Honduras on edge as president defies courts, military

The Supreme Court of Honduras June 25 rejected President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya’s dismissal of the country’s senior military officer, Gen. Romeo Vásquez, deepening a confrontation over Zelaya’s proposal to reform the constitution. Zelaya vowed to push ahead with a vote scheduled for June 28 to measure public support for holding a National Constituent Assembly. At a rally in Tegucigalpa, he told supporters that the court’s decision amounted to a coup. As tens of thousands of Hondurans rushed to the defense of the president, filling and surrounding the presidential palace, soldiers were ordered into the streets.

Zelaya fired Vásquez after the military refused to cooperate with the referendum. Both the National Congress and the courts have already deemed the planned referendum unlawful. The Supreme Court ordered Gen. Vásquez reinstated, but Zelaya told crowds he refused to comply. “We will not obey the Supreme Court,” he told cheering supporters in front of the presidential offices. “The court, which only imparts justice for the powerful, the rich and the bankers, only causes problems for democracy.”

Zelaya was elected in 2006 and under the current constitution is barred from standing for re-election. The pending referendum seeks a mandate for a second vote on a new constitution that would be drafted in time for the November elections—in which Zelaya is barred from running under the current constitution.

Proposed provisions of the new constitution include a raise in the minimum wage; measures to re-nationalize power plants and the telephone system; and strengthening the labor code. The lifting of presidential term limits is widely suspected by the opposition of being the real agenda—although the reform would not take effect until Zelaya is scheduled to leave office next year.

The current constitution was written in 1982, when Honduras was controlled by a US-backed military-dominated regime, and the US itself had a huge military presence in the country. The Honduran armed forces initially pledged support to provide logistical support for the referendum. Then, on June 23, the army informed the president they would not support the vote. The president fired the head of the armed forces, Gen. Vásquez, and Minister of Defense Edmundo Orellana resigned. Fearing for the safety of Zelaya, thousands of Hondurans surrounded the presidential palace.

The National Congress is strongly opposed to the referendum, and on June 25 met to draft a letter of resignation for the president. The Congress also called upon the OAS to withdraw the elections observers currently arriving to observe the referendum, and broached initiatives to block their entry to the country. Public statements by opposition political figures have asserted that voters participating in the referendum could face 10 to 15 years in prison.

Around midday June 25, President Zelaya and thousands of civilian supporters left the presidential palace in city buses and headed to a military base outside the capital, where they were reported to have successfully recovered the ballot boxed needed for the referendum. The referendum is said to have 80% support. (BBC News, Americas Society, June 26; NYT, Rights Action via MarxMail list, June 25)

Last month, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) threatened civil disobedience and insurrection if there are any attempts to impede the vote on the formation of a Constituent National Assembly. On May 18, over one hundred campesinos, machetes in hand, staged a protest outside the Public Ministry building in Tegucigalpa. In a comuniqué distributed to the press, COPINH sent out a “call to all sectors of Honduran society, stating that if the obscurantist and power groups and the transnationals and their spokespersons deny us our right to a consultation and to reforms to transform Honduras into a people’s democratic state, we will organize a massive popular insurrection.” (Rights Action, May 18)

See our last posts on Honduras and the struggle in Central America.

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  1. Dissent from Honduras
    From an observer on the ground. You should get your story straight. yes thouseands (not tens of thousands) of hondurans rallied around Mel to illegally enter a military base and remove the materials for the vote. Mel had to send buses around the whole country to brign those people to Tegucigalpa (the capital of honduras) and reporedly paid them 500 lempiras a piece to arrive. Just an idea of how much money that is, a day laborer in an urban area makes between 110 and 150 lempiras a day, and in a rural area it can be as low as 50 Lempiras a day. Meanwhile the oposition has held reallies with no pay to people who arrive and people arriving on their own wihtout bussing and have brought together 10’s of thousands in Tegucigalpa, and hundreds of thousands in San Pedro Sula.

    To Pay for this vote Mel has not paid some public school teachers, not sent money to repair important dikes along the rivers int he north of the country after they were damaged in the recent 7.2 earthquake, and this is in an area that flooded last year. There have been refusal of services int he public hospitals because of lack of funds. All to send money for a vote that the Supreme court has declared Illegal.

    There is so much support of this vote that his own parth (Partido liberal) has broken with him leaving him only supported by the hardcore communist party (Union Democratica).

    Please do a little more reporting next time

    1. Curious
      Is there a particular reason I should trust you more than BBC, Rights Action and the other sources we cited (who are presumably also “on the ground”)? Who are you and what is you interest in Honduras?

      1. trust him more than BBC
        Sorry to say it but all first report, the first 2 days of this crissis all the news agency for disregard of the truth or laziness only reported what was handed to them, which was Hugo Chavez and MeL Zelaya on CNN.

        And to any Idiot who thinks the CIA is behind this, 1, they would have had the propaganda machine working from the time the military enter Zelayas house, not the next day.

        I am American, my wife is an honduran lawyer working in the Honduran Supreme Court.
        So Believe this guy he his giving facts that we ahave been living for months not just this week.
        Also google Zelaya and read, posted befor this”coup” about the journalist kidnapped and murdered for opposing this ” non binding resolution”, why are world journalist refusing to do there homework. I guess a paychack is a paycheck.

        oh and the 500 limpiras that is standard practice for all political rallies here for the 8 years i ahve been here, some of these people had never been to tegucigalpa and would not spend there hard earned money to travel, where do they sleep, eat, ..they are being paid.
        I used to take dance classes from a guy who we now know is a money funnel from venezuela, recruiting college student for the movement.

        i could go on and on. but noone is changing sides …both sides are wrong so it comes down to are you with Chavez and Fidel or are you with Freedom…
        Yes i voted for Obama and hated Fox news until this past week. but never again will i vote democrat if there is no change from the Admin.

        1. You mean English is your first language?
          Now, that’s a scary thought.

          Why don’t you link to the clips on journalists being killed by the Zelaya forces instead of making us search for it? “Google it” isn’t a source. Seeing is believing.

            1. Are you sorry about your double standards?
              The Wikipedia page on Zelaya reads: “The neutrality of this article is disputed.” Go to the original sources it cites. The International Freedom of Expression Exchange IFEX report of Oct. 19, 2007 on the slaying of radio satirist Carlos Salgado notes the “terrible climate between the government of Manuel Zelaya and the media,” and also notes “a murder attempt on 7 September against Geovanny García, journalist on Canal 13 television, and the suspension of his programme.” OK, sounds bad.

              Now dig this July 1 report from IFEX:

              Free expression in jeopardy following coup
              Following the ousting of President Manuel Zelaya on 28 June, the new authorities have harassed and briefly detained journalists, interfered with several broadcast media outlets and imposed a 48-hour curfew, putting free expression at risk, say IFEX member in Honduras Comité por la Libre Expresíon (C-Libre), the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and other IFEX members…

              As soon as the state of emergency was declared, the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) blocked cable television transmissions, which affected international TV stations, such as CNN Español, Telesur and Cubavisión Internacional, says C-Libre.

              State television outlet Canal 8 went off the air from early Sunday to late Monday night, while the private TV station Canal 36, which supported Zelaya, remained off the air as of Tuesday afternoon, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

              According to C-Libre, power cuts ordered by the government prevented radio and television broadcasts from airing, such as those of the popular national station Radio Cadena Voces. Telephone lines and Internet access were also cut and mobile phone signals were constantly interrupted.

              Meanwhile, journalists report they have been attacked while they have been working. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in the northern city of El Progreso, around 25 soldiers stormed into the studios of Radio Progreso, a station affiliated to the Latin American Association of Radio Education, four hours after the coup and forced the staff to stop working. In a statement, station manager Ismael Moreno said the intervention of local residents prevented more serious violence. Radio Progreso has not yet resumed broadcasting.

              Other journalists have been arbitrarily detained. On 29 June, at least 10 soldiers armed with rifles detained three journalists from the Venezuela-based regional television network Telesur and four journalists and media workers from The Associated Press inside their hotel in Tegucigalpa, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). They were brought to an immigration office and released a short while later.

              According to CPJ, Telesur reported that Honduran military officials said the journalists were detained for “security measures.”

              Adriana Sivori, a journalist from Telesur, told ARTICLE 19 after her release, “They arrested us without any provocation and provided no explanation; it felt like we were back in the dictatorships of the 1980s.”

              At least seven media workers are now missing, says ARTICLE 19, and others have been threatened, including C-Libre’s Gustavo López.

              IAPA is requesting that the Honduran authorities waive the curfew for local and foreign journalists “whose duties must be respected so that citizens and the international community may be kept fully informed.”

              Meanwhile, local media complained that protesters in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Zula opposed to Zelaya’s overthrow attacked and insulted reporters and photographers and destroyed newspaper vending kiosks.

              “La Prensa” in San Pedro Sula declared that “a group of reporters, photographers and drivers from the newspaper were threatened while covering the crisis in the country” and were photographed by demonstrators who attempted to seize their equipment, while a distribution van was attacked by a mob, says IAPA.

              1. freedom of expression following coup
                I do know that cnn and other stations where shut down the fist day after the “coup”, remmember i am here in tegucigalpa. First my power was off but if you everlived in a third world country that is a weeklt ocurrance. I am all for freedom of expression but was and am ok with the temporary suspension of the channels that where being used by outside leaders, well leader..Chavez to insite the population.

                Look something need to be done. Zelaya did not have the votes anyway, but we all know the Cuarta urna was going to pass. Votes hahahah

                I do believe in social reform in this country. But Zelaya is not the man for the job. His hands are too dirty. About Otto Reich and Latinnode, they plead guilty in court in Miami of paying off this administration.(Chimirii who is a relative of Zelaya) ok i am rambling again.

          1. Stop the anti mel zelaya ppost
            I hope you Post this one Bill, What are you Idiots doing posting anti Chavez and Zelaya comments on the blog of a member of the New York Socialist party. He does not care about the truth or the Laws of Honduras, what he seems to care about is the spread of his own political ideology. Being in a comfortable flat in NYC, the alpha and omega of capitalism, gives him the privelage to trash the comments and concerns of people who are in the trenches of this battle.

            To you Bill, I care less for the socialist or the capitalist. All politacal economic systems are to place power in the hands of someone and in neither system I am that someone.

            What I do know is that I am concerned for my son, and I am thinking about flying back to New Orleans before ALBA invades Honduras. There is little hope that Obama will do anything to prevent this and he was our last hope here.

            1. Huh?
              I am a sympathizer although not a member of the Socialist Party. I happen to believe in free speech. My apartment is not that comfortable.

      1. What an annoying website
        If you have any evidence the US was behind this, we’d like to see it. Until then, your histrionics are so much empty posturing.

  2. This is a legal removal
    This is a legal removal of a president that is in violation of the Honduran Constitution.
    Zelaya’s actions of the past 5 months have been in blantant disregard for the Honduran Constitution, which he sought to rewrite, the Honduran Supreme Court, which he has undermined, the Honduran Congress, which he has tried to delegitimize, his own party that has resisted Hugo Chavez, and 72% of the Honduran public, that feel disenfranchised by Zelaya. This was not a coup. Zelaya was legally removed by the military at the request of the Honduran Congress and the Honduran Supreme Court that have the following two articles of the Honduran Constitution as the legal authority to do so

    ARTICULO 239.- El ciudadano que haya desempeñado la titularidad del Poder Ejecutivo no podrá ser Presidente o Designado.
    El que quebrante esta disposición o proponga su reforma, así como aquellos que lo apoyen directa o indirectamente, cesarán de inmediato en el desempeño de sus respectivos cargos, y quedarán inhabilitados por diez años para el ejercicio de toda función pública.
    TRANSLATION Article 239 The citizen that has been the head of the Execute Branch cannot be President or Vice-President (again).
    Whoever violates this law or proposes its reform, as well as those that support such violation directly or indirectly, will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years.
    ARTICULO 205.- Corresponden al Congreso Nacional las atribuciones siguientes:
    15. Declarar si ha lugar o no a formación de causa contra el Presidente
    20. Aprobar o improbar la conducta administrativa del Poder Ejecutivo, Poder Judicial y
    TRANSLATION – Article 205 – Congress has the following authority:
    15 To indict the President
    20 To approve or disapprove of the administrative conduct of the Execurive Branch, …

    Why is Obama now meddling in the internal affairs of a soveriegn nation and why is he siding with Hugo Chavez against the nation of Honduras?

    1. “Not a coup”?
      Hundreds of army troops stage a pre-dawn raid on the home of the sitting president, overpower and tie up his guards, roust him from his bed and put him on a plane out of the country while still in his pajamas. Then tanks are sent into the streets as the army seizes the presidential palace—and this is “not a coup”? What exactly would constitute a coup in your eyes?

      As to the rest of your propaganda:

      1. Zelaya was not “legally removed by the military at the request of the Honduran Congress.” The military acted before dawn; it was only later in the day that Congress met and acquiesced in the coup after the fact.

      2. The vote for the new constitution was to have taken place in November—in the same election in which Zelaya’s successor was to be chosen. Therefore, it is hard to see how the aim could have been an extension of his term. At best, the opportunity to run again in four years. You ignore the proposed provisions for reform of the labor code, re-nationalization of the electricity and telecom systems, etc.

      3. The constitution was drawn up in 1982, when Honduras was a military-dominated state—and under virtual US military occupation. Any provision that actually makes it unconstitutional to advocate reform should certainly be reformed—the sooner the better!

      4. Obama is not meddling in Honduran affairs. He said he was “deeply concerned” and called on all political actors in Honduras to “respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference.” In my opinion, he should be condmening the coup much more forthrightly.

      1. Obama’s lack of indignation!
        In response to Bill Weinberg, from Obama’s timid response it is clear he supports the coup. If Israel was undergoing a violent change of government, Obama would condemn such action STRONGLY and EXPLICITLY. Recall Obama’s response when Palestinian children were being murdered in cold blood by Israel: silence! He finally said that if his children were being bombed, he’d have to do something about it. He was referring to Israeli children – however, Palestinians weren’t bombing Israeli children!

        Obama supports this coup.

        1. I love getting it from both sides
          No clearer indication that I am doing my job. Thanks for the vindication, both of you.

          There is no evidence that Obama supports the coup. Today’s New York Times reports:

          As the crisis escalated, American officials began in the last few days to talk with Honduran government and military officials in an effort to head off a possible coup. A senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the military broke off those discussions on Sunday.

          Disinformation? Could be. But I’m not the one making dogmatic assertions here. You are.

      2. Dummy
        I am here in Honduras the congress was up all night that night. The president held a conference and basically dismmissed the congress and the supreme court as if they did not exist at about 9 pm on the 27th. when he finished talking our emb. Hugo Lorens ran, i mean ran out of the room on live TV. I was watching with a socialist Hondran friend who yelled in my face that lloren running out showed we lost power in the region. I awoke to my friends banging down my door that they shipped Zelaya to Venezuela, later it was known to be costa rica. Anyway I know for a fact the Congress was up all night. ALso my Wife works in the Honduran Supreme Court as a procecutor, and i am sick of these comunist throwing bombs in her work. Coup or not i do not care God bless Micheletti for saving Honduras from Higo Chavez….. at least for now. And i Will never vote democrat again….Thanks for nothing Obama

  3. Bad cites
    In your article you state that “The referendum is said to have 80% support.” To support this assertion you cite articles by the BBC, Americas Society, NYT and something called “Marxmail.” I followed the links. The BBC and the NYT do not make any statement or quote supporting the proposition for “80% support.” The Americas Society actually says the OPPOSITE, that Zeyala was very unpopular and the the referendum appeared to lack popular support. I have no idea what Marxmail may have said about it as the link is broken. I am not sure I’d trust them to be objective anyway.

    What we do know to be facts is that the Honduran military was joined in this by the Honduran Supreme Court and the National Congress. Even Zelaya’s on party has opposed him on this. Judging from the popular rallies, the anti-Zeyala rallies dwarf those of his supporters. Judging from all this it appears that Zeyala is unpopular and his referendum is unpopular, as well as illegal under Honduran law.

    On top of that, there are now reports that 40+ computers were recovered from Zeyala’s office on which were found the election results, (overwhelmingly in favor of the referendum) which is remarkable given that the referendum never occurred.

    1. Try reading more carefully
      The citation is from the solidarity group Rights Action, via MarxMail, which is just an archive. Sorry the MarxMail link went dead, but here is the same post from Grassroots International. If you take the time to click on it and read, you will find that Rights Action cites the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). Meanwhile, I note that you provide no citation for your fantastical claims about the computers with the election results.