July 7, 2009

Honduras: Constitution, Rule of Law, and Transparency

Honduran Flag

Everyone has an opinion about the legality of the events in Honduras. I have my own copy of the constitution and have read it and referred to it several times before the Honduran democratic crisis ever arose, but that doesn't make me a constitutional expert. I'm not an attorney and certainly not a Honduran attorney. I will say that now, my copy of the constitution is underlined, highlighted and dog-eared.

Initially, I was mostly concerned with whether my big mouth was going to get me kicked out of the country. ;-) When the cuarta urna (fourth ballot box) issue came up, I read the entire constitution to try to figure out why it needed to be changed. Overall, my initial reaction was that it wasn't so much the constitution that needed to be changed as much as it was the corrupt way of enforcing or not enforcing the laws and regulations. I'm not going to argue the legality, I'll leave that to experts. My focus is that what was done was the best thing for Honduras and I'll argue that all day long.

Rule of Law

Many people concerned with the rule of law believe that it should be upheld regardless of the effect on Honduras. The problem is that many people make their pronouncements without knowing the rule of law in Honduras, without knowing what legal actions had already been taken, or having even read the Honduran constitution!

They assume that the laws and the constitution of Honduras are or should be the same as the USA and make their proclamations based on that. Experts who go on television or write newspaper articles have an obligation to do the legal research.

Additionally, even when the US Supreme Court decides on a constitutional issue, the decision is not always unanimous. Even the greatest legal minds can disagree about the legality of an issue so it's not always cut and dried.
The Honduran Supreme Court reached a unanimous decision on the removal of Zelaya so I think that should be respected. You may disagree with a Supreme Court decision but you can't just ignore it as Mel Zelaya did.

Honduran government transparency

La Verdad en Honduras (The Truth in Honduras) is a website where the current government is trying to show their transparency to world. The official legal documents and explanations of the chronology of events are displayed for everyone to see. Some documents are available in English, but of course, the original judicial orders, etc. are in Spanish.

While this website is a very good start, some of the documents are jpg images rather than PDF files making for huge downloads. I appreciate the effort they are making to be transparent (a first for Honduras) but I still think they could be doing a little better job. I would like to see them put up a copy of the current constitution, as well. If any of you can make those suggestion to them, I'd appreciate it.

This video was produced to explain the chronology of events in Zelaya's removal:

Blogger Ardegas of Born in Honduras (English) also has a blog called Nacer en Honduras which has the video explaining the chronology of events in Spanish.

Constitution and the Impeachment clause

The Honduran constitution often referred to on the internet is not a correct version, at least it is not the same as the copy sold in Honduras. The original 1982 constitution and a list of the revisions and interpretations can be found at the Honduran congressional site. That is difficult to use because there is no copy of the current constitution. You have to read the original and look for changes to the Articles.

As I mentioned before, the Honduras constitution does need to be revised: It needs to include an impeachment procedure. In my research, I found that article 205, paragraph 11 was modified in 2002-2003 but only the first sentence was ratified.

The second sentence specifically stated that elected officials could be removed from their position for non-compliance with their duties and responsibilities with a 2/3 vote of congress. While the first sentence of paragraph 205.11 was ratified, the above, the second sentence, was not. No doubt there is some story of corruption behind this. Let's hope that it comes out. I have full faith that the Honduran constitution will be corrected to include provisions to remove elected officials.

Changing viewpoints

Meanwhile, I think because of surprise to the strong reaction of the Honduran people and those who support them, various media outlets are starting to take a closer look at what really happened in Honduras:

Slate magazine proclaimed Everyone's wrong about Honduras. The Toronto Sun pronounced, Honduran Prez deserved boot. The American Thinker asks Honduran Sovereignty: Who has jurisdiction?.

Other favorable articles are: The Jewish Institute for National Security Matters: Honduran Crisis Reveals Obama's Skewed View of Democratic Processes, The Christian Science Monitor: A 'coup' in Honduras? Nonsense. Don't believe the myth. The arrest of President Zelaya represents the triumph of the rule of law., The Heritage Foundation: A 'coup' to protect a constitution.

US Senators Jim DeMint (S. Carolina) and Tom Coburn (Oklahoma) speak in support of the Honduran government in videos on YouTube. US Senator Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Florida) wrote to US President Obama in support of the Honduran government.

Washington Post refers to the current president as "
caretaker President Roberto Micheletti." I believe that characterization is accurate and hope that the rest of the world will recognize that eventually.

I do not believe this situation is, or ever has been, a matter of Zelaya vs. Micheletti. Micheletti, as President of the Congress, was next in the line of succession according to the constitution. Following our constitution, he will be president for only seven months (elections in November, new president in January 2010) and can not serve as president again.
He has stepped into a real cesspool.
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