Dear Mr. President: Rethink Honduras

Dear Mr. President,

As a source of information for you on foreign events, I apologize for not getting the information to you about the Honduras situation before you made a public statement.  In the absence of facts, it appears that you had to rely on the media for information (and God knows who for analysis).  The media is not known these days for reporting the truth. I feel especially bad because when you look bad, it makes me look bad.

First, what happened in Honduras was not a military coup, as is widely reported.  In a military coup, the military gets rid of the existing ruler, usually with great violence, and proceeds to assume control of the country, either through a puppet or a military leader.  By violence, I mean a lot more violence than rousing someone from their sleep and putting them on a plane for Costa Rica.

Mr. President, a takeover by the military is not what happened.  The military was simply the mechanism used by the Honduran Congress and Judiciary to enforce their Constitution.  The military ensured that the person next in line under the Constitution was sworn in as President until scheduled elections in November.

The Hondurans’ current Constitution became the controlling document in their country on January 20, 1982.  It is similar to our Constitution in many respects.  It establishes not only the office of the President, but a Congress and a Judiciary system.  The government of Honduras is not just a single man, but a collection of elected and appointed officials.  Mr. Zelaya was not the government of Honduras, but only one elected official in that government.

Their Constitution said that Congress, not the president, could call for a national referendum on changing the Constitution.  Mr. Zelaya was trying to call for a national referendum to change the Constitution to extend the time that he could serve.   If you had been through what many Latin Americans have been through, you would understand how disturbing simply raising that issue would be.  The Hondurans created the Presidential term limit only 27 years ago for very good reasons.

I know that this may be a difficult concept for Americans to grasp, because many of us have taken up the “modern” idea that our Constitution is invalid in the modern world.  The Honduran Constitution and democracy have not been around long enough for most Hondurans to claim that the ideas in their document are simply old-fashioned or outdated, even though a lot of those ideas were based on our outdated Constitution.  The rules in their Constitution are taken seriously.

When Mr. Zelaya initiated his effort to remain in office longer, the Honduran Supreme Court—in the Judicial Branch of the government—told Mr. Zelaya that he couldn’t do that.  Under the Constitution, a referendum could only be called by Congress.  Congress voted not to hold the referendum.

Men who want to become dictators usually pay no attention to orders applying to them by courts or congresses.  When the court ruling went against him and congress voted not to hold the referendum, Mr. Zelaya called his buddy Hugo Chávez from Venezuela.  Hugo happily shipped Mr. Zelaya the ballots to hold the referendum.

The Constitution set up the voting process on referendums to be carried out by the military.  Mr. Zelaya told Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez that he (the general) would have to carry out the logistics of the vote on the referendum with the ballots from Venezuela.  General Velásquez declined to do so, indicating that he was going to follow the Supreme Court ruling.  Mr. Zelaya fired him.  The Supreme Court ordered the general reinstated.  Mr. Zelaya did not comply.

Instead, Mr. Zelaya led a mob to break into the military installation where the ballots were and started to distribute them to his supporters to conduct the vote.  I need not tell you, Mr. President, that at this point he was not only participating in an illegal action as judged by their Supreme Court, he was committing a burglary.  Additionally, what he was doing was likely to result in a not very honest vote.

Having already been warned by the attorney general that the referendum was illegal and that anyone involved in carrying it out would be prosecuted, Mr. Zelaya was arrested.  The greatest violence perpetrated on him was that he was awoken from his sleep, he was not flown in first class, and he didn’t end up in Bermuda on the beach.  Beats what happens to a lot of leaders thrown out of office in that part of the world.

Mr. President, I would urge you to think of the Honduran people and their elected government.  You see, a lot of Hondurans have lived under a dictatorship—which last ended in Honduras in 1982—and they are still a bit touchy about having their Constitution respected by their elected officials, especially the high up officials.  They have not yet had the time, like Americans, to become nonchalant about the attacks on their freedom due to corruption and the unconstitutional seizure of power by and within the federal government.  When the Hondurans’ Constitution was violated by Mr. Zelaya, they were scared enough to want action.  They have first hand knowledge of what dictators can bring.  Their past may have caused great pain, but it enables them to recognize when they are headed for tyranny.

Perhaps an analogy is in order since you are known as a Constitutional scholar.  Under our Constitution, the President can not legally ask for convention to amend the Constitution.  Only a vote of 2/3 of Congress or the congresses of 2/3 of the States can make such a request.  Assume that you tried to call a Constitutional Convention to repeal the twenty second amendment, which limits any person from serving more than 2 terms as President of the United States.  Assume further that the Supreme Court ruled against you conducting a Convention, and Congress voted not to hold a Convention.  Assume then that you kept pursuing your desire by obtaining ballots from your friend, Hugo Chávez.  If you then proceeded to break in and steal these ballots from a federal warehouse where they were stored and pass them out to ACORN to conduct a vote, you would hopefully be impeached.  If the impeachment were successful, and you still refused to step down, it is possible that the military might escort you out of the country.  If the military then put General Casey or Rush Limbaugh in charge, it would be a coup.  If they instead made sure that Joe Biden was sworn in as President until the next election, it would not be a coup. Power would have passed to the person intended by the Constitution.  That would not be a seizure of power, it would be an enforcement of the power structure as defined by the Constitution.

In short, Mr. President, the Honduran people have become so attached to democracy and the rule of law in their country that they respected their Constitution more than a single, power-hungry elected official.  I wish that we could follow their example.  I would respectfully submit that you should honor the Honduran government for not dealing with that corrupt official with the same violence that has been used in their country’s past.  You should praise the country and its officials for accomplishing a peaceful, Constitutional transfer of power.

In summary, Mr. President, I would recommend that you do not stand with a single man, Mr. Zelaya, who attempted to abuse the power of the office to which he was elected.  An elected official, even a president, is not like a god—he or she can lose their office if they abuse their power.  I would hope that you are a principled enough leader to retract your statement in support of Zelaya.  As President of our democracy, also controlled by a rule of law, I would hope that you could stand with the rights of the Honduran people and the other members of their elected government under their Constitution.


A US Citizen Under the Constitution

Published in: on July 1, 2009 at 11:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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