December 14, 2012

'Technical' coup against Supreme Court (Part 2)

Juan Orlando Hernádez, Porfirio Lobo, Jorge Rivera Avilés, Luis Rubí
in cadena nacional today
image: El Heraldo

[See Part 1 here]

What has been the reaction to firing of Supreme Court judges in Honduras? Who knew what and when? Who is behind this latest action of congress?

JOH claims organized crime conspiracy

Juan Orlando Hernandez, Honduran President of Congress
Juan Orlando Hernández,
President of Congress and
Nacionalista presidential candidate
image: El Heraldo
About 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, Congressional President Juan Orlando Herández (JOH) called in [audio in español] to a morning television talk show to justify the firings by making an accusation that these judges were involved in an organized crime controlled conspiracy with police and Fiscales (public prosecutors). He wouldn't say where he got his information or name any other names. This accusation has been more vaguely made in the past numerous times, but has never resulted in investigation or prosecution. Additionally, whatever information that the accuser (generally the President or a congressman) has, it never seems to reach the Attorney General for an official inquiry. Similarly, an accusation has been made that approximately 40% of the members of congress are involved in or controlled by organized crime.

Interestingly, the investigation report [español] given to congress did not make any accusations of wrong-doing or criminal activity by the judges. The report stated that their decision was made two days after the law expired, implying administrative irregularity because the law was no longer in force, but they did not fire the fifth judge who voted the way the Congress and President wanted. The report declared that the court's decision was "incongruent with the security policies of the legislative and executive branches of government" and could result in huge legal claims from those who had already been fired under the law. Yesterday it came out from the Supreme Court that JOH had sent a note requesting a report on the four judges sometime after the vote to fire them had already been taken. Of course, no report has yet been sent back to congress.

Wednesday's scheduled hearing on the police purification law by the full Supreme Court was postponed until Friday. The court system closes down for two weeks at the end of every year. Today it was announced that the review will be postponed until next year, giving the 15 judges plenty of time to ponder whether or not they, too, want to be fired and publicly defamed.

Who knew what, when?

Marvin Ponce, Honduran Congressman
Congressman Marvin Ponce
image: Proceso Digital

Controversial congressman Marvin Ponce, a member of the minority UD party, disclosed to the media [español] that Jorge Rivera Avilés, President of the Supreme Court was always informed about what Hernández was trying to accomplish and was consulted about the replacement judges in the middle of the night on Tuesday. Ponce additionally stated that congressional members of Yani Rosenthal's failed Liberal presidential candidacy voted for the firings, while Congressman Rosenthal denied any knowledge or participation in anything, stating he was in San Pedro the whole time. He refused to comment to the media, saying that he would have to read the documents before giving any opinion on anything. Later JOH also stated that Rivera Avilés was fully informed throughout the process and that he [JOH] had had talks with Rosenthal as well. Rosenthal, a former Liberal presidential candidate and member of the powerful Rosenthal family, also called the same morning talk show on Thursday categorically denying having anything to do with this process or having talks with Hernández. Though he is one who is always calm and collected, he sounded upset in this call.

Jorge Rivera Avilés, President of Supreme Court
Jorge Rivera Aviles,
President of Supreme Court
image: La Prensa

Rivera Avilés initially made no comment to the media about any of this, but late Thursday afternoon (December 13), he made an emotional statement to the media [español], refuting Juan Orlando Hernández's claim that he had any participation in the actions taken by congress. Rivera said, "....I definitely sympathize expressly and strongly with the situation that they [the four judges] are suffering. I want to make that clear. Neither the President of the Supreme Court or the judiciary have played a part in the decisions made in Congress....I by no means gave the nod to the separation." However, La Prensa pointed out that while several of the Supreme Court judges signed a statement of solidarity with the dismissed judges, Rivera's signature was not among them.


Four fired Honduran Supreme Court judges
Four fired Supreme Court judges
Images: El Heraldo

The four justices released a statement calling their dismissal "illegitimate, illegal and unjust" and declared that they have a right to due process. One of the judges reported that they had always been under pressure and threats [español], that this was a political act, and that this wasn't the first time there was action to try to remove them. She additionally asked for proof of the grave accusations of 'collusion with organized crime' made by Hernández. The judges have filed an appeal with the Supreme Court and if the decision is not favorable, they will take it to international courts. They also noted that the correct procedure would have been for the Congress to consult with the court prior to approving a law.

Business, legal, and civil society organizations quickly issued statements of condemnation of the firings and demand for respect for the constitution. Some have filed formal complaints with the Ministerio Público (Attorney General's office). After a long meeting of nine of the remaining eleven Supreme Court justices (two were unavailable), they announced their solidarity with the fired judges and condemned the action of the Congress. Eight of them signed a statement to the public [español] that the Congressional action is inconsistent with a democratic system and is an attack on the independence of the judiciary. One current Supreme Court justice stated that he will not recognize the new judges because they were illegally appointed and will not attend the sessions. He also suggested the possibility that all of the justices would resign. The judiciary system has now closed down for previously scheduled vacations until January.

President Lobo, who no doubt was the instigator of all this since he has had full control of the congress since his election, has safely stayed behind the scenes coming out in a national cadena Wednesday night only to call for dialogue and harmony among the branches of government. Another cadena today featured all three main actors plus the Attorney General Luis Rubí. Lobo stated that they have begun dialogue and stressed that there is respect and independence among the powers of state. MP Rubí has opened an official investigation to determine whether or not criminal charges should apply.

The 'dance of millions'

Mauricio Villeda, Liberal party presidential candidate, Honduras
Mauricio Villeda Bermúdez,
Liberal party presidential candidate
Image: Proceso Digital
Liberal party presidential candidate Mauricio Villeda [article in español] qualified congress' actions as illegal and unconstitutional. Throwing a new kink into the discussion, he demanded an investigation of the "danza de millones" ('dance of millions'). Initially I wasn't sure what this meant, but then cursed my naiveté. Villeda is quoted as saying, "I'm totally against the abuses they [the congress] are committing and I'm also against the buying of consciences in the National Congress."

Apparently he has received information that the all night negotiations included promises of payments for favorable votes of some congressmen, including those of Villeda's own Liberal party. This echoes the 2008 congressional vote for Honduras to join Chávez' ALBA, an action which everyone said could never happen. It came out later that certain congressmen were paid L.1 million each for their votes. This afternoon, two Congressional Bulletins were sent out demanding that Villeda retract his statement or provide evidence of payments. The text additionally blamed the Supreme Court for endangering lives of citizens by declaring the law unconstitutional.

Of those voting on Wednesday morning, all but four Nationalistas voted in favor of the firings (67 of 71). In the Liberal party, 22 of 46 congressmen voted in favor. In the miniscule UD, DC, and PINU parties, the favorable votes were 4 of 4, 4 of 4, and zero of 3, respectively. Just the fact that all 128 congressmen or their substitutes were present at 4:00 a.m. should tell us something!


But why would the Congress take such drastic and unprecedented action before the final court decision was even taken? Was it to intimidate the justices to ensure the verdict which this administration wants? Why now when the judges have ruled against several other laws proposed by this administration? Why wouldn't the congress just amend the law to change the constitutional defects? Some believe that there is something even more sinister behind these actions and it could have serious consequences for the next presidential I'm off to write the third part of this story. I probably won't get it posted until tomorrow.

See Part 3 here.


ABC News has a 4-page article today about the situation in Honduras here [english].

This 2010 article popped up on the "You might also like...." list below. It gives an excellent example of how this administration has ignored and in fact, overruled Supreme Court decisions in the past:

Expropriation of media in Honduras

Here is a quote from a related article in which Congress overruled the Supreme Court decision:

So now we know how it really is in Honduras. The President can rule by decree. The Congress is subordinate to the wishes of the President. The President and Congress can pick and choose which Supreme Court rulings can be disregarded. Justice can be decided by the Congress (or more accurately, the ruling political party) if they don't agree with the justice doled out by the courts. Most importantly, political affiliations are more important than either the laws, the balance of power, or the constitution. 
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