Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Coup in Honduras

Most discussions of the ouster of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya rightfully deplore the fact that it was engineered by the military. The long and sad history of military coups in South and Central America -- often aided and abetted by the CIA and other American agencies -- makes this concern quite natural. However, there is another aspect which should be considered.

By many accounts, the attempt by Zelaya to extend his term via public referendum is illegal. This is based on reports that the Honduran Supreme Court has declared that such a referendum is unconstitutional. I don't have access to the constitution of Honduras, but it would be enlightening if someone could provide a legal analysis of this.

The four-year term limit on the presidency in Honduras seems unusually short. It is eight (two terms) in the U.S., but not without some controversy, since this was enacted fairly recently in the 22 Amendment -- ratified in 1951 mostly in reaction, by his enemies, to FDR's four elected terms. On the other hand, it is my general opinion that the world suffers more from strong executives than from the opposite. Hyperthyoidal presidents have tended to be nationalistic and war-mongering. The theory of "the unitary presidency", most recently pushed by Dick Cheney and company, may possibly be only slightly less dangerous than the military coup, especially in a very strong country such as the US, capable of creating much military mischief. But even in weaker countries of this hemisphere, strong "presidencies" have simply been hidden dictatorships. That is why the more recent democratic constitutions in these countries have strongly limited presidential terms to four or six years.

President Obama has probably taken about the correct stance on this: deploring the coup but not threatening or advocating action to restore Zelaya. At this point in history -- and with the backdrop of our regrettable history in the "Americas" -- it is best to take a hands-off policy.


  1. In addition to the Honduran constitution we would also need to know a bit about the structure of the Honduran military. When reformer Carlos Manuel de C├ęspedes y Quesada took over the Presidency of Cuba in 1933 from the conservative and dictatorial Gerardo Machado, it had been Fulgencio Batista and other military leaders who had put him into power. After a short period of time,, Batista took over himself and was backed by the unions and the Cuban Communist Party. We know the rest of the story.

    Military control comes in many various forms, but it is mostly to be feared. On the other hand, so is civilian rule with the military behind it. There is much that we need to know about the situation in Honduras before we know whether the Honduran people have jumped from the frying pan to safety or whether they have jumped into the fire.

    In any case, President Obama has done the proper thing in terms of public pronouncements. What we do not yet know, is what is being done by the State Department beneath the public gaze. At least now, the decisions are not being made, I would hope, purely by the Pentagon.

  2. Nothing justify a military coup!

  3. Nothing? What about the von Stauffenberg attempted coup against Hitler in 1944?