On this, the day when hope springs eternal, President Zelaya is back in Honduras, more specifically at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. How he got there, no one is telling. His supporters are in the streets. The current leader, installed by Congress after the deportation of Mr. Zelaya, after imposing a curfew, has demanded the Brazilians release him, so he can be arrested.
This position represents a climb-down from that of last June, when the Honduran ruling elite claimed deportation was necessary so as to avoid street demonstrations and violence if he was detained in Honduras. The role of Brazil in all this is perhaps surprising, but more than likely a stroke of absolute genius. Brazil is much too important a country for the Honduran military to invade its Embassy, even if they were so inclined, which is unlikely.
The Brazilian government has a long tradition of helping to settle disputes between other countries. Brazil has had military coups in the past, as has Honduras. Brazil’s restored democratic credentials, however, are now unquestioned. And, at this precise moment, the Brazilian Foreign Minister is in New York, media capital of the world, where the UN agenda has just been redrawn.
The master stroke is that by taking a lead role in resolving the conflict, Brazil has wrested control over the situation from Hugo Chavez, Oscar Arias, the OAS and the USA, all of whom, sadly, have so far failed to resolve anything at all.
By so doing, Brazil has asserted its role as the leading South/Latin American nation, one now ready to exert regional leadership. When it pleads its cause for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, this will be one of its primary arguments.
There is a risk, of course – namely that the stalemate will continue and nothing will happen. Mr. Zelaya cannot remain at the Embassy forever. On the other hand, three months of hand-wringing, wailing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments by the outside world has, as pointed out above, accomplished nothing.
One suspects (expects) that the Brazilian Government has a plan, a negotiated settlement that will permit face saving and a peaceful transition. After all, the Brazilian military’s withdrawal from power during the 1980’s was a negotiated and peaceful process, involving the Brazilian ruling elite as well as the man on the street. The pace will have to be increased, but the steps can be taken.
The President apparently violated the Honduras Constitution, by calling for a plebiscite on extending the number of terms, without Congressional approval. Later he called it only an “opinion poll” but the attempt had been made. The Honduras Constitution seems clear that any attempt to abolish a 1-term limit is punishable by removal from office. So far so good, as far as the military are concerned.
However, in a country under the rule of law, there have to be charges brought, proof offered, an opportunity to defend, due process of law and other basic principles of justice. If the offense is proven, the court orders the offender to resign. If the offender refuses, the CIVIL authorities are brought in to enforce the court order. If they can’t, or won’t, the military might, just might, be invited to assist.
Unfortunately, none of that happened.
What happened was, the military peremptorily kidnapped (yes, kidnapped) a sitting President and deported him to a foreign country against his will. That “remedy” is not contained in the Honduran Constitution (nor anywhere else in the world under the rule of law) -the remedy is removal from office for a period of 10 years. Full stop.
Therefore, what happened was a military coup. Full stop.
Which is why Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez and the OAS and the EU and the rest of the civilized world find themselves in complete agreement on this question – there was a military coup in Honduras.
Which is why, if they have any sense, the ruling oligarchy in Honduras will reinstate its President, the appropriate CIVIL authorities will charge him formally with whatever charges are appropriate, allow him every opportunity to defend himself, and the judiciary will reach a decision.
If the decision is that he must resign, then resign he must. And Barack Obama, the OAS and the EU and the rest of the civilized world (save Fidel, Chavez and their toadies) will agree that resign he must.
And Honduras will return to the fold of countries with democratically elected officials, who cannot be deposed and deported by the military.
Michael Royster is a US citizen, resident in Rio for over 30 years and a practicing, fully-licensed Brazilian lawyer.
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