When is a coup not a coup?

July 2, 2009

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was seized by the military, bundled onto a plane in his pajamas and flown out of the country. The people who took over the country last Sunday say it was not a coup.

The interim government, led by Congress speaker Roberto Micheletti, argue that Zelaya’s ouster was legal as it was ordered by the Supreme Court after the president had tried to extend his four-year term in office illegally. 
 
They say he was acting unconstitutionally and had to be removed. 
 
The rest of the world seems to disagree. From U.S. President Barack Obama to arch-U.S. rival Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, world leaders have condemned Zelaya’s removal and used the term “coup.”
 
In the days before the coup, opposition leaders said they planned to impeach Zelaya over his plan to hold an unofficial public survey to gauge support for letting presidents run for re-election beyond the current one four-year term. They said a congressional committee set up to investigate Zelaya found he had violated the Central American nation’s laws and would ask Congress to declare him unfit to rule. 
 
Does one unconstitutional act justify another? In a democracy, is it ever justified for soldiers to seize a president and spirit him out of the country? Does the fact that Congress quickly elected a successor, who will serve only until presidential elections in November, make any difference?

 
Defining the nature of the “coup” has been troubling lawyers at the U.S. State Department.
 
By law, no U.S. aid — other than for the promotion of democracy — may be given to a nation “whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.” 
 
Two U.S. officials said the legal determination of this was complex despite the fact that Zelaya was grabbed by the military and put on a plane to Costa Rica in his pajamas. 
 
“The military moved against the president. They removed him from his home and they expelled him from the country. So the military participated in a coup,” said a senior U.S. official. 
     
“However, the transfer of leadership was not a military action. The transfer of leadership was done by the Honduran Congress and therefore the coup, while it had a military component … is a larger event,” he added. 
 
Zelaya was unpopular with many in Honduras, particularly the country’s wealthier conservative elite, for his alliance with Chavez. His popularity was down to 30 percent. 
 
Many Hondurans struggle to understand why foreign leaders, from Obama to most of Latin America’s presidents, have backed Zelaya. 
 
“They have only listened to (Zelaya) abroad, they haven’t listened to the population. But that doesn’t matter. We will continue alone,” said Adela Guevara, a hotel worker.  
 
Tell us what you think. When is a coup not a coup?

(Pictures in Honduras by REUTERS/Edgard Garrido. Pictures show: Soldiers crawling through a hole in the fence to enter the presidential residency; members of Congress praying before Roberto Micheletti is sworn in as interim president; Zelaya (L) being welcomed by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez (R) and Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega (C) after his arrival in Nicaragua June 29, 2009. )

21 comments

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Why is the US meddling in foreign affairs that were carried out in accordance with that country’s laws and constitution? they stopped a President from turning into a Titan by legal powers authorized in their constitution, this was not a coup in any sense of the word! period. The US should focus on Iran if it’s really concern about foreign governments trampling on people’s rights. The Honduran people are happy to have stopped this man from another Chavez puppet in Honduras, I should know, my wife’s family still lives there in Copan, and they are truly happy this man was kicked out.

Posted by Luis Carlos | Report as abusive

First, I always thought that a coup was when the military came and by force took control of a countries government. I do not see the general of the Honduran army taking control of the Honduran government. Also, as far as I am concerned it is one less comunist snake that we have to deal with. I am saddened to see the name of our president Obama alongside Castro and Chavez in any form. We should support the ousting of anyone who does not abide by the law of the people and by the people. We should support those who were brave enough to stand up to someone who was trying to make their constitution illegitamate for personal gain. I believe Zelaya would have done much more than steal the freedom of Honduran people, he would have stolen their prosperity and pursuit of happiness. We should fully support Roberto Micheletti, my prayers are with him. Sincerely, Art

I live in Honduras.
at least 70% of the population felt this Non-Coup was the best thing to happen to the country in several years.
By definition it was a coup…a removal, but this is an extraordinary case, and I think if, and when, the US Gov and others actually review the facts and understand what actually happened and why, they will have to ease up on the new government.
Most of us can actually believe that Obama aligns with Chavez on this…It’s hard to believe, but then it’s the definition of the word that is making them draw conclusions.
When the facts come out,people will have to reconsiderehat they are considering a coup to be ….This may have been an “Almost Coup”.
Regardless of what anyone else in the International community believes, Most here believe this was done correctly and that it had to be done..they realized what they were doing and the ramifications.

Posted by Harlan Paul | Report as abusive

A coup is not a coup when a president is deposed…Zelaya an unsavory character with no morals whatsoever who has stolen nearly two BILLION DOLLARS from a country where MILLIONS live in DIRE POVERTY. He pushed the Honduran Supreme Court and Congress to act abruptly because he was going to usurpt the law, undermine democracy, change the constitution, and install himself as a defacto dictator. That he has the gaul to whine to the world community that he was kidnapped in his pijamas and taken out of the country shows you the measure of his character…he asked to leave the country instead of being arrested!

Posted by The truth behind the smoke & mirrors | Report as abusive

When will the media, AP,AFP, Reuters, US Press idiots decided to do their own journalism and report the truth about the illegal activities of a rouge president/s instead of repeating the propaganda of Hugo Chavez?!!!!
The was a purely legal impeachment of a puppet president who became a drug wearhouse for Chavez and Columbian drug cartel,(ask the DEA what they know). The Honduran Congress, Attorney General, the Supreme Court all convicted this man of violation of their constitution and had all legal right to throw him in jail, but the supreme court asked the military to show him the door to Costa Rica instead. The so called protesters who cover their faces are actually the operatives (including so called journalist) of Chavez in an effort to destabilize democracy in Honduras.

Posted by eyeball | Report as abusive

just read.. and change your point of view:
http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0702/p09s0 3-coop.html

Posted by Oliver Lang | Report as abusive

Democracy works in any country becuase people follow the law. When this stops happening, when the government ceases to follow the law concerning how it is meant to be governing, we must see there a situation of non-democracy. The Honduran Constitution does not allow for the presidential term to be extended in order to avoid a dictatorship to develop. What Mr Zelaya and his government sought was to rewrite the constitution to allow fo the term to be extended. In order to do this *in a democracy* he needed to have a referendum. Where in all this did he act unconstitutionally or illegally? Nowhere.

So right up until troops knock down the door of Mr Zelaya, Honduras was a democracy and would continue to be one. But when the Spreme Court, the Congress and the Army moved against the Presdential office democracy broke down. The coup wa carried out by the military. This should be enough to make a military coup, regardless of wether or not the politcal and economic elites (embodied in the Honduran Congress and Supreme Courts) ordered it.

Mr Zelaya may not have been a friend of the Honduran people, but if his opponents felt he had no popular support, then why did they stop him from seeking it to create a Constitutional Comission? There is no international conspiracy against the Hondurans, but in Central America democracy will only survive if the rule of law prevails. The rule of law dictates Mr Zelaya finish his term.

Posted by Rasim Valdés Laribi | Report as abusive

The calling of a constitutional assembly is the prerogative of the Congress in Honduras according to its constitution. The plan for a referendum on this subject was declared illegal by the Supreme Court. The President persisted, and the law followed in. The constitutional pattern for succession was followed. Please review the facts and you, Mr. Laribi, will more clearly understand.

Posted by Robert Brien | Report as abusive

When is a coup not a coup?

Why, when it is a sedan, of course. (Groan).

But seriously folks. The president has attempted to breach his consitutional limits. So he ended up being chucked out on his ass by the court, courtesy of the nation’s military force.

If this is a coup, it is probably the most constitutional coup we have seen for a while.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

I’m very proud of the Honduran people and their courage that they’re showing the world. You have to make a stand against evil and for what is right. Their fight for what is morally correct so that they’re able to conserve a true democracy.
Mr. Zelaya has broken so many laws…, and the only punishment that he get’s is a pass To Get Out Of Jail. Honduras is a FREE AND SOVEREIGN NATION!!!
The Honduran citezens have the right to defend their nation against the Chavez Invasion and the aftermath of their criminal influence.
The Legislature is just following the wishes of the people; as they are supposed to do. That is what democracy is all about.

Posted by Honduran in Germany | Report as abusive

I, too, use common sense and facts to distinguish between a true “coup d’etat” and what happened in Honduras. There, it was his own congress and the judicial branch that delcared him unfit to rule. The were following their own constitution which has embedded in it a “healthy” dose of protection against any tendencies toward authoritarian rule– this is especially important given their own sordid past with despots. Thus, it was cowardly for the US to side so quickly and unjustifiably with Zelaya, all to shore up our so-called battered image in South and Central America. I say it will backfire. It is not a moral or legal stand in the end and we are, as usual, on the wrong side and against the majority of Hondurans. Where is our backbone? Are we so dispirited as a nation that we can’t even smell the hypocrisy here. Shame on the USA for its knee-jerk reaction. I’m truly disappointed in our administration and Obama.

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

I just want to say one more thing about the 1982 Honduran constitution. While it may look democratic in many respects, the military poison pill in it makes it a permanent coup. This document was set in place while Honduras was serving as the military base for the Contra War in Nicaragua and while Battalion 316 was disappearing Honduran citizens. People like Roberto Alfiere Gonzalez and Alfredo Mario Mingolla of the infamous Argentine Battalion 601 were there at the time as advisors to the Honduran military and may have had some influence on how to organize a compliant civilian government. Also present at the birth of this constitution was John Negroponte, the famous death squad ambassador. With midwives like these, the birth of constitutional democracy in Honduras was bound to be problematic. Impeach Zelaya and change the constitution so that the next person to screw up the Honduran government can be dealt with appropriately and democratically.

Posted by eddie | Report as abusive

The media is biased and the international bodies are lying about reality. If you wish to see the truth of what really happened in Honduras this week – a movement of nation unity in support of their Constitution, and the freedom and democracy it provides, then see these videos at youtube dot com /user/SupportHonduras.

If you don’t want to recognize the truth, go splash some water on your face and then go watch these videos with an open mind.
Why is it hard for people to believe Hondurans don’t want to live under Chavez’s foot? Would you?

A coup is not a coup when forceful overthrow of a head of state in necessary in order to preserve the constitution, rule of law and representative democracy. Zelaya forfeited his right to rule, however, removing such a leader who enjoys the backing of oil rich Venezuela and motivated allies like Nicaragua and Cuba who are willing to do what it takes to spread socialism in Latin America, is obviously a delicate matter requiring risk and calculation. Processing Zelaya through a legal system would have been much riskier. Such an attempt was tried in Venezuela with Hugo Chavez, and we all know how that turned out.

Posted by JE Pineda | Report as abusive

The fact that the US govt. has the same position as Chavez, Sandinistas, and Castro is troubling. Leave Honduras alone! The time is ripe to oust the US government, call it what you want!

Posted by James | Report as abusive

We’re getting conflicting information from third parties with something to gain… Zelaya petitioned the Honduran Supreme Court for a referendum which would permit the people to vote on whether or not a president could serve more than one term of four years. I see nothing wrong with that as US has a two-term limit. Zelaya’s petition to the Supreme Court sounds completely legal to me, particularly since he still had a year in office. I distrust the rich elite which control the Honduran Supreme Court and Congress (not elected). Sounds like they were scared Zelaya’s popularity (ELECTED)among the People might translate into less profit for them! That has certainly been true here in the US. That same greed caused an economic crash here in US which has been the direct cause of 90M people now living in extreme poverty around the world! I think it’s wrong to assume Zelaya intended to be a dictator with the limited information we have about the situation.

Posted by Linda | Report as abusive

If Zelaya has broken the law, charge him, arrest him, and try him. When troops to break into his home and swoop him out of the country, this is obviously something different. Zelaya’s worst crime was to organize a referendum to give the people a voice in deciding the future of their nation. Changes in the constitution may have included extending term limits (gasp! what horror!) but they may have also included downgrading the power of the military and the oligarchy. While the power elites of Honduras have declared him unfit for office, Zelaya enjoys the support of most of the labor movement and countless popular organizations. The U.S. stand alone in the hemisphere, and practically the entire world, in not calling this what it is – a coup. And to suggest that supporting Zelaya’s constitutional right to serve out his term unless and until he is impeached in accordance with the rule of the law is U.S. meddling is a joke. The U.S. has meddled in the affairs of all of Central America for the entire last century: planning, organizing, and carrying out coups, insurgencies, massacres, civil wars, gutting economies, manipulating elections, buying out rulers, devastating populations and ecosystems. For once the U.S. finds itself on the right side of the controversy (almost…) and the right wing wants to condemn “interference” in another nation’s affairs. Hypocrisy knows no bounds…

Posted by Jonathon | Report as abusive

Jonathon, you more than anybody I’ve read here, owe to youself to watch these videos about what Honduras people think about what happened last week.
Since I’m sure in your mind will dismiss those in the Tegucigalpa as marches by the elites, please be certain to watch #6, 7, 8 in playlist are from San Pedro Sula and #9, 10, 11 from Choluteca, and #12 is La Ceiba and #13 is commentary from there, and #19 has lots of photos from around the country (assuming nobody scrambles the # order of the playlist).
I hope you recognize how much world media has scripted the story to suit your desired appetite, and ignored showing what the people of Honduras really think about what happened and about how their Constitutional balance of powers functioned.
youtube dot com /SupportHonduras
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http://www.youtube.com/SupportHonduras
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This is not a coup. The military did not seize power. The opposition party did not seize power. The man in control had decided to stay in power longer than he was allowed to, according to the constitution and he tried to unilaterally change the constitution, and the court said what he was doing was illegal. The army did not kill him. Ballots were printed in his favor in Venezuela under Chavez and were being readied to be dispersed by him in Honduras. Obviously Chavez was manipulating for a take over in Honduras and the Hondurans stopped it. Good for them. Pity about President Obama. He hasn’t met a dictator(genocidal or otherwise) that he doesn’t like. Talk about showing respect for other nations, and not interfering. (grumblegrumblegrumble.)

Posted by Tina May | Report as abusive

Definitely this was not a coup!But it is true that the military were not supposed to fly Zelaya to another country, so that he would do what he is doing: turn himself into a victim by lying, and difamating any institution that didn´t agree to him. The military had to take him to jail or give him house arrest.
It just seems sureal that all the international authorities and newsmedia that we considered seriuos-turned out to be not so much.
Even when the U.S. state department considered this not to be a coup. check the Department of State’s webpage http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2009/j uly/126250.htm#honduras

Posted by Michelle | Report as abusive

RE: HONDURAN CONSTITUTION
the citizens were not the ones requiring military force–only the Citizen Canes were.

The real citizens operate in daylight, with due process.

Only the oligarchy with gunmen have the Supreme Courts bank number–er–home phone number.

BOBBY99

Posted by BOBBY99 | Report as abusive