Friday, July 03, 2009

Newswatch: a senior Honduran voice speaks on the "coup"

Octavio Sánchez, a lawyer, is a former presidential adviser (2002-05) and minister of culture (2005-06) of the Republic of Honduras.

He has just written a column, entitled "A 'coup' in Honduras? Nonsense," that appears in the July 2, 2009 Christian Science Monitor; and which begins:

Sometimes, the whole world prefers a lie to the truth. The White House, the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and much of the media have condemned the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya this past weekend as a coup d'état.

That is nonsense.

In fact, what happened here is nothing short of the triumph of the rule of law . . .

He takes time to explain, having first briefed on the background history and entrenched clauses of the Honduran Constitution:

Under our Constitution, what happened in Honduras this past Sunday? Soldiers arrested and sent out of the country a Honduran citizen who, the day before, through his own actions had stripped himself of the presidency.

These are the facts: On June 26, President Zelaya issued a decree ordering all government employees to take part in the "Public Opinion Poll to convene a National Constitutional Assembly." In doing so, Zelaya triggered a constitutional provision that automatically removed him from office.

Constitutional assemblies are convened to write new constitutions. When Zelaya published that decree to initiate an "opinion poll" about the possibility of convening a national assembly, he contravened the unchangeable articles of the Constitution that deal with the prohibition of reelecting a president and of extending his term. His actions showed intent.

Our Constitution takes such intent seriously. According to Article 239: "No citizen who has already served as head of the Executive Branch can be President or Vice-President. Whoever violates this law or proposes its reform [emphasis added [by the author]], as well as those that support such violation directly or indirectly, will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years."

Notice that the article speaks about intent and that it also says "immediately" – as in "instant," as in "no trial required," as in "no impeachment needed."

Continuismo – the tendency of heads of state to extend their rule indefinitely – has been the lifeblood of Latin America's authoritarian tradition. The Constitution's provision of instant sanction might sound draconian, but every Latin American democrat knows how much of a threat to our fragile democracies continuismo presents. In Latin America, chiefs of state have often been above the law. The instant sanction of the supreme law has successfully prevented the possibility of a new Honduran continuismo.

The Supreme Court and the attorney general ordered Zelaya's arrest for disobeying several court orders compelling him to obey the Constitution. He was detained and taken to Costa Rica. Why? Congress needed time to convene and remove him from office. With him inside the country that would have been impossible. This decision was taken by the 123 (of the 128) members of Congress present that day . . . [Emphases added]

This therefore confirms and fills out the picture from the previous newswatch article.

The Honduran Constitution is a bit drastic on the matter, but in the historical context, that is unfortunately understandable; and defiance of clauses -- much less, entrenched clauses -- of a Constitution is most plainly an action that points to lawlessness.

And, in the end, it is better that the rule of law be preserved than that any one man -- however popular or even effective -- continue in office in defiance of plain law. (We can always change the law if it proves unsatisfactory -- in this case by calling a proper constitutional convention under its terms; which is actually one of the particular points that was being defied by what now looks like former president Manuel Zelaya. But, on a lot of painful history, to restore respect for law once a precedent of defiance of law has been set, is not so easy.)

Such confirmatory news is of course of general interest for those of us who are concerned about our region.

But, more to the point, we now see a question of a widening gap between reality and the picture being painted for us by prominent international and regional statesmen and organisations, as well as by media houses. For, we have not heard of headlined complaints that the Honduran Constitution is defective through being overly drastic (which would be understandable and debatable); instead, from seemingly every quarter, we have been hearing the repeatedly headlined outright declaration of "fact" that a coup has taken place against Senor Zelaya and that Honduras is to be subjected to sanctions against a coup.

And that brings us right up against the theme for this blog that much of the news, views, and state-level declarations that so often fill our headlines across the Caribbean plainly cannot be safely taken at face value. With very serious implications for the question of the manipulation and deceiving of the nations. For, if half of a story on one matter can so easily be turned into what now appears to be a false picture on the nation of Honduras and those who have sought to preserve the rule of law there, creating a climate of unjust contempt and even hostility; what about the possibility that the same tactics may one day be deployed against us?

(That is, I am here applying he Golden Rule of Matt 7:12 by asking us to put ourselves in the shoes of those who have been -- on what now has to be viewed as credible evidence -- victimised by distorted and irresponsible reporting. How would we feel were we in their shoes? What would happen if such evidently irresponsible and unfair, imbalanced media coverage were to become routine? [This is Kant's approach: that which is immoral or unjust shows itself by the likely destructive consequences were it to spread unchecked across the community.] How, then should we pray? What, then, should we say and do?)

Not to mention, that the plainly unbalanced responses we have seen raise serious questions about the judgement, actions -- and perhaps even competence on international affairs -- of several regional and international statesmen, starting within Caricom, but extending to the OAS, the White House and even the UN.

Troubling questions in a dangerously turbulent time. END