Saturday, July 18, 2009

Yes, We Have No Banana Republic (Yet)

After the initial news that the Honduran military, in conjunction with the remainder of the government and with the backing of the courts, removed President Manuel Zelaya from office, coverage of what's going on in Tegucigalpa has been somewhat sketchy.

I was disappointed to see that President Obama immediately backed the wrong horse, supporting the leftist Zelaya, who is an ally of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. It seemed especially odd that Obama came out so forcefully on this issue after his (let's be charitable) muted response to the crisis in Iran.

He may want to take a second look at what's going on down there, for two reasons:

First, the negotiations going on in Costa Rica are going nowhere, mainly because Zelaya was demanding to be put back in the presidency without having to answer the charges against him. And since he isn't going to get his way, Zelaya is now planning to come back and start a rebellion:


The ousted Honduran leader said the midnight deadline for his return to the presidency was not negotiable.

"If at that time, there is no resolution to that end, I will consider the negotiations in Costa Rica a failure," Zelaya said at a news conference Friday night at the Honduran embassy in Nicaragua. "I am going back to Honduras, but I am not going to give you the date, hour or place, or say if I'm going to enter through land, air or sea."

Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro, implied the return was imminent, telling demonstrators in the Honduran capital Saturday that "President Zelaya will be here in a few hours despite the bayonets."

Zelaya did not say what steps he would take once on Honduran soil. But earlier this week, he said Hondurans had a constitutional right to rebel against an illegitimate government.

Here's the thing: the reason Zelaya got the boot is because he was trying to get a plebiscite that would change the constitution to allow him to run for a second term, something he is barred from doing by the Honduran constitution. And this brings us to the second thing we learned today.

Zelaya had every confidence that his planned plebisicite would work. Why is that? Well, this report from the Babalu blog explains it pretty well:


A Spanish Catalan newspaper is reporting that Honduran authorities have seized computers found in the Presidential Palace belonging to deposed president Mel
Zelaya. Taking a page right out of the leftist dictator's handbook, these computers, according to the news report, contained the official and certified results of the illegal constitutional referendum Zelaya wanted to conduct that never took place. The results of this fraudulent vote was tilted heavily in Zelaya's favor, ensuring he could go ahead and illegally change the constitution so he could remain in power for as long as he wanted to.
(Strike is in the original post.) How would this work? Behold the rough translation that Babalu offers, which seems pretty accurate to me based on my knowledge of Spanish, from the paper:

The National Directors of Criminal Investigation seized various computers from the Presidential Palace that had recorded the supposed results of the referendum to reform the constitution that the deposed leader, Manuel Zelaya, was planning to conduct on July 28, the day he was removed from office.

The official investigation now deals with the possible crime of fraud and falsification of documents due to the fact that some of the certified voting results had been filled with the personal information of individuals that supposedly participated in the failed referendum that did not take place because of the coup.

One of the district attorneys that participated in the operation that took place this Friday showed reporters an official voting result from the Technical Institute Luis Bogran, of Tegucigalpa, in which the specific number of people that participated in table 345, where there were 550 ballots, 450 of which were votes in favor of Zelaya's proposal and 30 were against, in addition to 20 blank ballots and 30 ballots, which were nullified.

The seizure took place on the third floor of the building attached to the Ministry of the Presidency that had been rented to the ex-minister of the Interior, Enrique Flores Lanza. The deputy district attorney, Roberto Ramirez, declared this area as a "crime scene" and, although he did not want to provide further details, said that further evidence had been found that could be categorized as crimes of fraud, embezzlement of funds, falsification of documents, and abuse of authority.

I suppose it's possible that the new government forged these computer records to frame Zelaya. But if Zelaya had reason to know what the results of the plebiscite would be before it took place, it would explain why Zelaya has comported himself in the manner that he has. He expected to win.

Maybe the Obama administration has a better explanation of what's going on in Honduras than what I've posted here. So far it hasn't been forthcoming.

(H/T: Instapundit)

12 comments:

W.B. Picklesworth said...

I'm surprised that they found something so damning, but I'm not the least bit surprised that such a thing was going on. In some countries voter fraud is almost as bad as in Chicago.

Gino said...

i beleive such things happen in this country a lot more often than you may think.

a coup by another means.
brilliant strategy.

Anonymous said...

Mark,
I have no idea whether there is any validity to the claims in the story you are referencing, and I doubt very much if anyone does. And you correctly noted that you don't either. But I do know that there has been a lot of disinformation from both sides on what actually happened in Honduras. I guess this is to be expected, because everyone wants their version of this to be cast in a positive light. So it's important to establish what actually happened.

Zelaya attempted to conduct a referendum to determine whether there could be a rewrite the constitution to allow a President to have more than one term. He was thwarted by the Supreme Court, which correctly pointed out that the President didn't have the authority to call for any binding resolution. Zelaya backed down on that, and called for conducting a non-binding resolution. A shady move, but something that he had the constitutional authority to do.
I am not a big fan of Zelaya, and his attempts to amend the Honduran constitution are troubling and highly reminiscent of actions taken by Morales, Chavez and other populist presidents in Latin America to extend their time in office. But his actions so far had remained within the bounds of his constitutional authority. When the military refused to help conduct the non-binding resolution, (which they are supposed to do at the President's request) Zelaya fired the Chief of Staff of the armed forces. Again, he was acting within the box defined for him by the Honduran Constitution. The General was not. And when Zelaya was going to move forward on his non-binding resolution, the fired General, at the urging of the Congress which was headed up by the man that would be made President, performed a coup.

The important thing to note is that Zelaya had not committed an illegal act (yet), and the ousted General certainly had. Zelaya's call for a non-binding referendum may have put him at odds with his country's Congress, military and Supreme Court, and it may have been a troubling move, but it was not illegal. This is important from our (the U.S.) point of view because while it is probably not a path that Washington wanted to see Honduras take, the military removal of Mr Zelaya was an even worse direction. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Latin American history in the 20th Century should be able to understand that. And trying to discredit Obama by applying a misinformed Manichaen view to what happened in Honduras while ignoring the facts on the ground and the abundant historical precedents that pretty clearly suggest that we probably don't want a return to the bad old days in Latin America is disingenuous.

On the one instance, we're talking about conducting a legal, non-binding survey; in the other instance, we're forcibly removing a legally elected president from a country.

We've had almost 2 decades without a military coup in Latin America. In this case, the Obama administration has adopted a careful tone, stressing that Zelaya is the democratically elected president, that constitutional forms should be followed, and that the crisis needs to be resolved peacefully through dialogue between the two sides. What has been so wrong with that approach?

Rich

Mark Heuring said...

I am not a big fan of Zelaya

Glad to hear that.

His attempts to amend the Honduran constitution are troubling and highly reminiscent of actions taken by Morales, Chavez and other populist presidents in Latin America to extend their time in office.

Populist my ass. The word you're looking for is leftist, or even Marxist.

But his actions so far had remained within the bounds of his constitutional authority.

Cite, please.

When the military refused to help conduct the non-binding resolution, (which they are supposed to do at the President's request)

Again, cite please.

Zelaya fired the Chief of Staff of the armed forces. Again, he was acting within the box defined for him by the Honduran Constitution.

Again, cite please.

The General was not. And when Zelaya was going to move forward on his non-binding resolution, the fired General, at the urging of the Congress which was headed up by the man that would be made President, performed a coup.

And the Congress is controlled by the exact same political party as Zelaya, right? The rest of the party in power is willing to live with the provisions within the Honduran constitution regarding the term of the presidency. Why isn't Zelaya? And what precisely about Zelaya is so important that he should be able to circumvent those constitutional provisions?

Honduras has suffered through some terrible governments in the past, Rich. The term "banana republic" came primarily because of Honduras, which was long under the thumb of United Fruit Company. There's no disputing that the militaries in Central America have been too powerful over the years. I saw all this when I was in Guatemala 30 years ago -- there was no question that the military was in control there. and it continued to be in control there for at least a decade more.

On the one instance, we're talking about conducting a legal, non-binding survey; in the other instance, we're forcibly removing a legally elected president from a country.

If it's non-binding, what is the reason for it in the first place? It's a dead letter. This is disingenuous in the extreme. And you know that, too, Rich.

And trying to discredit Obama by applying a misinformed Manichaen view to what happened in Honduras while ignoring the facts on the ground and the abundant historical precedents that pretty clearly suggest that we probably don't want a return to the bad old days in Latin America is disingenuous.

And there's the money part -- "trying to discredit Obama." Obama still has time to get this right. I would hope that he would. And you also know that there are abundant historical precedents for what Zelaya is trying to do. You even acknowledge that Zelaya is attempting to follow the Chavez/Morales playbook. You're worried about historical patterns of tyranny that happened 20-30 years ago. I'm worried about the established pattern of tyranny that is happening right now. As I said in an earlier post about this matter, if you find yourself on the same side of a dispute as Chavez, Morales and the Castros on casters, you need to check your assumptions.

The bottom line is this: a caudillo is a caudillo. Latin America has suffered through scores of them over the years. Zelaya just wants to be the next one. Hondurans have a better chance at a better life if Zelaya stays out of power. He's already threatening an insurrection if he doesn't get his way. If he'd followed the established rules, there would have been a peaceful, orderly transition of power by the end of this year. But Zelaya put his own desire for power ahead of the constitutional safeguards that his country quite wisely established, precisely because of the history of caudillos, military, Marxist or otherwise, who have curesed Latin America for nearly 200 years now. Costa Rica is about the only country in Latin America that has consistently been successful at this, because they don't let caudillos happen.

Anonymous said...

Mark,
Zelaya almost certainly would have been out of power at the end of the year. The point I was making is that Zelaya almost certainly has his self-interest at heart, but that he hadn't violated constitutional principles, while the current government has. And Mark, I agree that a caudillo is a caudillo. I would also note that for all the ranting about what bad actors Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega are, they have both honored the results of elections and democratic processes. (One of my all-time favorite WSJ headlines, following one of Chavez' failed Constitutional amendments was "Dictator Chavez to Honor Election Results").

It's democracy, and nascent democracy at that. You know the old joke: It's the worst form of government, after all the others. But you have to let it try to work. And that has been the position of our government, and virtually every other government in this Hemisphere. I acknowledged that Zelaya is disingenuous. I am not defending him. I am defending the democratic process.

Rich

W.B. Picklesworth said...

Here's a thought (I'll go ahead and assume that Zelaya broke no laws and that the folks who removed him did.)

Zelaya is following the letter of the law (in order to gather power to himself and then adjust the law to his liking.)

Those who booted him were following the spirit of the law (they could clearly see that Zelaya was attempting to game the system in order to seize power.)

Taking Zelaya's side in this is like having a lawyer's righteousness. It might look good on paper, but it sends you to hell (or condemns people who love their freedom to live in a banana republic.)

Anonymous said...

W.B.
while I agree with the premise that Zelaya was attempting to game the system, and that those who booted him were following the spirit of the law, I disagree that allowing Zelaya to finish his constitutionally mandated term is the road to hell.

The U.S. has a long and rather ugly history siding with the right-wing regimes in Honduras and throughout Latin America. The General who ousted Zelaya is US trained, and is aligned with pro-American interests there. Furthermore, so too is Micheletti, who replaced Zelaya. Leftists throughout Latin America have already been suggesting that the US was behind this coup. Zelaya was narrowly elected 3.5 years ago, and has steadily lost support ever since. He has little to no chance of even getting his non-binding resolution passed. If we come down strongly in support of the pro-US interests there, especially under such constitutionally questionable circumstances, we play right into the hands of every demagogue in Latin America.

Let this clown have his 6 months. It's him and the working class against the military, industry, the middle class, the upper middle class, the elites, the supreme court and the legislature - where he is opposed by the opposition and his own party. The guy is a lamer lame duck than Sara Palin right now, his opponents in Honduras and the right in this country is playing right into his hands.

Foreign policy isn't black and white, know matter what the neo-cons try to tell us. Sometimes, the morally correct thing to do can be to tolerate 6 months of a lone demogague in support of 2 decades of democratic reform. Don't you think?

Regards,
Rich

Gino said...

or we could just stay out it, altogether.

Mark Heuring said...

No one said it was black and white, Rich. I've been writing about my time in Guatemala, which was under the thumb of a succession of military rulers at the time -- the generals all took turns there. And in the case of Guatemala, the CIA was directly involved in deposing Jacobo Arbenz. The reason those soldiers were on the streets in 1979 is that the government feared that Sandismo was coming to Guatemala. And, as a matter of fact, there had been a low-level war going on in Guatemala in parts of the country in 1979.

The thing you continue to sidestep is the reality that Chavez and Morales are involved in what's happening in Honduras. And they were rattling sabers on Zelaya's behalf. This would not have been over in six months, Rich.

Obama has decided that it's in the U.S.'s interest to back Zelaya. I would have preferred that they either back the other side or taken Gino's suggested approach and stayed out of it altogether. But for reasons that seem quite short-sighted, they decided to back the would-be caudillo.

My sense is that there's a much better chance that Micheletti will give up power peacefully than Zelaya would have. I may be wrong about this, but everything Zelaya is doing runs counter to the democratic process you are so concerned about, Rich.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

Re: black and white. Point taken. It's especially difficult to make judgments when you're just some punk in Minnesota (that's me!) But context is important here. Mr. D points again to Chavez. I think we'd do well not to forget the trouble he is trying to stir. The other point of context, for me, is Obama's foreign policy tendencies. He purports to be a realist, not an idealist. He's seemed to be tough on people I would consider more likely allies (Israel, Iranian dissenters) and cozy with the nasty elements of global society (Chavez, Achmedinejad). Simply put, he doesn't inspire confidence. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I do not trust his judgment. Is that partisan? I'd like to think that it is simply a product of his decisions in light of circumstances. I hope that he proves savvier, and more principled, than has so far been evident.

Gino said...

WB:
i know you dont remember the 70's, but i'm sure mr d does.
and it appears to me that obama's first knee-jerk, his gut instinct every time, is to support the same people jimmah carter would.

the sad part about this, is that we dont have reagan to pick up the peices afterward.

Anonymous said...

Zelayas alleged actions are troubling, particularly if the cooked results for a referendum are true. Who's playbook do you think he was reading. My guess is that it's the book of Hugo Chavez and/or Castro.

There are some who say that the political spectrum continun is actually shaped more like a horseshoe than a line with the fartherst point being very closer together than the middle. Facism or dictatorial communism gets the average peasant to the same place.

Personally I think we should keep our nose out of this situation and let the Hondurans solve their own problems. If, however Mr Chavez and/or Castro get involved to a higher degree than they are already, my position about where our nose should be changes.