Less than twenty-four hours in the open boulevards and narrow, graffiti-filled streets of Tegucigalpa, we went on an enthralling ride across the Honduran political spectrum. From meeting with former President for the Central American Parliament (Parlacen) at its Honduran office, to holding a Q&A session with AB News Anchor Rodrigo Wong at Canal 10 headquarters, we gathered a distinct view of the political crisis that led to the ousting of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales. We discovered the intricacy of the political situation. We found that controversy begins with the wording which describes the formation of the de facto government led by Roberto Micheletti.
Mrs. Oqueli classified the coup as a golpe militar. She denies that Honduras wasmerely subject to a golpe de estado (coup d’état), an already controversial term within diplomatic circles, and one which both the European Union and the United States have only recently begun to employ. While citing the involvement of the armed forces in the June 28 arrest and expatriation of Manuel Zelaya, she emphasized the actions taken by Romero Basques Velásquez, who was reinstated as Head of the Armed Forces after the coup. Zelaya dismissed Velásquez in the weeks prior to the coup over disagreements regarding Zelaya´s planned quarta urna. The army’s loyalty to Congress and the Supreme Court is just one example of how Zelaya’s administration polarized the Honduran government. According to Mrs. Oqueli, the judicial and legislative branches are heavily controlled by the diez familias – the ten most influential and affluent families in Honduras, regarded as having the ultimate say in Honduran politics.
On the other end of the spectrum, Mr. Wong acknowledged the coup, but disputed the military´s role. Wong argued that the coup was against the government, a golpe de gobierno, rather than one against the state. His preferred term (and the one favored by conservative groups), is based on a legalistic view of the Honduran constitution–Zelaya’s ousting and Micheletti’s rise to the Presidency was nothing more than a Constitutional Succession. Wong argued that Zelaya´s fate was the correct response his breach of Article 239 of the Honduran Constitution. This article is one of four immutable sections of the Constitution. It reads:
“citizen who has exercised the Executive Power will no longer be able to serve as President or Vice-President… should that citizen breach any article of or propose to reform this Constitution.”
According to Wong, the country was simply put back on a stable, democratic track after Zelaya’s “unpredictable and undefined policies based on a blueprint of Chavez’ Venezuela.” The two other branches of powers, the Supreme Court and Congress fulfilled their constitutional responsibility..
Albeit limited to a few lines from one article of the Constitution Wong´s argument remains convincing. There is considerable evidence that Zelaya acted unconstitutionally when he publicly proposed a referendum on the prospect of a constitutional assembly. Nonetheless, this legalistic take raises a lot of difficult questions. Article 239 does not mention the method of removing a President, let alone prescribe the arrest and expatriation of violators of the article.
Was Zelaya genuinely trying to reform the constitution in order to introduce a greater degree of grassroots democracy, and thus further popular participation in a political process that has been historically rigged and influenced by a conglomerate of a few wealthy families? Or was he trying to overthrow Honduras longstanding constitution to replace it with a document following the Venezuelan model? Another question worth mentioning refers to whether there was in fact popular support for the constitutional assembly – or at least enough to grant Zelaya a political victory in the non-binding popular consultation, the cuarta urna.
The answers to these questions are, obviously, quite polarized. Mrs. Oqueli went so far as to say that the Honduran crisis is more than political, “it is a power struggle between evolution and anti-evolution forces,” the result of which will influence the entire Central American integration process. Zelaya, she said, sought to establish a more democratic order that was more beneficial to the people, but that did not hurt the Middle and Upper classes. She recognized that he made mistakes in the fulfillment of his government strategy, however, by embarking on a bold alienation of government institutions and by exacerbating deep-rooted political fears by displaying an apparent, if only rhetorical, socialist inclination. She firmly stated that regardless of his fault, the actions taken by the Supreme Court and the Congress, implemented by the armed forces, were totally illegitimate. In her opinion, Zelaya was after all, merely giving the people a voice – “how can that be illegal?” Quite illegal, according to Mr. Wong, whose support for the constitutionality of the coup lies partly in a deep-set concern about the Venezuelan influence in Honduran politics, mainly because of the 7 billion barrels of oil potentially waiting to be extracted from the Honduran and Central American offshore areas. According to him, Zelaya’s constitutional assembly was part of a major 20-year grand political strategy for ruling Honduras with a new Partido Liberal Socialista, under an authoritarian constitution that allegedly has already been drafted by Spanish lawyers. There is no way to confirm these speculative remarks – as there is no way to look at the possible damage or profits of Zelaya’s constituyente to the Honduran nation that, together with Costa Rica, remained a paragon of democratic rule and stability. To be sure, one of the only things that both Mrs. Oqueli and Mr. Wong agreed to was that the military acted outside of its mandate by extraditing Zelaya. But was the mandate itself constitutional? Every question raises countless others that only tomorrow will bring answers to.
– Vinicius Grünberg