August 13, 2009

Interview with Honduras Supreme Court President

Jorge Rivera Avilés,
President of the Honduran Supreme Court

The President of the Honduran Supreme Court, Jorge Rivera Avilés, was interviewed by PJTV last week. He provides an excellent explanation of what happened, why it happened, and why the international community should respect the decisions made by the court. I highly recommend watching this 13 minute video, Supreme Court Justifies Presidential Firing. The video is in Spanish with English subtitles so everyone can watch it.

One question often brought up around the world is why did the Court used the military to enforce the arrest warrant? Some even go so far as to imply that even if the firing of the president was justified, the use of the military negates everything. The UK based Guardian wrote this, as just one example of many:
"Supporters of the coup argue that the president violated the law by attempting to go ahead with the referendum after the supreme court ruled against it. This is a legal question. It may be true, or it may be that the supreme court had no legal basis for its ruling. But it is irrelevant to the what has happened. The military is not the arbiter of a constitutional dispute between the various branches of government."

Wrong. Maybe that is true in the UK or the US or Canada, but remember that Honduras is a sovereign nation. Honduras has its own constitution. Article 306 of the Honduran constitution reads as follows:
Artículo 306. Los órganos jurisdiccionales requerirán en caso necesario el auxilio de las Fuerzas Públicas para el cumplimiento de sus resoluciones; si les fuere negado o no lo hubiere disponible, lo exigirán de los ciudadanos.

Quien injustificadamente se negare a dar auxilio incurrirá en responsabilidad.
My unofficial translation is below:
Article 306. The courts will require, when necessary, the assistance of security forces to fulfill their resolutions; if they were to be refused or were not available, assistance may be required of citizens.

Whoever unreasonably refuses to provide assistance will incur liability.

It is clear from the constitution that the Supreme Court is allowed to call on any public forces, or even citizens, to assist in enforcing their orders, and that further, anyone who refuses will be held responsible for that refusal.

Honduras has been a peaceful country for the past 40 years. As a result, the military is assigned many duties by the constitution that have nothing to do with fighting in wars (Article 274). Earlier this year, ex-President Zelaya used military forces in a brief effort to combat crime in some parts of the country.

Frankly, I believe that the police were not used because of the widespread corruption in the police department. We often read of failed search and arrest warrants because a suspected drug trafficker or other suspected criminal has been tipped off and has already left the country. Remember that Zelaya seemed to have unlimited funds available. Some mayors have come forward to say that they were offered sums in the millions to devote themselves to promoting the cuarta urna.

Honduran police have been implicated in robberies, kidnappings, and murders for years now. Currently, a police recruiting campaign is in progress and hopefully, we will be seeing a purification of the police department in the near future. A better, stronger, more honest police department, and criminal sanctions against those police who are not honest, is something desperately needed in Honduras.

Another oft asked question is why was the arrest warrant acted upon at 5:15 a.m.? (or 6:15 a.m − I've read different times) Article 99 of the constitution states (translated), "Except in cases of emergency, a search of a home cannot take place between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., without incurring liability."

Arresting a president and stopping him from blatant violation of an order of the supreme court seems to qualify as an emergency.

And of course, the big question is why did the military take him to Costa Rica? The generals say they did it to prevent bloodshed. Remember that only two days before, we watched Mel Zelaya lead a huge mob of people, some of them drunk according to reports, to invade a military base and abscond with documents that had been confiscated by a Supreme Court order.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there were and still are, many foreign agitators in the country from Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba who had been imported to "assist" with the cuarta urna. Even more frightening to many of us was the threat by Hugo Chávez on June 26 to intervene in Honduras along with the other ALBA countries.

And finally, I believe that ex-President Zelaya was given the choice to suffer the humiliation of being arrested or to resign and leave the country. I believe that it was Zelaya's choice and that he later denied it as well as the resignation. I watched all of his interviews, including the first telephone interviews on CNN (Español) on June 28, and saw how his story grew and changed with each interview. When asked by the CNN announcer about the resignation, he first ignored the question. When asked again, he gave an evasive answer. When pressed again, he finally said that he did not sign it. We will probably never know for sure, but just knowing how things work here in Honduras and having heard hundreds of hours of Mel's speeches, that is what I believe.

The simple fact is that Honduras' constitution, for whatever reason, includes no provision for impeaching the president. The actions taken against the out-of-control president were done according to the law.

The manner of removing him from the presidency and the country was messy, yes. No question about that. But try to remember that this is a third world country with a relatively new and fragile democracy, not the USA. A more sophisticated country might have handled it better, a less sophisticated country might have shot him in the head. I'm a pragmatist and I think that the military chose the lesser of several evils.

According to the President of the Supreme Court, Honduran law allows for an illegal act if that same act will save the lives of hundreds or thousands of Hondurans. That sounds like a good law to me. There should be a legal inquiry into the manner in which Zelaya was removed. That is what the world should be looking at, not forcing the return of a corrupt, law-breaking, thieving, drug-connected, mentally unbalanced man to a seat of power in a country where the majority of population do not want him.


PJTV has several good videos on the Honduran crisis, including an interview with Honduran President Roberto Micheletti (in English).
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