When is a coup 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. )