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July 8, 2009
Q&A: Political turmoil in the streets of Honduras

Diplomats are still struggling to help Honduras out of a political mess that only seems to grow deeper by the day. On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who was deposed by a military coup in late June.  She announced that the president of Costa Rica will serve as a mediator in the Honduran political crisis.

Earlier in the week, there was a violent clash at the airport in Tegucigalpa when a plane carrying Zelaya was turned away. Competing protests have rocked the capital city.

Sandra Cuffe is an independent Canadian journalist currently in Tegucigalpa. On Monday, the day after the standoff at the airport, she joined Worldfocus to discuss the mood at the riots, the impact on daily life in Honduras and the range of possible outcomes.

Below, view a slideshow from recent protests, also by Sandra Cuffe:

Worldfocus also spoke with Greg Weeks, an associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the editor of the journal The Latin Americanist, about the implications of the recent coup.

Worldfocus: What provoked the coup and did it come as a surprise?

Greg Weeks: The precise timing of the coup was provoked by President Zelaya attempting to go through with the vote about a constitutional commission even though the Supreme Court, Congress, and the armed forces had told him it was unconstitutional. The coup occurred on the Sunday of the scheduled vote.

Conflict between Zelaya and other major political actors in Honduras was long-standing and sometimes bitter. It was well known that Congress was working on formal accusations against Zelaya, and he had publicly criticized the idea of what he called a “technical coup.” Nonetheless, few observers expected a full military coup.

Worldfocus: Has public opinion swayed in either direction in Honduras? Did Hondurans support the referendum?

Greg Weeks: We know that Zelaya was unpopular at the time of the coup (with an approval rating of approximately 30 percent) but we do not know the levels of national support for his forced removal. Both sides claim massive support, but at least for now it is not possible to know for sure.

It is safe to say, though, that a majority of Hondurans did not support the referendum and he likely would have lost it.

Worldfocus: International reaction has been swift, with many (including the U.S. and Organization of American States) urging Zelaya’s return. Has this had any effect?

Greg Weeks: Yes, it put Micheletti and other coup supporters immediately on the defensive and quickly started to pinch the country economically. Plus, the fact that governments as ideologically distant as Colombia and Venezuela were united on this issue made it more difficult for anyone to claim there was ideological bias.

Worldfocus: What are Hugo Chavez’s interests?

Greg Weeks: His primary interest is having another regional ally like Zelaya remain in power. But he and other leftist presidents also have a strong interest in ensuring that other would-be coup makers get the message that international opinion is firmly against such actions (which, of course, is ironic given Chávez’s own background as a coup leader).

Worldfocus: And what of U.S. interests, and the possibility that the U.S. may cut off aid?

Greg Weeks: The U.S. has very little concrete at stake in this crisis, but it is the first Latin American crisis for President Obama, so he is interested in ensuring that his rhetoric of support for democracy and dialogue is taken seriously.

A full cut-off of aid would be a last ditch effort and is the main “stick” the United States wields. As a result, I think it is the least likely policy option, and would be used only if every single other possibility had been exhausted.

Worldfocus: In your opinion, how will the current stalemate end?

Greg Weeks: This crisis has been fluid and unpredictable, so I can’t really say much for certain. I do tend to think that there will be some sort of negotiated solution. There will be massive pressure, both from outside Honduras and inside (as the cutoff of aid from various sources squeezes the economy) for Micheletti to negotiate. Meanwhile, Zelaya knows that negotiation is the only way he can return to the country without invasion — which no one supports, despite Chávez’s comments on the topic.

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The uprising in Honduras has been driven primarly by the media. If Zelaya never comes back in to power, at least that will work towards controlling the flow of drugs from Venezuela unabated. The violence and death’s in Honduras since the coup begin, are one thing that the world media can take credit for. The same party that Zelaya belonged to has control of the government and not the military or another party. The liberal world media wants to keep Zelaya in power to spread socialism and the world media will strave the poor in Honduras for a politcal adgenda. The one sided and distorted reporting by Sandre Cuffe is an example of why we need to have reporters reporting both side of the story instead of trying to make news by putting an upbeat twist of the protesters for Zelaya and the Gang members, which make up most of his Zelaya’s supporters, that been deported over the years from the United States.
I do agree that the coup was not best the way to have handle the situation. Zeyala should have been arrested and tried for violating the constitution of Honduras or treason. Honduras is a soviegn nation and within there boaders is not for any other nation to control. If you are really looking for a story about a nation attacking democracy go to North Korea. Oh thats right they are already a form of socialism.
To the blood thristy reporter Sandre Cuffe, I have to compare you to George W. Bush always looking for military intervention to solve a problem in the world which is really no one’s business. The people of Honduras do not need some wet behind the ears reporter from Canada, the United States or any where else in the world telling them how to conduct there affairs. The people of Honduras are very capable of dealing with there own affairs of Government.
I think that we have had enough killing in the world over political agendas and military interventions.


Interestingly, the Honduran Constitution of 1982 does provide for loss of citizenship for those who “incite, promote or aid in the continuation or re-election of the President” (article 42):
ARTICULO 42.- La calidad de ciudadano se pierde:
5. Por incitar, promover o apoyar el continuismo o la reelección del Presidente de la República; y,
Further, Article 239 indicates that anyone who has held the office of chief executive cannot be president or vice president and anyone who proposes reform to that prohibition can be barred from holding public office for ten years:
ARTICULO 239.- El ciudadano que haya desempeñado la titularidad del Poder Ejecutivo no podrá ser Presidente o Vicepresidente de la República.
El que quebrante esta disposición o proponga su reforma, así como aquellos que lo apoyen directa o indirectamente, cesarán de inmediato en el desempeño de sus respectivos cargos y quedarán inhabilitados por diez (10) años para el ejercicio de toda función pública.
My educated guess on that provision is that it is aimed move at banning past military dictators from pursuing the office than it is a stricture contra re-election, per se.
Additionally, Article 374 bars any amendments regarding the length of the presidential term (amongst other things:
ARTICULO 374.- No podrán reformarse, en ningún caso, el artículo anterior, el presente artículo, los artículos constitucionales que se refieren a la forma de gobierno, al territorio nacional, al período presidencial, a la prohibición para ser nuevamente Presidente de la República, el ciudadano que lo haya desempeñado bajo cualquier título y el referente a quienes no pueden ser Presidentes de la República por el período subsiguiente.
As such, it is pretty clear why the Supreme Court of Justice ruled against Zelaya’s plebiscite proposal in the first place. It also means that if the vote had been allowed to happen it would have had no legal standing.

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