Honduras has two Presidents
Military and Congress Botch a Coup, Bring International Criticism and Uncertainty about Country’s Commitment to Democracy

July 1st, 2009
by Thomas Tomczyk


President Mel Zelaya and smiling friends in better times. Breaking ground for the Carnival Cruise Ship terminal on Roatan in December 2007.

President Mel Zelaya and smiling friends in better times. Breaking ground for the Carnival Cruise Ship terminal on Roatan in December 2007.

Hondurans woke up on June 28 with no president and went to sleep with two. How to call the days event is in dispute. Honduran Congress stated that the entire international community, USA, Venezuela, even Iran are wrong and ‘this was not a coup d’etat,’ but how ‘the Honduran political system works.’ President Mel Zelaya was woken up at gunpoint, and in pajamas flown out to Costa Rica. Honduran army took over president’s house, several radio and TV stations, sent troops to airports and by 4pm congressmen were making congratulatory speeches and patting themselves on the back.

Honduras wrote the book on coups d’état and if any country should know one and how to do one it should be Honduras. Honduras had nine coups in its 169 year history. Only Bolivia has more, so you would think that Honduran would know a coup when they see one, or at least know how to do one.

The coup was a result of the Honduran Supreme Court’s, the Congress’ and the Government’s inability to democratically resolve a constitutional and political crisis that had been brewing for three months. The situation emerged from a conflict among a left-leaning populist president, a hesitant pro-capitalist army and an undecided congress. President Zelaya pushed a June 28 “Cuatra Urna” referendum calling for including in the November general elections a vote on the creation of a commission that would rewrite certain, unspecified portions of the Honduran Constitution. The suspicion amongst the general public was that President Zelaya was attempting to change the constitution to run for another term in office.

On June 24 (after the Supreme Court had ruled the planned referendum illegal) President Zelaya sacked General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, head of the Armed forces of Honduras, for refusing to provide military security for the ballot boxes. The three chief Honduran generals and the Minister of Interior resigned in the process, and the following day the Honduran Supreme Court reinstated Gen. Vásquez Velásquez to his post.

In response President Zelaya personally marched with a group of supporters to a military base and took possession of the ballot boxes and voting material for the referendum. On the night of June 25 Congress failed to find enough votes to impeach the president in a night session, the one chance for Congress to get rid of Zelaya in a democratic manner.

At 5am on June 28, the morning of the referendum, President Zelaya was taken from his Tegucigalpa house at gunpoint, transferred to a military base and then flown out of the country. President Zelaya was accused of violating the constitution, but instead of being arrested and prosecuted, he was flown at taxpayers’ expense to Costa Rica. By 9:30am a pajama-clad and unshaven Zelaya began interviews with international news organizations telling his sad story. “This is a kidnapping and an extortion of democracy. People should remain calm, but they need to protect their democracy,” said on CNN President Zelaya, wearing an undershirt. “Armed, masked men stormed into my house around 5am and said: you will submit to a military order, or we will shoot you.”

Tegucigalpa’s TV Channel 8, belonging to Zelaya, was taken off the air, as were other radio and TV stations supporting President Zelaya. The only news coverage during the coup was coming from CNN en Espanol. To make matters worse, in Tegucigalpa, ambassadors of Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela were roughed up, causing more international outrage. According to CNN, eight Zelaya officials were arrested and are nowhere to be found.

While President Zelaya insisted on CNN that he never resigned, the Honduran Congress accepted his and his cabinet’s resignation letter (dated June 25) for “health reasons.” By 5pm, the president of Honduran Congress, Roberto Micheletti was chosen by congress as an interim president.

The Bay Islands remained so far a backwater of the coup and no military was sent to the department. A few police with machine guns were seen at airport and chief road intersections. On June 27 anonymous fliers were dropped over East Harbour, Utila from an airplane asking people not to participate in the referendum. When the word of the coup spread, ballot boxes placed at schools on Roatan and Utila were taken by activists cooperating with President Zelaya.

The reaction to President Zelaya varied among Bay Islands investors. “This president was good to us, accessible. Why shouldn’t he seek second term?,” said John Tercek, Vice President of Commercial Development at Royal Caribbean, who is completing a $50 million cruise ship terminal in Coxen Hole.
Looking differently at Zelaya’s ousting was Mitch Cummins, Roatan business owner. “In the short term it will be a lot of confusion, but in the long term it will be the best thing could have happened,” said Cummins. “It was not a coup it was forced succession.”

Consequences of the coup are hard to determine, but could mean pulling out of international investments, halt to international aid, ending of Venezuelan oil subsidy and even possibly US sanctions. “[the Honduran coup] is a blow to democracy in the entire region,” said Human Rights Watch. Temporarily silenced Zelaya supporters could gain in strength over time and win international support from Venezuela and Nicaragua, turning their opposition into violent, organized conduct. [/private]

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