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Zelaya’s Cross

By Owei Lakemfa
MANUEL Zelaya of Honduras was not like Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, trying to change his country’s constitution to secure a third term for himself.   Unlike Niger’s Mamadou Tandja he was not scheming to be life president.

While Malawi’s former President Bakili Muluzi sought to contest presidential elections after a previous two terms, Zelaya had not even spent a term.  He  became President in 2006; so he had merely spent three of his four-year tenure in office.

But Zelaya does not think that the constitutional provision which restricts any Honduran President or Vice President to a maximum one term of four years in office, is democratic.

So how really do Hondurans today feel about this provision?  He decided to test this by holding a non-binding plebiscite on the possibility of a constitutional review.

Depending on the result, he planned in November to place a fourth ballot box in addition to those for presidential, congressional and local elections, which would ask voters whether they want a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution.

His opponents feared that although the plebiscite would not amount to a constitutional amendment, given Zelaya’s popularity, an overwhelming number of the electorate may vote in favour of future constitutional amendment, including an increase of presidential tenure to two terms.

It was expectedly a controversial move and the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal.  But Zelaya insisted on the plebiscite and fixed a Sunday June 28, 2009 date.

He ordered Army Chief of Staff, Romero Vasquez Velasquez, to help distribute ballot papers in line with the Military’s tradition of assistance during elections.  Velasquez refused and was fired on June 24.

Within 24 hours, the Supreme Court ruled the Army Chief’s sack illegal and reinstated him.

While the power, and seeming independence of the judiciary in ruling against the plebiscite and sack of the Army Chief is ordinarily commendable, it was curious that the Supreme Court would invite the Army to carry out a coup.

It would certainly have made sense for it to ask parliament to impeach him, or if an arrest were necessary, to direct the Police to do so.  The fact is that the court was part of the coup plot.

Early on plebscite morning, masked soldiers abducted and put President Zelaya in an aircraft that dropped him off in Costa Rica.

Foreign Minister, Patricia Rodas was abducted and flown to Mexico.It was like collecting rubbish and disposing of it.  Yet Zelaya has an electoral mandate.  Since the plotters realised that direct military rule would be unacceptable, the Speaker of Parliament, Roberto Micheletti was sworn in by the National Congress.

Although Zelaya ran a left-leaning government, the United States (US) condemned the coup.  This would have been unthinkable a few years ago.  Expectedly fellow Latin American countries condemned the coup.

The 34-member Organization of American States (OAS) met on Saturday night in Washington where by a 30-0 vote, it decided to suspend Honduras. A stronger resolution by leaders like Luna Da-Silva of Brazil to cut Honduras off bilateral cooperation was rejected by US, Colombia, Canada and Mexico.

Emboldened by such over whelming support, Zelaya decided to fly home from Washington.  His supporters  flooded the streets leading to the airport but the Army blocked the runway forcing him to divert to Nicaragua.

He was to say later: “If I had a parachute, I would (have) immediately jumped out of this plane”. Apart from the melodrama, Zelaya’s attempt showed a man of courage who knew he might have been arrested if his aircraft had landed.

It also showed the courage of the populace who defied the guns losing at least two lives in the process.
Since the fourth ballot in November 2009 which would have asked Hondurans to vote for possible constitutional reforms was to be held simultaneously with presidential elections, Zelaya would not have been on the ballot.

In other words, he would not have benefitted from a constitutional change increasing the presidential tenure from one.  So the issue was a pretext for the coup.

Secondly, pretences that there was no coup cannot hold water.  There is no evidence to prove that his removal by soldiers was a directive of the Supreme Court as no known order existed.  This claim was made only after the coup.  So in all probability, the so called order allegedly signed by a Supreme Court judge was an after-thought, a back-dated document.

Thirdly, since the Congress was elected by the same ballot that got Zelaya into office, it was not possible to accept the coup and still retain credibility.  So the Congress claimed that it had accepted Zelaya’s letter of resignation.  But no such letter was written by the President.

Fourthly, if it were a mere replacement of a President that had resigned, there would have been no need for the armed forces to detain ministers, Congress members, attack  workers and shut down media organisations.

Fifthly, if it were not a coup, the new government would not issue a decree suspending parts of the constitution that guarantee personal freedom, freedom of association and freedom of movement and right to citizenship.

The fact is that the Honduras coup was not to defend democracy or the judiciary; it was simply a class struggle between  the plotters and a president from a wealthy background who after being elected into office, ditched his party and Congress in favour  of workers and the poor.

Their fear is that the by committing class suicide, Zelaya had the capacity to forge a new political movement relying on the downtrodden, and carrying out a revolution through the ballot box.

The struggle in Honduras has been falsely presented as that of a President who wants to violate the constitution.  In truth the democrat is Zelaya and the anti democratic forces are those who have desecrated the judiciary and parliament and are today shedding the blood of the Honduran masses on the streets.

It is not Zelaya’s  cross, it is the cross of all those who want genuine, pro-people democracy.


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