Comment on: “The New Hemispheric Agenda and the Role of Regional and International Organizations”
From: James L. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Contributing Editor
In “The New Hemispheric Agenda and the Role of Regional and International Organizations” — on the whole a useful assessment — Ambassador (ret.) Anthony C. E. Quainton repeats a currently common abuse of language and offers a less than complete description of recent events in Honduras, one seemingly designed to reinforce the Obama Administration’s claim that that country has fallen off its list of Central American democracies.
The ambassador begins by joining those who redefine the traditional meaning of the term “coup,” which my New Oxford American Dictionary defines as “a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government” (my emphasis). To cause further alarm, he characterizes the removal of the Honduran president as a “military coup,” despite the fact that the armed forces played the role of sheriff to the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court and allowed constitutional civil authorities — and not the army itself or someone it selected — to assume supreme executive power.
Though the ambassador acknowledged Honduran President Zelaya’s removal from office was “bloodless”—therefore nonviolent — he failed to reveal that his removal was constitutional, which had been violated by the president and not the military. In support of that claim, a study by the Law Library of Congress concluded that the “Supreme Court of Honduras has constitutional and statutory authority to hear cases against the President of the Republic… , to adjudicate and enforce judgments, and to request the assistance of the public forces to enforce its rulings. The Constitution… gives Congress the power to disapprove of the conduct of the President, to conduct special investigations on issues of national interest, and to interpret the Constitution.”
After Zelaya made several illegal attempts to amend the Constitution with a view to extending his term of office (an act that in itself is unconstitutional), the Honduran Congress filed charges against him, and the Supreme Court found him guilty and directed the armed forces to remove him from office. With Zelaya removed, and in accordance with the constitutional line of secession, the President of the Congress assumed executive power. He intends to surrender it in due course to whoever wins the forthcoming national election.
Rather than interpret that outcome as a defeat for democracy and thereby support the Obama Administration’s efforts to intimidate the legitimate Honduran government, Ambassador Quainton should have praised the Hondurans for preserving their democracy in the face of Zelaya’s effort to follow in the footsteps of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and thereby establish a new Latin American dictatorship.
The Law Library of Congress found only one error in the actions of the Honduran government: it deported Zelaya following his removal from office. That step violated the Honduran Constitution and the former president’s civil rights, but it hardly justifies American and Organization of American States’ demands that he be returned to office. Nor does it justify the intimidation directed at the Honduran government by American officials to whom Americans should look to defend rather than bully a young democracy.
During a trip “packed with meetings,” U.S. Senator Jim DeMint reported that he “had met only one person in Honduras who opposed Mr. Zelaya’s ouster, who wishes his return, and who mystifyingly rejects the legitimacy of the November elections: U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens.” When pressed for an explanation, Llorens referred the senator to a legal opinion written by State Department lawyer Harold Koh, who has refused requests for its public disclosure.
When our president stands alongside Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega on an issue, he should reconsider the company he is keeping.