Wikileaks: Honduras

At the time of the Honduran coup, there were those who tried to defend it as a legitimate act. And not all of those defenders were in the Honduran military or political elite. Here is what the State Department was saying at the time, under a heading “Arguments of the Coup Defenders“:

¶3. (SBU)Defenders of the June 28 coup have offered some combination of the following, often ambiguous, arguments to assert it’s legality:

— Zelaya had broken the law (alleged but not proven);

— Zelaya resigned (a clear fabrication);

— Zelaya intended to extend his term in office (supposition);

— Had he been allowed to proceed with his June 28 constitutional reform opinion poll, Zelaya would have dissolved Congress the following day and convened a constituent assembly (supposition);

— Zelaya had to be removed from the country to prevent a bloodbath;

— Congress “unanimously” (or in some versions by a 123-5 vote) deposed Zelaya; (after the fact and under the cloak of secrecy); and

— Zelaya “automatically” ceased to be president the moment he suggested modifying the constitutional prohibition on presidential reelection.

¶4. (C) In our view, none of the above arguments has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution. Some are outright false. Others are mere supposition or ex-post
rationalizations of a patently illegal act. Essentially:

— the military had no authority to remove Zelaya from the country;

— Congress has no constitutional authority to remove a Honduran president;

— Congress and the judiciary removed Zelaya on the basis of a hasty, ad-hoc, extralegal, secret, 48-hour process;

— the purported “resignation” letter was a fabrication and was not even the basis for Congress’s action of June 28; and

— Zelaya’s arrest and forced removal from the country violated multiple constitutional guarantees, including the prohibition on expatriation, presumption of innocence and right to due process.

The cable then goes on to review the Honduran constitution in some detail, concluding that there is no impeachment provision, and that “Forced Removal by Military was Clearly Illegal” and “Congress Had no Authority to Remove Zelaya.” Each of those quoted passages is another subheading in the cable, which is followed by further detailed arguments.

All in all, a fairly impressive bit of reporting and political analysis. Now, what politicians and political appointees in Washington choose to do with such clear and objective information is another matter.

6 thoughts on “Wikileaks: Honduras

  1. Is there some avenue other than “impeachment by Congress” – eg, trial before the supreme court, it the Austrian/ Venezuelan/ Icelandic method of a recall referendum – for potentially removing a Honduran president?

    I ask this (from a position of comparative ignorance about, and neutrality on, the Zelaya affair) simply because if there literally is no explicit Constitutional procedure at all for removing a President in mid-term, it might be seen to strengthen an argument that “obvious necessity” gives grounds to imply a power of Congress to impeach (much as one might argue that the US Constitution impliedly bars the VP from chairing the Senate when the VP h/self is impeached and on trial).

  2. That question is addressed in the cable, farther along from the part I quoted. Yes, the President is apparently subject to regular judicial procedure, which could include removal as punishment, following trial by the Supreme Court.

    ¶8. (U) Many legal experts have also confirmed to us that
    the Honduran process for impeaching a President or other
    senior-level officials is a judicial procedure. They
    assert that under Honduran law the process consists of formal
    criminal charges being filed by the Attorney General
    against the accused with the Supreme Court. The Supreme
    Court could accept or reject the charges. If the Court
    moved to indict, it would assign a Supreme Court
    magistrate, or a panel of magistrates to investigate the
    matter, and oversee the trial.

  3. What is not vague is that congress has no authority to remove a president, which they claimed to have done (under cloak of secrecy, as the cable notes).

    I should have noted that the cable also uses the term “coup d’etat” to describe the events–I recall that the question of using that term was rather controversial up here in the north at the time.

    There are, by the way, other presidential constitutions that lack a clear impeachment provision. Honduras is not alone here.

  4. I wonder how many outside observers were unconsciously influenced by the assumption that Latin American presidencies closely follow the US model, under which of course congressional action (impeachment for President and judges, expulsion for legislators) is the only mechanism for removing federal office-bearers: there is no provision for trial before the Supreme Court as a separate avenue (unlike, IIRC, Ireland and Germany – even there, both require the legislature to initiate).

    Latin American constitution-writers did originally copy the US closely (eg, the Argentine and Brazilian electoral colleges) in many respects, but have evolved in different directions (eg, PR is now universal, I believe).

  5. I’d think their most dramatic departure is the way judges are appointed and elections are administered.

    Slightly off-topic, but the Dirty War led nations like Brazil and Argentina to develop new forms of judicial redress for abuse of power after the overthrow of the juntas. Sadly the Coloso del Norte has not yet emulated them, although the operational parallels between the Dirty War and the War on Terror are obvious.

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