Thursday, July 2, 2009

Trouble in Paradise

Generally speaking, I try and stay away from political discussions as 1) it seems to be a dead end if one is trying to discuss their views with someone with opposing views 2) I am not as up on “politics” as many people who vicariously read and study the subject and 3) I am not a Honduran citizen and, as such, have no say in what the leaders of this country say or do.

However, ever since June 28, 2009, I have been sitting at my computer scanning the news, blogs and various reports on-line about the supposed “coup d’état” by the Honduran military against President Mel Zelaya and his subsequent arrest and removal from the country to Costa Rica.

This country elected President Zelaya 3 ½ years ago and, through his own admission both verbally and in print, he used corruption to gain the slim 49% vote he won to gain office by purchasing the people’s votes.

During the 3 ½ years, slowly but surely he has strayed from his commitment to the people by seeking rather to gain more and more power for himself and neglecting his promises to the poor and democracy.

During his term, President Zelaya’s government allowed the telephone company, Hondutel, who wanted competition out and total control of the country’s communication system, to raid the offices of the competition, seize their records and equipment thus destroying their business. The government made no move to have Hondutel return what was basically stolen, thus making these small companies fold.

Not too long ago, the minimum wage was raised from L. 3,500 ($185.00) per month to L. 5,500 ($291.00) a month. That is about a 60% increase. The minimum wage need to be raised, but this huge increase was 3 times more than the labor unions were requesting (20%) and 6 times more than the business organizations had offered (10%). These increases caused tremendous layoffs on the mainland. Many maquillas (garment factories) began to move to Nicaragua because the cost of business in Honduras had gotten too high. So, there was another huge drop in jobs. Remember, the average Honduran lives on less than $100 a month. I know, it is a shame and unbelievable, but these people, for the most part, are uneducated and untrained. Yes, they deserve more, but not at the risk of losing jobs because no one can pay the wages. If the new minimum wage was paid the businesses would have to raise prices of goods thus, in effect, putting the earning power right back where it was.

He saw that “transparency laws” were passed in January 2008 which was in violation of international conventions on freedom of expression and against corruption, and created loopholes for preventing the declassification of “reserved” or restricted information. Virtually any document can be classified as reserved. Any minister can do this if he or she considers that public access to that information may be prejudicial to humanitarian aid, national security, economic stability or governability, among other vague criteria. Under the new law, all information about humanitarian aid is secret. The amounts of aid received and the uses to which they are put cannot be divulged. This means that it won't be possible to investigate what happened years ago, and not even last year or this year. Congress had blocked a proposal for such a law since 2004. In effect, the presidents of the three branches of state, their ministers and advisers, and mayors, city councilors, and deputies are excluded from the scope of the law. This is an open violation of the constitution and the convention against corruption.

Under his regime, school teachers went unpaid for months and months at a time as did various other government workers.

President Zelaya wanted Honduras to join ALBA, a collection of countries that was formed by Cuba and Venezuela to counteract NAFTA/CAFTA from the US. When this was announced, there was a lot of concern especially from the business community who were largely opposed to it. The Congress would not consider ratifying this treaty for 6 or 8 months as they wanted to study the plan. Again, less than a week later President Zelaya got the treaty ratified by the Congress, mostly, it is rumored, by buying their votes. In one instance a cash payment of Lps. 1,000,000 (US $53,000.00) was paid to congressman to approve the ALBA. The center of this sudden push was from Chavez of Venezuela who was backing Zelaya in this endeavor.

The Honduran Constitution says that each year the President presents the annual budget to congress for approval. If the approval is not obtained by a specific date, the budget from last year will be used until the new budget is approved by congress. The President never submitted a budget for 2009; hence the Congress was left with working with the 2008 budget. Mel would like to stay in power past 2009. The budget in 2008 did not include monies for an election, so in essence there is NO money available for the 2009 election because they were operating on a 2008 budget!

Suddenly, months before re-elections were to be held in this country, President Zelaya discovered that the Honduran Constitution was “out of date” (27 years to be exact) and needed to be rewritten. Of course he has never said what parts of the Constitution were not democratic nor has he ever given any information as to what he wants to insert into it to make the Constitution “more democratic”.

President Zelaya decided that it was in the country’s “best interest” to place a referendum on the November ballot (a fourth ballot box) to let the people decide if they wanted the Constitution to be rewritten. His proposal to have a fourth ballot box in the November elections for the purpose of allowing the citizens of Honduras to have a say regarding whether or not the constitution should be revised sounds like a democratic measure. However, the real motive behind this issue was to change the constitution to allow Mel Zelaya to continue in power as President, a la his amigo Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. The Constitution expressly prohibits this and declares any efforts to change those parts of the constitution as illegal and punishable by criminal action. There has been no indication that the people will be allowed to approve or disapprove of any recommended constitutional changes. They are merely being offered the opportunity to give a blank check to those in power.

In an effort to legitimatize the fourth ballot box, Zelaya's latest plan was to hold an official public poll on Sunday, June 28th, allowing the people to vote yes or no on whether to have the fourth ballot box. This effort was declared illegal by the Congress, the Supreme Court and his own party, but seemed to be going forward as Mel led a gang of protestors/supporters to a military base where the ballots were being secured and took them by force. By the way, these ballots were printed up in Venezuela!

The ultimate result of this action was the Supreme Court of the land ordering the military to arrest the President. He was removed from his home and flown to Costa Rica. Whether this method was the right one, is in the eyes of the beholder. Had Zelaya been put under arrest, this country would have seen violence break out through his supporters and bloodshed would have occurred. As we watch the reports from around the world of demonstrations in the Capital, they are only reporting the actions of those people supporting Zelaya (in the hundreds) protesting in a violent manner as opposed to showing the people who want him out (in the thousands) marching peacefully in the city streets!

This was not a coup d’état as defined in the dictionary:

“Politically, a coup d’état is (usually) violent political engineering, yet, is different from a revolution that effects radical change to the government (who rules), not to the form of the government (the political system). Tactically, a coup d’état involves control, by an active, minority of military usurpers, who block the remaining (non-participant) military’s possible defense of the attacked government, by either capturing or expelling the politico-military leaders, and seizing physical control of the country’s key government offices, communications media, and infrastructure.”

In this instance we had ALL leaders of the government and judicial system upholding the law of the Constitution removing the man from office who was blatantly disobeying the laws of the land he vowed to uphold.

The Attorney General says that the President has committed treason and asked for him to be removed from office. The congress created a commission to examine Zelaya’s actions and they determined he must be removed from office. From information gleaned by me, there is no clear means to impeach a sitting President. In a lot of constitutions, the impeachment of a president would be done by the legislative branch. In Honduras, there is no such structure. There could be criminal charges brought against the president and the trial would be handled by the judicial branch.

Once Zelaya had been removed, the President of the Congress (Roberto Micheletti) was sworn in as the new President of Honduras. This was exactly the person that is indicated by the Constitution. It was a proper and legal succession of the presidency. The first thing that Micheletti did was confirm that the regularly scheduled elections would be held in November. His post is temporary until the new President was duly elected.

It would be fairer to Honduras if the press would research their subject more rather than acting on a “knee-jerk” reaction and then only showing anything that might indicate violence as violence draws viewers! Most of the news filtered to the world does not take the picture as a whole and reports only on the incident, not the facts behind it! If you want to follow what people who actually live here are saying, join the Yahoo Group of Honduras_Living and you can read first hand the events of Honduras as seen by people living here.

I only hope that this problem will be resolved in a legal way and that a democratic form of government is allowed to remain.


  1. That is a pretty detailed summary for someone who doesn't follow Honduran politics! ;-)

  2. Wow! Sounds like you're better off without Zelaya than with him. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Thanks for the honest, objective update!

    Good luck.