Monday, July 20, 2009

Deposing a President is not the same as a "coup"

I would like to take just a moment to reflect upon the events in Honduras, and the media’s obtuse use of the term “coup” (as in: “coup d’etat”) to describe it.

I have read commentators describe the ouster of President Zelaya as an “illegal coup”. President Obama (who in the first six months of his Presidency has shown an uncanny knack for being on the wrong side of History) has also stated that the “coup” was unconstitutional and illegal. They argue that President Zelaya should have been “impeached” rather than overthrown in a “coup”, a statement that is silly on multiple levels (I’ll explain shortly). Even commentators who support the Honduran government’s actions—some of whom I respect greatly, such as Charles Krauthammer—also refer to the events as a “coup”.

Even though I am not a legal scholar, I am confident that a cursory examination of the terminology and events will reveal that the term “coup” has been bandied about irresponsibly. “Irresponsibly”, I say, because it erroneously lends credence to the notion that the President was unjustly removed from office and should be returned to power by the organizations of the international community.

The term “coup d’etat”, or “coup” for short, “is the sudden, unconstitutional deposition of a legitimate government, by a small group of the State Establishment — usually the military — to replace the deposed government with another, either civil or military.”

Note that the removal of the official is “sudden” and “unconstitutional”.

Without getting into the minutia of the events, please recall that former President Zelaya violated the Honduran constitution by unilaterally calling for a referendum that would ask the people if the constitution should be re-written in order to give the President multiple terms (currently they are limited to one four-year term, in order to prevent future dictatorships). The constitution makes this very action illegal and the official who requests it loses his mandate immediately. Only the congress has this authority, and refused to do what Zelaya asked, so he did it unilaterally. He violated a number of other laws as well when he called for an insurrection, illegally fired his chief of staff who refused to obey the illegal orders he’d been given, raided the military compound where the ballots were stored in order to go forward with the referendum in spite of the orders to desist by the Supreme Court. The Congress, Supreme Court, and Federal Attorney General all agreed that Zelaya had violated the constitution and the constitution stated the outcome: loss of his authority.

The subsequent action to depose the President was therefore neither “sudden”, nor “unconstitutional”. It was deliberative, involving multiple branches of government, and spelled out in the nation's Magna Carta.

There are a number of terms that would be preferable, and more accurate, to employ in this instance. The President was “deposed”, “unseated”, “overthrown”, or even “dethroned” (if you will allow that he was acting like a tyrannical monarch, rather than a President).

I have also noted criticism that Zelaya should have been “impeached”. The very term “impeach” means “to accuse of a crime, especially to accuse a person who works for the government of a crime against the State.” Clearly, when the opposition appealed to the courts regarding the illegality of the President’s actions, they did “impeach” the President. And the court did what courts do: it judged the merits of the accusation and decided against the President. This was not an issue where there could be a prolonged trial by jury: by the time this occurred, the constitutional order would have been in disarray, and the national security already would have been adversely affected. What's more, the critics presume that the "impeachment process" in Honduras should look exactly like the one that we have in the USA. Without having read their constitution, they (and I include Mr. Obama in this) have decided that if the process doesn't look like ours, it must not have been legal.

My point is that the events in Honduras did not constitute a “coup”, and that term is being detrimentally applied. It would be preferable to use the term “removal” or “deposition” instead. Every time anyone—including those of us who support the removal of Zelaya—use “coup” to describe the legal and just sacking of the President, it simply adds credence to the arguments of people like Chavez and Castro—and the newest member of the gang of leftist nuts—Barack Hussein Obama.

I have learned new information which reaffirms my conviction that it was NOT a coup, and the Obama administration's position is wrong.
1) The interim president, Roberto Micheletti, is a member of Zelaya's Liberal Party. So control of the government was NOT transferred to an opposition party, nor maintained by the military.
2) The reason the VP was not put in that position was that he had resigned as VP in order to run for President next November. Micheletti was the next one in line per constitutional order of power.
3) The Liberal Party--Zelaya's and Micheletti's party--controlled and still controls the majority of the Parliament. No transfer of power or restructuring occured there.
4) the Parliament voted and found that Micheletti is the legitimate President.

If you speak Spanish you can read about it HERE.

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