Monday, July 06, 2009

This Revolution, Apparently, Will Not Be Televised

Poor Honduras. While Iran was fortunate enough to start its electoral crisis and mass protests in mid-June, the Hondurans had their impeachment-cum-coup d'etat kerfuffle right as Mark Sanford revealed his transcontinental affair and Michael Jackson died. Both of which are, of course, far more important than a Central American country basically imploding. This means that no one knows much about what's going on down there - hell, I didn't know that much until this morning when I started looking it up. Best as I can tell, here's what's happening:

It starts with the election, in 2005 (inaugurated in '06), of a leftist-ish President named Manuel "Mel" Zelaya. He began forming alliances with Venezuela's wacko Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Raul Castro, while apparently not really doing a whole hell of a lot that could be described as economically leftist. The scary part, though, is that he's been getting more and more authoritarian as time goes by. He has required television stations to air two-hour government-sponsored broadcasts, while simultaneously harassing reporters he didn't like. He has tried to monitor all cell-phone communication in Honduras. He has also been accused of trying to drain money from the electoral commission, and of trying to institute censorship. I'm not sure about the veracity of all these claims - they're varyingly well-sourced on the Wikipedia article on Zelaya - but the upshot of all this is that Zelaya's approval rating is in the 20s, and he's not happy with the way government works in Honduras.

Now, Zelaya has ordered that a constitutional referendum be held in November 2009 alongside the Congressional, local, and presidential election. What's bizarre, of course, is that for the most part Zelaya doesn't need to ask the people to amend the Constitution - he can go to Congress. And his party (the Liberal Party) has a majority in Congress, so amending the Constitution shouldn't be hard for him (it requires a simple majority in Congress, unlike here). The catch is this - there are some articles Congress can't amend. One of them is an article term-limiting the President. So it's a bit of a transparent move by Zelaya to consolidate power. In March, Zelaya ordered the referendum to be moved up to June 28.

Naturally, no one else who currently has power in Honduras likes that very much. The Supreme Court ruled that the referendum was illegal. Congress - which is controlled by Zelaya's Liberal Party - followed suit and started impeachment proceedings. Zelaya called for protestors to march in opposition to the Court's ruling. Protestors marched on June 27... but against Zelaya. Remember, this is a guy who has a 25% approval rating here.

Anyway, it seems that earlier, Zelaya had ordered the Honduran army to participate in the referendum. They refused, so Zelaya sacked their commander. The Supreme Court didn't like this much either, and ordered the commander reinstated. Oh yeah, and the Court also ordered the army to arrest Zelaya on charges of treason. Which they did, on June 28, the day the referendum was supposed to happen. Zelaya was soon shipped out of the country, to Costa Rica - a move of questionable constitutionality in and of itself, because Honduras' constitution forbids anyone from being punished by exile. The army didn't take power like in a traditional coup, though - the head of Congress, Roberto Micheletti, has assumed the role.

So the spectacle is this - a democratically elected but unpopular president who had been staring impeachment in the face was instead forcibly removed from office by an army acting at the behest of a pissed-off Supreme Court. Internationally, this has created bizarre alliances - President Obama, Chavez, and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe have all called for Zelaya to be reinstated. Though presumably, if he's reinstated he'll still face impeachment and trial, and will probably be out of a job within the month if Congress' unanimous vote to accept his forged resignation letter is any indication.

Anyway, right now Micheletti and Zelaya are trying to negotiate. Micheletti wants Zelaya to be prosecuted for his alleged crimes; Zelaya obviously wants to come back and be president again. Zelaya tried to come back over the weekend; Micheletti closed the airports, forcing Zelaya to land in El Salvador. Zelaya's supporters have materialized and are protesting the whole thing - they're being met with an overly heavy hand by Micheletti, who has established a 10-to-5 curfew and has told the army to control the situation, with occasionally violent results. People who support Micheletti are marching too. Meanwhile, the UN and the OAS along with everyone else on the planet are calling for Zelaya to be reinstated and are calling Micheletti's government illegal - Micheletti has managed only two irrelevant allies in Israel and Taiwan.

None of this should have happened, of course. The military should never have listened to the court and deposed Zelaya - instead, they should have let Congress' impeachment proceedings run their course, after which Zelaya would likely have been ousted legally and Micheletti would have taken over until the election in November. Instead, they managed to bungle the situation thoroughly and get the entire world behind Zelaya despite the fact that Zelaya's got all the markings of being a quasi-authoritarian scumbag. This would be funny if it weren't so sad.

So that's that. You may now continue your reading about Sarah Palin's resignation, already in progress.

1 comment:

Ben said...

As I understood it, Honduras had no impeachment provisions in its constitution. Somebody in Slate argued that's part of the problem.