Zelaya of Honduras–Good Guy or Bad Guy?

Soldiers stormed the palace occupied by José Manuel Zelaya Rosales on June 28, disarmed his guards, and arrested the Honduran president. The Supreme Court had ordered the army to remove Zelaya for “treason and abuse of authority, among other charges” according to the chief lawyer of the Honduran armed forces. He went on to say, “It was a fast operation. It was over in minutes, and there were no injuries, no deaths. We said, ‘Sir, we have a judicial order to detain you.’ We did it with respect.”

Then why is the US President denouncing the event?

For most Americans it’s a blur, which is understandable in part as we are saturated with the news of Michael Jackson’s, Farrah Fawcett’s, and Karl Malden’s deaths along with the weight of a 9.5% unemployment, a falling stock market, a $1.85 trillion deficit, and many communities lacking the funds for fireworks on the celebration of the 233rd anniversary of our independence–we barely have time to notice our troops pulling out of Iraq’s urban areas and the big troop push against the Taliban in Afghanistan, much less for what is happening where the Mayan’s used to live.

The Mayans? Yes, they used to live where modern-day Honduras is now found. You might have heard something about their calendar and the year 2012–but lets save that topic for some other day–instead we’ll just talk about Honduras.

Honduras is a Central American, democratic constitutional republic, which means the citizens there regularly cast ballots in accordance with the laws in their constitution to elect representatives for the purpose of administering their government in accordance with their constitution. Countries that have a constitution as their supreme law of the land have the potential for respecting individual freedoms.

Hondurans have traveled a rough road to liberty and pursuit of happiness and still have miles to go. Though independent since 1821, it wasn’t until 1982 that a freely elected civilian government came to power. During the Era of Reagan, Honduras was a haven for contras fighting the Marxist Nicaraguan Government and an ally to El Salvador as it fought leftist guerillas. Thus they were an important American ally in containing Soviet-sponsored communism during the decade that brought the Cold War to an end.

Hondurans are a young, literate, and poor people. Numbering over 7.7 million, their median age is just barely over 20 years-old with a per capita GDP that ranks 149th in the world. Unemployment was last reported at 27.8% with inflation at 11.9%. Thus, their misery index is 39.7%–which means most Americans really can’t relate to how bad it is for the typical Honduran. Such conditions encourage corruption and illicit drug activities, which are found in Honduras.

America buys over 67% of their exports, which is mostly coffee and bananas. They are heavily dependent on the health of the US economy. Certainly anything that compromised our trading relationship with them would be very important to them.

But these are a free people, and since 1982 their constitution has ruled them with elected representatives in a three branched government: an Executive (president elected to a 4-year term), a Legislative (National Congress elected for a 4-year term), and a Judicial (Supreme Court of Justice appointed for a 7-year term by Congress and confirmed by the president).

After a quick flashback to your high school government class, you’ve probably noticed that all of that sounds much like the American government setup. But there are some differences. For example, the Honduran President is only allowed a single term.

And there’s the rub.

Zelaya’s Liberal Party won the elections in 2005 after campaigning on “citizen power” and increasing “transparency in government” while promising to combat drug-trafficking and to maintain macroeconomic stability. But 4 years can pass quickly.

During that time, Zelaya managed to forge a regional alliance with Fidel Castro (of Cuba) and Hugo Chevez (of Venezuela) in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ABL), which is designed as a counter to the trade and security policies of the United States. His presidency is linked with an increase in crime and corruption scandals. His remaining supporters were the labor unions and the nation’s poor–everyone else feared he wanted to follow Ortega’s example in Nicaragua and Chavez’s progressive movement in Venezuelan to make it possible for him to serve unlimited terms–in other words to become President for life.

Of course, in order to make that happen–their constitution needed to be changed.

Zelaya wanted to conduct a national poll on whether to convene a Constitutional Assembly to draft a new constitution, however the Supreme Court ruled that to be unconstitutional since the constitution of Honduras requires a two-thirds vote of Congress to take such action.

Since the electoral process in Honduras refused to cooperate with Zelaya, he improvised. With a little help from his friends (i.e. Chavez) he got the ballots, along with sealed ballot boxes, presumedly to be administered by Zelaya’s volunteers and community organizers. Then Zelaya ordered the ballots and boxes to be distributed by the Honduran Army, through it’s commanding general (Vasquez Velasquez), who refused because he knew it was unlawful.

But that couldn’t stop Zelaya. He fired him and sent his community organizers on a mission to get the ballots out to the people. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court reinstalled Velasquez and decreed that Zelaya be arrested and removed from power.

What didn’t happen?

A general didn’t shoot the president in the head and declare himself to be the new president–that would have been a military coup–generally considered illegal.

What did happen?

The president of a republic intentionally overstepped the limits of his constitutional powers–generally considered a high crime. Then the Supreme Court, operating in concert with the Attorney General of Honduras, issued a legal document to remove the President from office. And when that was complete, Congress appointed a temporary President to fill the void until after the upcoming national elections in November.

While that’s not exactly the way we do things in the United States–because our Constitution is different–it seems to fit with their constitution. So the entire process appears to have been a lawful act.

But then the other shoe fell.

The President of the United States sided with Zelaya and suspended military ties with Honduras, though he did stop short of severing our diplomatic relationship with the vulnerable republic.

It’s difficult to second-guess the President of the United States, as he is privy to much more information than the average American. Since that is so, you’d think he would have also known about Zeyala’s anti-US activities along with his illegal actions inside of Honduras–but the United States wasn’t doing anything about it. So there must be more to this.

Recently we’ve seen the United States announce a policy with Iran to not “meddle” in their affairs while the Iranian government–which by the way has been sponsoring and supporting a terrorist war against us–violently put down a massive civilian uprising. But now, in contrast, it appears as if we’re meddling in Honduras as they try to protect their constitution from a domestic enemy, who has garnered foreign support.

Confusing.

There is an old axiom about how you can be judged by the company you keep.

When we see Ortega of Nicaragua, Castro of Cuba, and Chavez of Venezuela (who has threatened to invade Honduras)
very upset with the actions of the Honduran people and their lawful government, is it too difficult to come to the conclusion that maybe Zelaya is a bad guy?

It just makes sense.

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