus all of his cabinet) for political reasons, in a parliamentary republic the cabinet can be dismissed by a vote in the parliament on short notice. This gives more political control over the government, and gives a voice to a larger segment of society.

The parliamentarians are elected in such a way as to represent the full range of diversity in the country, and proportional to the actual situation in the electorate. This is important; there cannot be one-person districts, because if so, a large percentage of the constituents may end up lacking representation. How large? Well over 50%, perhaps up to 67% or so, thanks to gerrymandering. If one third rules over two thirds, is that democracy? In a parliamentarian system with proportional representation, all parties larger than some 5% of the electorate can be represented in the parliament in proportion to their actual support.

A president only needs 50.01% of the electorate to win, and less if the vote counting is not proportional (as in the USA). Furthermore, presidential republics tend to be two party systems, just one up from one party systems. Thus, to buy the presidency it is enough to buy two candidates. It is self-evident that it is much harder to buy the government in a parliamentarian system, since you would have to buy the support of a majority of the congressmen.

Empirical Evidence

In a report from the World Bank titled “Accountability and Corruption – Political Institutions Matter” (World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 2708, 2001) the authors conclude that:

“The main results show that political institutions seem to be extremely important in determining the prevalence of corruption. In short, democracies, parliamentary systems, political stability, and freedom of press are all associated with lower corruption. Additionally, we show that common results of the previous empirical literature on the determinants of corruption – related to openness and legal tradition – do not hold once political variables are taken into account.” (my emphasis)

Also the political stability is higher in parliamentary systems. In How Democratic is the American Constitution? (2001), Robert A. Dahl writes that since 1950, only 22 nations have managed to remain stable with no coups or other discontinuity of the constitutional order. Of those 22, only 2 are presidential republics (USA and Costa Rica). The remaining 20 are parliamentary, 11 republics and 9 monarchies.

As for rule of law, see a previous post on Rule of Law Index 2010.

There is thus empirical evidence that parliamentary democracies:

  • offer better protection against coup d’états
  • foster less corruption
  • foster more rule of law

Strengthening Democracy in Honduras

The political map of Honduras will change for ever after last year’s political crisis, in which the vast majority of the Liberal party, supported by the main opposition party the Nacionalistas, and most of the small parties, denounced the Liberal president Manuel Zelaya after he had violated the Constitution and Supreme Court orders. For which the Supreme Court ordered his arrest by the military.

This has left the Liberal party, a party that has won 2 out of 3 elections the past 28 years, split. The left fraction around Manuel Zelaya and his ex foreign minister Patricia Rodas – who grew up in sandinista Nicaragua and clearly has her political ideology colored by that fact – has now decided to throw in their chips with the FNRP. They call themselves the “resistance” movement, in reference to a resistance against what they claim to be a “coup d’état” (i.e., the arrest and removal from office of Zelaya on June 28, 2009).

When the dust has settled, perhaps there will be three main parties instead of two in Honduras. That this is possible we see in the UK. The three might be a leftist party around FNRP (which will perhaps eventually drift to social democratic ideals rather than socialist ideals); the Liberal party based on liberal ideals; and the Nationalist party based on conservative ideals.

A problem now is that the FNRP is not accepting the legitimacy of the present government of Honduras, and thus not of the Republic of Honduras as such. From my Swedish background that is an absolutely outlandish position–and I mean that quite literally. A person who did not accept the law of the land was an outlaw, in the ancient jurisprudence of Scandinavia, and he had to seek refuge in the “outland” (i.e., abroad or in uninhabited land) since he was not protected by the law. Such a person could be killed without punishment. With the development of international law things have of course changed now, but that ancient principle is a foundation for the modern concept of nations, ever since the Peace of Westphalia: It is implicit that all citizens of a state must obey the laws of that state, or leave it.

In fact, the e-mail signature I use, “If you only knew, my son, with how little wisdom the world is run”, is a quote from a letter that Axel Oxenstierna wrote to his son when he sent him to negotiate the Peace of Westphalia on behalf of Sweden…

What FNRP is saying would be a crime in some countries, but in others it would not be a crime until they went from words to action. But regardless of the legality of it, what they are doing is, politically speaking, a very foolish and immature thing. And perhaps that is why the ruling party is allowing them to continue, because it benefits the Nationalists.

This is a pity, because Honduras really needs reform, and the FNRP has got some legitimate grievances. However, their leaders seem to lack political savvy, democratic experience, and wise advisers–or if they have, they don’t listen to them. Their whole strategy is based on them writing a new constitution, from scratch, even though it is unconstitutional according to the existing constitution, which they consider no longer to be valid. The problems with their position are, however, first that a large part of the population considers the existing constitution to be legitimate why the FNRP one automatically will be illegitimate (and according to the existing constitution all Hondurans must then restore the existing, which means the country will be split). Secondly, even if they manage to impose a new constitution, they will have done it at the price of undermining the rule of law, why it will be a Pyrrhus victory; what they really will have accoomplished, if they succeed in their enedeavor (which I find higly unlikely), is to establish the Law of the Jungle as the supreme principle in Honduras.

Thus, whether they succeed or fail in their strategy, they will fail to achieve their goals. What they need to do is to change strategy. And now I will give them some advice on what to do instead.

To achieve a functioning democracy, they must demonstrate that they are mature enough to take on the responsibility. They must participate in democratic meetings. They must demonstrate that they are ready to accept majority decisions, and implement them even if they initially voted against them.

When Micheletti was interim president he invited many of the present members of the FNRP to discussions, but they refused to attend such meetings. That was a childish reaction. It is true that meetings can be used for trickery, and they had reason to be weary, but it was unwise not to engage when the hand was streched out in search for a compromise. They had a position of power from which to negotiate, but they threw the opportunity away.

They no longer have a position of power from which to negotiate. Most countries have recognized the new government, and those that remain are getting increasingly isolated internationally, as Chávez is seen more and more as a dictator and terrorist-supporter by the week. They blew their best chance, and now they have to start with a new strategy.

That is why I advice them to start by demonstrating their committment to democracy, to the rule of law, to democratic meetings, and to following the rules. Only by doing that can they gain the confidence of their political opponents, a confidence that they need in order to negotiate reforms. They have to prove themselves as trustworthy partners in the business of managing the public good. They have to gain that respect.

The next step is to analyze the constitution and propose reforms that can increase democracy, prosperity, and transparency (thus decreasing corruption). All of this analysis has to be done, and debated publically, before the actual reforms to the constitution are proposed in Congress. This is necessary in order to gain legitimacy and public support.

As for possible reforms that may improve conditions in Honduras, I have previously proposed the introduction of parliamentarianism, thus reducing the president to a largely symbolic head of state. This can be done within the confines of the present constitution, as far as I can judge. The president cannot be reelected, but a prime minister could, meaning that in a parliamentarian system the FNRP could get that continuity that they apparently think is so important, while at the same time preventing caudillos from taking over, something that the right is rightly concerned about.

Furthermore, I would recommend the drafters of the constitutional reform to study the Swedish constitution and laws as regards the prohibition of politicians to deal with individual cases. This is a way to mitigate corruption. Note that the Swedish constitution no longer is based on the principle of power sharing, but on the sovereignty of the people. All power emanates from the people and is exercised through their elected representatives in parliament, city council, etc.

The Swedish-Finnish administrative system seems to me to be a unique design, based on ancient democratic principles. I have compared corporate law from Sweden, Denmark, France, and Florida, and while the Swedish system of governing a corporation matches the way all democratic bodies are ruled in Sweden, all the others follow a different system. The main difference is this:

In Sweden those elected cannot interfere in specifics. They hire someone to do the specifics, and all they can do if they don’t like his job is to fire him. Also, the elected persons can only take decisions in a group by voting in a formal meeting, that has to follow very specific rules (designed to prevent “palace coups”). Their main job is to set policy, and supervise that the implementation of the policy by the administration (meaning those who are employed, non-political persons) is as intended.

In the US they elect people for actual jobs. The problem with the US approach is that it leads to corruption. Instead of a corrupt permanent office holder, there is instead corrupt temporary office holders – unless the person is beyond corruption.

The Swedish form of representative democracy is designed to prevent corruption not through the threat of loosing the next election, but by design, while they are still in office. Also, it allows for persons to be hired based on competence, rather than elected based on fundraising ability. Since the state pays for university education, including in public administration, there are lots of people with a dedicated education for the task. While in the US, many officials have an education designed for the private enterprise, which is a different beast than public administration.

There is another key difference between USA and Sweden on the one hand, and Honduras on the other, that tends to be forgotten (although the UN takes it seriously and considers it perhaps the most important problem to deal with). And that is local sovereignty.

Swedish kommuner (communes) have local sovereignty, meaning they can levy taxes and decide how to use it. There are two levels of kommun, corresponding to departamento and municipalidad in Honduras. Both have an elected council, but no mayor (Sweden and Finland are the only countries in Europe that have no mayors as far as I know). Instead they are governed like a corporation in Sweden: The council hires an administrator (equivalent to a CEO), and he is in charge of operations. The council decides policy and supervises the administration, but does not decide individual cases. This latter is in stark contrast to the US, where the councilmen decide itty bitty details.

Honduras has very weak local sovereignty, and that may actually be a key thing that needs to change. Money is spent better locally, and corruption is fought better too. Furthermore, local democracy with budget responsibility will foster more responsible citizens, and activists who try to work for results rather than take to the streets and demand action like overgrown children.

Congressmen and -women of Honduras: Give the people local budget responsibility, and watch them start working for bettering the roads, instead of blocking the roads!

Resistencia and Democracy in Honduras

There is in Honduras a grouping calling itself “the national popular resistance front against the coup d’état”, FNRP. Before scrutinizing their agenda I just have to comment on their name.

As is now known, the coup d’état was perpetrated by Manuel Zelaya, but it was stopped by the checks and balances, the democratic institutions of Honduras. However, it is not that coup d’état which this organization is referring to in their name. They are referring to the action to stop the coup d’état, when they say “coup d’état.” However, according to my analysis, it was a coup only in form, not in substance, as neither the constitution was changed, nor any president was put in place who would not have been president if all the formalities of the constitution had been followed to the letter.

One may describe the events with this similitude: Zelaya was in his office, and committed a crime. The court asked the military to fetch him. To prevent him from returning they booby-trapped the door. Micheletti was sworn to take care of business in Zelaya’s absence. He climbed in through a window, since the door was booby-trapped. Seeing this, the police was called, thinking he was a burglar. This is a relevant similitude, since the actions of the military prevented Micheletti from being made interim president in the appropriate way, but he still had an obligation to run the office in Zelaya’s absence – and Zelaya was not coming back since all he faced was his immediate arrest.

Nevertheless, FNRP considers Micheletti’s “climbing in through the window” to be a coup, and they consider the attempted overthrowing of the form of government by Zelaya not to be a crime.

What is the argument of FNRP?

Their argument is that the power of the Congress and the President emanates from the people, and is only delegated to them. Therefore, they argue, the people can take that power back. They claim that they, FNRP, is the true representative of the people, not Congress, nor the President. They argue that their self-appointed organization is more democratic than the will of the people as expressed in democratic elections every 4 years, latest on November 29, 2009.

Furthermore, they claim that the appointment of Roberto Micheletti as interim president on June 28, 2009, was a coup d’état, and as a result of that, they argue, the Constitution has ceased to be in force. Therefore, they continue, since there is no Constitution of the land, it is appropriate to hold a Constituting Constitutional Assembly in order to write a new Constitution from scratch.

For good measure, Zelaya is also asking the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of OAS to declare the replacement of Zelaya a coup d’état, and to order Honduras to hold a Constituting Constitutional Assembly.

What is the plan of FNRP?

They plan to create a new Constitution themselves. Regarding a planning meeting held March 12 to 14, English-language blogs write, “After a serious debate the various sections of a new constitution were laid out.”

Not able to find any such document online, I proceeded to seek information (through a mutual acquaintance) from Congresswoman Carolina Echeverría, from Depto Gracias a Dios. She was one of those liberal party congressmen and -women who objected to the way in which Micheletti was appointed interim president on June 28, and she is, I’ve been told, one of the top leaders of FNRP. I appreciate that she was willing to share some information with me for use on this modest blog.

According to Echeverría, a Constituting Constitutional Assembly is being prepared for June 28, 2010. A new constitution is being drafted by a working group. However, the process is not open. The general public does not have insight into what it may contain, nor can they contribute with input.

However, another source with a good connection network in FNRP has told me that they are at present discussing prolonging the maximum presidential period from 4 years at present, to somewhere between 8 and 16 years. This would entail to change one of the unchangeable paragraphs that are “cut in stone.”

What can FNRP hope to accomplish?

If the debate and the meeting are not open, then the whole process becomes a special-interest partisan effort that will have no impact on mainstream Honduras. The only way in which it can become relevant is if they force it on the rest of the population. Since this is unconstitutional, there are only three ways in which it can happen: A coup d’état, a revolution, and a foreign military intervention (cf. previous post).

I think we can rule out revolution and war, which leaves only the coup alternative. Is there any reason to suspect that the present president might attempt the same kind of coup as Zelaya did?

Unfortunately, the answer is not “no.” Pepe Lobo was sent by the Honduran communist party to study in the Soviet Union. He denies it, but a person I interviewed assured me he has talked to three persons who studied together with Lobo in Moscow, and although two of them are now dead, the third is still alive and can bear witness about it. What makes this suspicious is not that he studied there for a few months, but that he is assuring that he didn’t.

Furthermore, Lobo was initially positive to Zelaya’s plans, until the wind turned against it. Finally, an FNRP-connected source has told me that the party of Lobo, the Nacionalistas, are participating in the drafting of the new constitution.

Here I should point out, that if any elected politician in any way proposes or facilitates changing the presidential term limit, they would immediately lose their elected office, and be ineligible to hold any elected office for 10 years, according to §239 in the Honduran Constitution.

Therefore, they have every reason to hide their participation in this process. The Nacionalistas don’t just have the presidency at present, they also have a majority in Congress. The only branch they don’t control is the Supreme Court.

A coup scenario

Assuming that the above is correct, what may happen in the worst case scenario is that the Nacionalistas decide to vote in Congress on a motion that simply recognizes that the present Constitution is null and void (by being violated by the alleged coup last year, that they themselves voted for incidentally, but what says they have to be logical and consistent?). The next step would then be to vote to recognize the legitimacy of the Constituting Constitutional Assembly and the new constitution. That constitution would obviously throw out the present Supreme Court, since that is the only institution capable of stopping such a coup.

If the military obeys the president (who has replaced the entire leadership of that organization since the coup attempt by Zelaya), then this might succeed.

Is this likely to happen? No. But if it happens, it would be a big setback for democracy and the rule of law.

How can the threat be diminished?

First we have the legal means. Already now, any elected official that in any way, shape, or form violates §239, should be indicted and separated from office awaiting trial. Since contributing to drafting this new constitution would be a violation of §239 (and more), this may be the reason why the process is not open to the public. However, even advocating the holding of a Constituting Constitutional Assembly may violate that paragraph. The problem with this method is that it may backfire seriously in the field of public relations.

Therefore, I would advocate primarily using political means. Members of Congress who are opposed to constitutional coups can deflate any popular support the FNRP might have, by taking the initiative in the efforts to (legally) reform the constitution. Indeed, Congress itself can start an open and transparent process with citizen participation. It could take the form of a website for debating the need for, and proposals for, constitutional reform. Since only Congress is authorized to change the Constitution, it only makes sense if Congress itself does this. Of course, they should use experts in designing the user interface, but staff or representatives should engage in the debate and the wording of proposals.

Although there are some unchangeable paragraphs in Honduras’s Constitution, I don’t understand how those points in any way could prevent progress. There can be no democratic reason to write a new Constitution, as reforming the old one is perfectly adequate. Anyone who argues otherwise must be suspected to be an anti-democrat.

If Congress takes the initiative, the undemocratic forces can be marginalized so they no longer can prey on popular discontent. Undemocratic forces on both extremes need to be separated from the mainstream, so a civil debate can take place within the mainstream.

Personally I am quite optimistic about the possibility to do this in Honduras. I believe that many of those who most loudly claim that it is impossible, are the very extremists who we must marginalize. Those are not the ones to listen to, they should be turned off – or just switch channel.

The Philosophy of Democracy

It has struck me while following the constitutional crisis that erupted in Honduras June 25 last year, that many of those who are actors in the drama do not seem to have an understanding of democracy on a philosophical level. Without a normative foundation, they end up being blind to the long-term implication of their choices, and are guided only by the immediate benefit they see.

To overcome this problem I believe it is essential to strengthen the knowledge and understanding of democracy, not just in Honduras but in all of the Americas. Yes, including the U.S. of A., the Senate of which appears quite unable to function in a democratic way. In fact, I would propose that this task should be based on the most fundamental of levels, i.e., on the philosophical level.

There is an academic subject called Political Philosophy, which overlaps with what I propose. However, not all democracy is politics, and not all politics is democracy. Democracy is a method of decision-making also outside the political arena, i.e., in societies with voluntary membership and an idealistic purpose, and in corporations (although there the principle is one share = one vote, not one person = one vote).

Democracy and politics overlap, but a large part of democracy exists outside of the political realm.
Democracy and politics overlap, but a large part of democracy exists outside of the political realm.

Democracy in non-political contexts is fundamental in Sweden. Since my early teens I was exposed to the workings of democratic organizations, holding constituting meetings, yearly assemblies, board meetings, and so on. It was a way of cooperation that we took for granted. The formalities were key; although the actual work was quite informal, the formalities were rock solid and always solved any potential conflict before it could grow out of hand. In that sense, the democratic method of holding meetings and taking decisions was a tool for preemptive peace and conflict resolution.

Perhaps it is because the challenges of managing a club with 15 members, and a country of millions, are so different, that we don’t think of them as being related, both being aspects of democracy. Often, especially in the U.S., democracy is thought of as almost a synonym for politics. That in turn is thought of as the intrigues and manipulations of the specifically anglo-saxon form of governance (that has also been exported to Greece), of type “the winner takes it all”. This means that democracy and politics is largely focused on winning elections. In fact, in the U.S. this has gone so far that the very word politics has come to mean only that aspect, and not the art of making decisions.

As I wrote in Democracy for Dummies, the core purpose of democracy is of course to make decisions, not to get elected. It is to make decisions that have legitimacy, that are universally respected, and that can bring the issue forward while avoiding conflicts. The core process in democracy is therefore the meeting (in which the decision is taken), not the election of representatives (which is, incidentally, a means to a means to an end: we elect them to take part in meetings to take decisions on our behalf).

The two main types of democracies

In my opinion, for the purpose of classification and analysis, the most important distinction to make visa-vi democratic organizations is in those with voluntary membership, and those with involuntary membership.

Organizations with voluntary membership are democratic clubs and societies. This also includes typical political parties (note that U.S. political parties are atypical). In the typical case membership is open to everyone who wishes, but subject to some condition, such as paying a fee. In other cases it may be an invitation-only club, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be democratic.

Organizations with involuntary membership are those where membership is implicitly or explicitly required for persons in certain circumstances. The most obvious example is a country, in which the members are the citizens. Another example is a condominium association, in that you have to become a member (and be accepted as a member) to buy the apartment.

Obviously, organizations with involuntary membership in some ways infringe on the individual’s freedom. The very term “involuntary” conveys that. Of course one can leave it, but only if you give up something (e.g., the right to run for election, the possibility to live in a certain apartment). It is therefore only to be expected that most focus is put on this class of democracies.

It is also worth considering that certain rights can be delegated to an organization with involuntary membership, for instance the right to defend ones rights with force. That is the basis for the common defense, and for a police and judicial system. Note that it is not a requirement to have a police force, for instance. In pre-historic Scandinavia there were no policemen, no prosecutors, no justices, no jails. Instead, someone who had broken the law was dealt with in the same way and at the same meeting as all other business, with all the people voting. The worst punishment was to be declared an outlaw, to no longer to be protected by the law, as it was not a crime to kill an outlaw.

It seems to me that the traditional studies of political democracy are done from a biased position, i.e., from the implicit assumption that the state comes before democracy. But it does not have to be that way. What I propose is to study democracy as a subject in its own right, and see what that leads to in terms of the requirements on the state.

It also seems to me that this has some urgency to it, since there is a rather strong political movement towards re-inventing democracy, namely “The Bolivarian Revolution” a.k.a. “Socialism in the XXI Century”. This is of course the project of Hugo Chavez with the moral support of Fidel Castro. However, there seems to be no scholarly foundation under this building. It therefore risks wreaking havoc and creating utter chaos in the countries where it is implemented, such as Venezuela.

Honduras recently stopped this change in its tracks. It gives them breathing room for analysis and thought. I would propose that they use this opportunity to seriously analyze the philosophy of democracy, and come up with a workable solution to obtain the objectives without getting into trouble with human rights, loss of economic activity, and other predictable risks.

Dragon’s teeth sown in the UN now ripe

Things should be called by their right names. It is not just a tremendous injustice, and injury, to the people of Honduras to call the constitutional deposing of a president – who was violating the constitution and the other branches of government – a “coup”, but it is also a dangerous precedent.

This precedent has already been put to use in anti-democratic propaganda. In an article yesterday, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is reported as accusing “radical sectors of the opposition of planning an institutional coup to depose of president Hugo Chávez.” They accuse them specifically of attempting the “Honduran plan, which is nothing else than an institutional coup,” according to vice president of the party in the eastern region, Aristóbulo Istúriz.

Note that they are no longer claiming that it was a military coup in Honduras; not even in this Cuban news outlet. If neither Cuba nor Venezuela calls it a military coup, then at least that argument is won for Honduras.

From the ashes to the fire

This, however, just brings us from the ashes to the fire from the perspective of risk to democracy. Consider the PSUV argument closely:

According to [PSUV], the enemies of the government are waging a campaign to win the legislative elections of September 26, which would enable them to carry out their plan.” The plan is described as follows: “They want the Attorney General to press charges against Chávez, and the Supreme Court to convict him…

In other words, the alleged plan that they are warning for is simply to impose the rule of law through democratic means. The ruling party in Venezuela thus labels this constitutional procedure in a democracy a “coup.”

It is Orwellian newspeak; democracy and the rule of law is called a coup, and the auto-coup that it would be for Chávez or Zelaya to prevent this, is called democracy.

If the elected congress and the judicial system depose the president in agreement with the constitution, they call it a coup.

Does it sound lunatic? Does it violate your sense of justice? Does it make you think that if there is no democratic and legal way to depose of the president no matter what he does, it sooner or later leads to tyranny?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, citizens of the world, this is what your own leaders opted for when they, in the United Nation’s General Assembly, condemned the legal removal of Zelaya from office as a coup.

The international community has set this precedent itself, by condemning Honduras in the UNGA.

One should not use strong language unnecessarily, because it undermines the power of the words. This is one of those occasions when that power is needed: A grave mistake was made in the United Nation’s General Assembly when they condemned Honduras. They took a hasty decision without access to relevant facts; through manipulation and newspeak they were deceived into legitimizing tyranny.

Every leader of every country in the world is guilty of permitting this mistake. Most through intellectual laziness, by voting as the group. Some have been actively involved, including Insulza of OAS, and some, like Obama, have unknowingly facilitated it through naiveté and lack of diplomatic experience.

Going forward, though, every leader that does not re-evaluate his or her position is doubly guilty, but no blame shall fall on the one who admits a mistake and tries to mitigate the harm caused by it. They need, however, to be made aware of the situation, since this is no longer in the news.

If democracy and the rule of law is dear to you, now would be a good time to take action to defend it. How? By speaking up, simply. Increase the awareness of this threat. When a critical mass is reached you will be successful, provided that you (still) live in a democracy.

Originally published 09:51, last edited 12:42.

English version of the PSUV statements in Brunei.

Honduras – the World, 1-0

After seven months of hardship, Honduras can today consider itself the victor in the drawn out struggle for the world to recognize its right to depose an omnipotent president.

This is the day the interim president gave his final speech to the nation from that position. He thanked the people, all the people, for the help they had given him, and he expressed profound gratitude for the opportunity destiny had given him to serve his fatherland in these the most arduous of times.

This is also the day that it was revealed that BCIE, Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica, on January 18 decided to resume normal operations with Honduras again. Honduras is a partner in the bank and has sued it for breach of contract, since it for purely political reasons stopped making payments.

Also the Central American trade agreement with the European Union is back on track today, with Honduras included. It is expected to be signed in May.

As for the future of the deposed president, Zelaya, he has today decided conditionally to accept the free passage to the Dominican Republic that president-elect Porfirio Lobo has promised to issue on January 27, the day he takes office. There may also be legal problems due to the arrest warrants issued for him – including international ones. Logically, if Zelaya accepts the free passage he recognizes that Lobo was elected president of Honduras in a legitimate election (which he hasn’t done yet), which means that he also has to accept the validity of the arrest warrants from the Republic of Honduras. There are still some knots to untie. The easiest would be if Zelaya just walked out and faced his prosecutors like a man.

However, those are details now. The main thing is that Honduras democratic institutions saved the rule of law, enforced the separation of powers, and – when the entire world turned on them – stood up for what they knew was right, and won.

This is perhaps a first. History is full of countries that have had their democracy destroyed, from ancient tyrants to present-day chavism. Every time one wonders, why didn’t they stop it? Why didn’t they do this, or that? Why not?

Well, Honduras did to this and that. They had the right on their side, and executed it under extreme pressure, against an opponent that was acting fast. They had no time to plan; in fact, they barely had time to act. Most of all, they had no time to spin it for the media.

Their opponent had, though. He was well prepared for virtually all eventualities. Which forced the Hondurans to take some extreme and unexpected measures. Call it “pajamas diplomacy” if you like. Although in reality Zelaya was of course allowed to get dressed before they flew him to Costa Rica.

This left the impression of a military coup. Due to the circumstances, the country was already full of media ready to spread the story. Result: Instant saturation of the global airwaves with the spin that a military coup had taken place, while in reality they had prevented an autogolpe.

So now we know “why not”. It is very, very hard.

But they did it, and for that, the little country on the Central American isthmus, the former “banana republic” of Honduras will for ever be inscribed in the History of Democracy.

And so will president Roberto Micheletti Bain, and his last speech.

As a personal note, it has been an astonishingly interesting time to have had the privilege to be able to follow closely the fight of this government to preserve their nation’s freedom and democracy. I want to sincerely thank all those who have helped me with information, because it is they who have made it possible for me to get beyond the clichés. ¡Viva Honduras!

2010-01-22 11:40, corrected to Dominican Republic as the country accepting Zelaya.

Victory for Honduras and Democracy

Marking the end of an over 4 month long political crisis, during which the international community has refused to recognize the interim president appointed by the Honduran congress, replacing the one deposed for crimes against the form of government, the democratic institutions of the country have now won.

After failed negotiation attempts by the Costarrican president Oscar Arias, who put as a condition in the so-called San José Accord that Zelaya be re-instated, the talks moved to Honduran soil when the exiled president returned to Tegucigalpa and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy on September 21. This “Guaymuras Dialog” rapidly revealed a rift on the Zelaya side, in that the so-called resistance movement that has backed up Zelaya on the streets, with acts that too often turned violent, refused to give up the demand that the constitution of the country be overthrown.  Only after they were removed from the talks could progress be made.

The democratic institutions of Honduras, represented by the interim president in the talks, have had two non-negotiable demands:

  1. That the constitution lives on and the unchangeable paragraphs are kept as such
  2. That the general elections be held according to the constitution

Since also the other side has claimed to be concerned about the constitution – except for the resistance movement that is – there was a common ground on which to negotiate a peaceful settlement.

The settlement says that both parties, the deposed president and the interim president, defer back to the democratic institutions to settle the matter. The real victor here is thus the National Congress of Honduras, the people’s democratic representatives. In other words, the winner is the people of Honduras and the democracy as such.

The little country that could

In many states throughout history a strong man has tried to consolidate power in his hand, at the expense of the parliament. Honduras is one of those rare but inspiring cases in which the democratic institutions held their own, and stopped the wannabe dictator.

This is the first major setback for Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and his pseudo-democratic “Bolivarian Revolution”. After Venezuela similar power grabs have been carried out in Ecuador, Bolivia, and right now a constitutional coup attempt is under way in Nicaragua.

The victory of Honduras’ democratic institutions in defending the constitutional democracy apparently scared the living daylight out of Chávez, who is now spewing sulfur over Obama in his speeches – partly for the bases in Colombia, partly for his role in getting the Guaymuras Accord finalized.

The final concession was from Micheletti, who agreed that Congress, not the Supreme Court, should have the final word on whether Zelaya should be reinstated or not. From what I gather the lure brought by undersecretary Thomas Shannon was a carrot, not a stick, because as soon as the ink was dry on the paper the U.S. promised to immediately start normalizing the relations.

Thus, the U.S. is normalizing the relations based not on the reinstatement of Zelaya, but on the parties acknowledging that the ultimate decision rests with the Congress. This is the important take-away for Latin American democracy. The president is not supreme; he is just serving the people, and he has to follow the constitution and respect the other branches of government.

A new page just opened in the development of democracy in Latin America, and it was turned by Honduras, a most unlikely champion for democracy given its history of military coups.

Honduras - the little country that could

Background: President Manuel Zelaya issued a decree on holding a poll regarding a constitutional matter on  June 25th, 2009, in direct violation of a Supreme Court cease and desist order, which led to an arrest order being issued for him by the Supreme Court, executed by the military on June 28th, after which the National Congress appointed Roberto Micheletti as interim president to serve until January 27th, 2010.

Media: DN, SvD.

A Democracy Must Defend Itself, also Honduras

Every state has two classes of potential enemies: External, and Internal. The defense against external enemies is allowed in the UN charter, as every country has the right to defend itself if attacked militarily.

The defense against internal enemies is an internal matter, though. A revolution in a country is not a matter for the international community.

For this reason, if one state wished to take control of another state, the only method that they can get away with is to disguise an overthrow of the constitution as an internal matter. Such an act would not violate any international law, only the national laws in the country under attack.

An attempt to overthrow the constitution or government is in Honduras called “delito contra el forma de gobierno,” meaning ‘crime against the form of government.’ In Swedish law that is called “högmålsbrott,” which is subdivided into “uppror,” i.e., revolution, if it is a domestic affair, and “högförräderi,” ‘high treason,’ if it is done with foreign assistance. This is the most severe crime that Zelaya is formally accused of.

The institutions in charge of defending law and order in Honduras acted according to their purpose in defending the country from an internal threat, when Zelaya was removed from office. A new president was installed, a new government set up, and the constitutional continuity was preserved.

If this had been an internal Honduran affair it would have ended there, but it wasn’t. The attack against the form of government was directed from Caracas, Venezuela. Using media, Zelaya’s co-conspirer Chávez managed to dupe the world into believing that there had been a military coup d’état. As a result, he managed to get all international institutions on his side, against the constitutional democracy of Honduras.

Chávez also relied on paid demonstrators and rioters within the country, amplified by people with limited understanding of the laws who genuinely believed that a coup had taken place, and who were strengthened in their belief by the whole world saying so.

However, Honduras is and remains a democracy, defending itself against an assault on its very fabric.

The assailants have used peaceful demonstrations, violent demonstrations, riots, propaganda lies, staged clashes for media effects, and more, all to portray the democratic government as a repressive military regime. While most serious media have managed to filter out most of the propaganda lies, they have still swallowed the basic lie that it was a coup, and many bloggers and online media have spread even the hysterical lies.

Well-intended but ignorant and naïve “help workers” from richer countries have become propaganda mouthpieces for the anti-democratic forces in this upside-down world, where the real coupsters accuse the democratic institutions of being coupsters.

It took many weeks but slowly the conditions in the country returned towards normalcy. Until Zelaya returned and sought asylum at the Brazilian embassy, and from there tried to rally a mob to overthrow the government. This created a new situation of internal threat to the form of government, since both Zelaya and the mob leaders professed to wishing to overthrow the constitution.

At this point, about 3 months after exiling Zelaya from the country, the democratic government saw itself compelled to declare a state of emergency (called “estado de sitio,” literally ‘state of siege’). In agreement with the constitution, certain civil liberties were suspended for a limited time in order to control the internal threat that the country was facing.

The order contained strict requirements for the security forces to follow protocols to assure that the government can demonstrate that nobody is tortured, since accusations have been made in the past. Honduras has an independent ombudsman for human rights, but the strategy of the real coupsters is to allege that he is biased, and then present fake reports from organizations that lack an institutional foundation, such as NGOs that are nothing but a front for Chávez. [See also this article on Human Rights.]

This attack against Honduras is very real, it is very well orchestrated, and it came within hours of succeeding. If it wasn’t for the determination of key persons at the democratic institutions in Honduras, the democracy would have fallen. Among Latinos in Miami, Honduras is looked up to. Their perseverance in the face of the whole world just adds to the admiration.

A lesson that they have learned the hard way is that having a very large social gap in the country is a security risk. Even if there is no domestic revolution, as in Russia and Cuba, it opens the door for foreign-supported coups as the one Zelaya attempted in Honduras. Hopefully the ability for all citizens to participate in the democratic process will be addressed in Honduras as a result. It is also quite likely that the constitution will be amended as a result, but legally, and not in the way that Chávez wanted. A proposal that has been suggested is some form of parliamentarian system, whereby the executive is elected by the congress so that the head of government cannot so easily be bought as today (Zelaya is allegedly in debt to Chávez to the tune of $400 million).

PS, added 2009-10-18: On 2009-10-10, New York Times ran an opinion piece that clearly outlined how the real coupster of June 28th was Manuel Zelaya, and that his ousting actually prevented the coup, rather than being the coup, as the world has come to believe based on Chavez’ propaganda.

Mel Zelaya, failed coupster
Mel Zelaya, failed coupster