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Honduras: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right, But They’re Starting to Look Like a Marx Brothers Movie

Honduras:  Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right, But They’re Starting to Look Like a Marx Brothers Movie

That ridiculous mess known as Honduran politics is back in the news.  Unfortunately for the people of Honduras, it’s for all the wrong reasons. 

In June, a military coup overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, who was hustled onto a jet and out of the country (while still wearing his pajamas, apparently).  Shortly thereafter, the Honduran Congress voted unanimously to remove Zelaya from office and replace him with Roberto Micheletti, the president of Congress.

According to Micheletti, the coup was made necessary by an extended constitutional crisis, during which a term-limited Zelaya attempted to extend his rule through a referendum that would have. . .wait for it. . .eliminated presidential term limits.   After both Honduras’s Supreme Court and Congress called the referendum unconstitutional, Zelaya refused to back down. His opponents accused him of wanting to remain in power and compared him to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Next thing you know, Zelaya is on a plane looking like the punchline in a Marx Brothers movie — a perception not helped when it turned out that it was his own idea to wear pajamas.

But Zelaya’s antics in no way excuse the actions of those responsible for his ouster.  Zelaya was democratically elected in what absolutely everyone (even his opponents) agrees was a free and fair election.  His undemocratic moves took place after he assumed office.  The military’s decision to toss him out of the country — even if subsequently sanctioned by a unanimous vote of the Honduran Congress — was equally unconstitutional (if not more so).

So why am I reminding you of all this now?  Because things just got much, much worse — and vastly weirder.

On Monday, Zelaya snuck into Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, managing somehow to claim a triumphant return while looking foolish at the same time.  A photo of Zelaya taking a nap inside the embassy didn’t exactly help his cause.

Zelaya really doesn’t have very good timing.  As Mark Goldberg at UN Dispatch points out, he was scheduled to give a speech to the UN General Assembly on Thursday — which would have given him a much better pulpit — and far more attention — than his current perch allows.

In response, Micheletti defended the de facto government’s actions with an address on national television and an op-ed in The Washington Post.  He argued that Zelaya’s return “changed nothing,” continued to defend the coup, calling it  a “constitutional succession” and insisting that he would hand over power to a new, democratically elected President in January.

This is ridiculous.  Thanks to Zelaya’s continued appetite for media-friendly antics and Micheletti’s refusal to compromise, Honduras once again is once again being mocked as a banana republic.

These two windbags have turned a serious constitutional crisis into a cojones contest.

Meanwhile, the people of Honduras continue to suffer.  The OAS has suspended Honduras’s membership, the United States has suspended more than $30 million in foreign assistance, the EU has pulled its ambassadors, and not a single country has recognized the Micheletti regime.  That said, nobody seems that enthusiastic about a return by Zelaya either. 

The problem, of course, is that the international community (or, for that matter, individual states) cannot merely say “a pox on both your houses.”  Someone has to be in charge.  The question is not who is right and who is wrong but rather who will do more damage to the prospect for continued democratic governance in Honduras (and beyond).

Both Zelaya’s attempts to hold on to power and the parliamentary-military coup that installed Micheletti were undemocratic.  Neither side has acted in the long-term interests of Honduras.

The real solution is some sort of compromise.  Here’s one possible way:

1.  Adopt new constitutional measures that a) explicitly outlaw the use of a simple majority vote in a referendum to amend the constitution and b) provide for some sort of legitimate democratic process to remove a President acting extra-constitutionally (preferably one that does not require the military to grab him/her while still in his/her pajamas).

2.  Micheletti resigns, turning the government over to a new caretaker that is acceptable to both sides.

3.  Drop all action against Zelaya.  Allow him and his followers to choose a candidate to run in November’s elections — as long as it’s not Zelaya himself.

4.  Invite international observers and the UN to the November elections.  And if the results are the product of a free and fair poll, then accept the results as the mandate of the Honduran people.

Is it a perfect solution?  Absolutely not.  But somebody has to come up with something that addresses the reality that neither side is acting in the best interests of the country.

It will take years for Honduras to recover from this morass.  But it won’t be able to start until Zelaya and Micheletti both get out of the way.

 

 

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Photo credit:  Knut Burmeister via Flicker using a CC BY 2.0 license.
Charles J. Brown is Senior Fellow and Washington Director at the Institute for International Law and Human Rights and the host of Undiplomatic, a blog on the intersection of foreign policy, politics, and pop culture.

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5 comments

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1:31PM PDT on Sep 24, 2009

I WANT MY LEGITIMATE PRESIDENT TO RETURN TO HIS LAWFUL POSITION!!!
ALL THE HIGH CLASS IS WORRIED ABOUT IS THEIR RICHES. THEY BEGAN TO TRICK PEOPLE INTO BELIEVING THAT WE WERE GOING TO BECOME A NEW VENEZUELA OR CUBA SIMPLY BECAUSE OF THIS, AND THIS WAS ALL RUBBISH!!
DO NOT LET THE CORRUPT MEDIA AND DE FACTO LEADERS TRANSMIT THEIR LIES TO THE WORLD!!!
YEAH...all of Latin America and Europe and Asia are "wrong" not to recognize this de facto government, only the own makers of this crisis seem so mentally challenged to believe that what is happening to us is right.
THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE!
THEY KEPT US UNDER A 48 HOUR CURFEW, AS IF WE WERE BEASTS SUBMITTED TO THEIR WHIMS. WHY ARE THEY SO SCARED OF ZELAYA??
AND I CAN ASSURE YOU THAT HIS OWN RIGHTS ARE BEING VIOLATED AS WE SPEAK. THE MILITARY HAVE HAD THE EMBASSY SURROUNDED NONSTOP EVER SINCE HE CAME BACK; THEY HAVE A SONAR THAT DISTURBS THE EARDRUMS, THEY CUT OFF POWER AND WATER AND HAVE BLOCKED FOOD PASSAGE TO THE EMBASSY. THAT IS ABUSE TO EVERY HUMAN RIGHT THAT WE HAVE.
AND I DON'T FIND IT FAIR THAT YOU MAKE FUN OF ZELAYA JUST BECAUSE HE SLEEPS. DON'T YOU???
I SAY, DON'T JUDGE OUR SITUATION SO FREELY, AS YOU ARE A NATION THAT HAS EVERYTHING AND DON'T DEPEND ON OTHER COUNTRIES. BUT WE DO, AND THE DE FACTO GOVERNMENT IS SHITTING ITSELF OVER ALL OF US, IF YOU'LL EXCUSE MY LANGUAGE. BUT IT'S THE ONLY WAY TO PAINT IT.
I WANT THE DE FACTO GOVERNMENT OUT OF MY NATION!

1:20PM PDT on Sep 24, 2009

As a Honduran, and being in the middle of this whole crisis, I can guarantee you all that NOWHERE was our legitimate president vouching to extend his period or allow for reelection. This was a lie fed to the people by the high class. The high class is the one behind all of this. Micheletti is just one of their many puppets, as are the police forces and the military. All that Manuel Zelaya was attempting to do was a "survey," so to speak, in which us, THE PEOPLE, would be consulted as to if we were in favor of (much needed) amendments to our Constitution. It would help in cases such as the number of members in Congress, because there are too many, and they are all just a bunch of corrupt people that steal from us. Another reform would be actually charging taxes to foreign industries, such as fast food restaurants, because they pay absolutely no taxes and that is pretty unfair because our country gets no benefit from their becoming wealthy at our people's expenses.
Zelaya has actually been the only president to actually care for someone other than the rich class, and I find it unfair that everyone felt free to feed people with lies and twist his words.
There is violence against the people who favor Zelaya, but military protection for the ones who march against him (the vast majority of them forcedly attending because they work for the puppet masters behind the coup). And it WAS military because as far as I know, it was the military who unlawfully broke into Zelaya's House.

7:19AM PDT on Sep 24, 2009

First off this was not a military coup. The military did not take over. Zelaya was deposed by orders of congress and the supreme court. The military were following orders. Second -who the hell are the US and all these other countries to tell another nation what to do. Remember they are free, independent and sovereign nation. If their own judicial system decreed Zelaya's actions illegal why is the USA and other countries going against Honduras law. Third, after all the money he and his cronies stole you have the audacity to say he should return and you talk about Honduras and their people and mock them. You say Micheletti should stand down, He said he would stand down and let the elections run and whoever was voted in for President would become the new President . He doesn't have any intentions of running for President. Besides once you have been President once by law you can not run again. None of the people running right now are Zelaya or Micheletti, but Zelaya doesn't want to give up and insists on getting reinstated and says if he is he will stay --not to the foreign press of course . So at least look up the information before you spout off.When you have lasted for a day in the Honduran people's shoes then you can open your mouth. In the meantime unless you go down there and investigate yourself and see all the proof I suggest YOU SHUT UP --you have no clue
I bet if another country was coming to the USA and telling them how to run their government and change their con

7:00AM PDT on Sep 24, 2009

I am so tired of foreigners passing judgement on our political crisis, especially those who claim to be "political experts".

Where do you get "Allow him and his followers to choose a candidate to run in November's elections -- as long as it's not Zelaya himself."

Do you know anything about the Honduran electoral process? The candidates for all the parties were chosen last year, by the people. Primary elections were held!

If anyone is acting ridiculously, it is Mel Zelaya, the circus ringleader. Yesterday, he told the Miami Herald that "he is being subjected to mind-altering gas and radiation -- and that `Israeli mercenaries' are planning to assassinate him."

I would like to remind you that Honduras is a sovereign nation. We don't need "somebody has to come up with something" for us. Or for other nations to even contemplate whether or not they will accept the outcome of the elections in November. When has Honduras ever rejected the outcome of an election in any other sovereign nation? Or have they suddenly learned how to count in Florida? Did Honduras reject the U.S. Supreme Court decision to hand the presidency to George Bush? Maybe we should have protested before the UN. Or maybe, you should respect the Honduran Supreme Court decision to remove Zelaya.

Yours truly,

Maria in Honduras

7:11PM PDT on Sep 23, 2009

...coups are plain and simple in these...other worlds of demagogue u-serpation...an end must come to the idiocy. Constitutionality should be forth-coming...but as usual...the back bitting and dis-enfranchised seem to be stepping away from the table here...so there is no relevent discourse, nothing of any concretion that the people of these beautiful countries want to resonate...tis a dark passage in time, as it has always been...the affect though is what i worry about more and more, "How does this all portend for our future...eh (???)...and the world...the earth, in general...hmmmmm? enough of this i say! settle your differences...take care of those who hold you closest to your heart...tis a slippery slope...in the southern hemisphere...Freedom is Knocking at the Door.......... O.F.~*

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