Honduras: was the coup legal?

A number of legal experts are challenging an August report by the US Law Library of Congress claiming the June overthrow of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was in accordance with Honduras’ 1982 Constitution. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) requested the report from the library and released it Sept. 24, incorrectly attributing it to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. It has been cited regularly since then by US supporters of the de facto Honduran government.

Critics of the 10-page report include some 13 deputies from the Honduran National Congress. In an Oct. 12 letter to the US Congress, the legislators said the study “is contradictory and suffers from a series of errors and biases that disqualify it as a correct and objective analysis of what has happened in our country.” They also noted that the only legal expert consulted by the study’s author, Senior Foreign Law Specialist Norma C. Gutierrez, was former Supreme Court justice Guillermo Pérez-Cadalso Arias, a coup supporter “who in Honduras is not considered an academic authority on the subject of constitutional law.” In an Oct. 22 opinion piece on the Forbes magazine website, Argentine attorney Viviana Krsticevic and Juan Méndez, a former president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, CIDH in Spanish), dismissed the report’s “[d]ubious legal reasoning” and its “thinly sourced analysis” that “gets many…basic facts wrong.”

The report argues that although the Constitution only gives the Honduran Congress the power to “disapprove” of a president, the legislators can interpret the Constitution to extend this power to removing the president from office. The report ignores a May 7, 2003 Honduran Supreme Court ruling that Congress cannot interpret the Constitution. The report’s arguments doesn’t pass the “straight-face test,” Notre Dame University law professor Doug Cassel said at an Oct. 22 briefing at Capitol Hill in DC. The nonprofit Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) had organized a meeting with the Law Library of Congress for that morning to discuss the report, but author Gutierrez and her assistant became “suddenly unavailable” the night before, according to WOLA’s Vicki Gass. At the meeting, the Law Library representatives agreed to produce a “frequently asked questions” document, Gass said, but not a retraction. (Schock press release, Sept. 24; letter from Honduran deputies, Oct. 12; Forbes, Oct. 22; Honduras Coup 2009, Oct. 16; Inter Press Service, Oct. 22)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 25

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

  1. Supreme Court
    What happens when the Supreme Court of a country rules that their president is guilty of treason? The Honduran Supreme Ct. ruled 15-0 against Zelaya and ordered that he be removed from office.