Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Coup Coup Catchoo
Watching and reading coverage of the ongoing story in Honduras, in which the word "coup" is repeated roughly every ten or fifteen seconds (take this AP article as an example), I'm reminded of the immortal words of Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
Obviously, Honduras has a serious problem. When the Army hustles an elected president out of his bedroom and into exile in the wee hours, that's not exactly what you'd call an orderly transfer of power. But contra (pun intended) the western media, the UN, the Obama Administration, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and all of the latter pair's sundry authoritarian vassals and/or allies, what happened in Honduras this week was not a coup.
A coup is what happened in Pakistan a decade ago, when General Pervez Musharraf deposed the elected government and took control himself (more than a bit ironically, then-colonel Hugo Chavez tried to do the same thing in Venezuela back in 1992). What Honduras is undergoing right now would be more properly described as a constitutional crisis.
Manuel Zelaya, who was elected president of Honduras in 2006, is one of the recent crop of Chavez clones who've popped up in Central and South America. Early this year, Zelaya attempted to ram through a "plebicite" to negate Honduras' constitutional one-term limit on its presidency. The Honduran Parliament--which was and still is controlled by Zelaya's Liberal Party--refused to go along, no doubt influenced by Chavez's never-ending rewriting of the Venzeulan constitution to prolong his own grip on power. The Honduran Supreme Court agreed, finding no provision for such a plebicite in Honduran law.
Zelaya, who apparently wasn't going to take trivialities like the law into account, literally had Chavez print up millions of ballots and ship them to Honduras. Honduran elections are administered by the Army, which, following direction from both the Parliament and Supreme Court, refused to distribute ballots for an illegal election. Zelaya responded by firing the head of the Army and calling for a mob to attack the air force base where the Chavez-produced ballots were stored.
The Honduran Supreme Court, deeming Zelaya's actions as illegal and beyond his constitutional powers, reinstated the head of the Army and ordered Zelaya removed from office, with the concurrence of Parliament. Roberto Michelletti, the speaker of the Parliament, was elevated to acting president per the established Honduran succession laws. He's pledged to hold office until a successor is elected in the regularly-scheduled polls this November.
Now, all of this is certainly out of the ordinary, and made even moreso by the Honduran military not just removing Zelaya from power, but also physically ejecting him from the country. That, plus leveling pretty severe media restrictions within Honduras, gives the removal of Zelaya an unpleasant flavor, but it still doesn't sink to the definition of a coup d'état, no matter how many times those words get shouted by Zelaya's ideological allies and/or the media.
Zelaya pretty clearly acted beyond the bounds of his constitutional powers, and was called on it by the other two branches of the government (one of which is controlled by his own party), following established constitutional law. That's a big, ugly mess, but it's not a coup, and I'm at a loss to understand why anybody who isn't Chavez or a Chavez wannabe ought to be wildly upset about it.