The so-called coup in Honduras
Jul 03, 2009
All we seem to hear on the news is how the former president of Honduras was overthrown in a military "coup" this past week. The U.S. government is demanding his return. But there is another side to this story.
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 Pollto 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], 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.