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June 28, 2009

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Charlie don't twit and we think he should.

I'm still trying to figure this out too, but it looks like the operative rationalization is Chavez Fear. As Randy notes, Zelaya was probably not a very smooth operator, but that doesn't excuse what the military did - they found a reason for doing what they wanted to do anyway. The election of Zelaya was putatively very close and was bitterly contested.

Nice that the US government is not supporting a reactionary coup in Cent. Am. for a change.

How long before somebody on the right claims that Obama is a hypocrite for forcefully coming to the defense of Zelaya while refusing to come sufficiently to the defense of Mousavi? (Bonus points for claiming that this shows that Obama is a secret "Bolivarian")

"For my part, I am puzzled."

Seems to me amyone who believed in rule of law shouldn't find this puzzling. President was defying Supreme Court, and firing Generals who refused to obey Presidential order which tried to circumvent Supreme Court ruling.

What is more puzzling is why Obama should revert to meddling in Latin American affairs.

They can't have a constitutional referendum on a constitutional issue that cannot be changed. Or, in other words, you can't have a referendum to compel Congress to commit an illegal act. Quoting from this source:

Title VII, with two chapters, outlines the process of amending the constitution and sets forth the principle of constitutional inviolability. The constitution may be amended by the National Congress after a two-thirds vote of all its members in two consecutive regular annual sessions. However, several constitutional provisions may not be amended. These consist of the amendment process itself, as well as provisions covering the form of government, national territory, and several articles covering the presidency, including term of office and prohibition from reelection.

It looks like their SC made the right call. The president's removal is another issue, but he was clearly running afoul of the rule of law. Zelaya was trying to pull a Chavez, but he's just not as good at rigging the system as the Venezuelan wannabe dictator.

CB, can you tell me where in what you quoted, it says that the current constitution cannot be replaced with a new one?

First of all, it appears this was a non-bimding resolution, again not mentioned. Secondly it doesn't call for an amendment, it calls for a discussion of a new constitution. I don't see where either is prohibited.


JM, the president wasn't requesting a referendum to replace their constitution. According to the NYT, he was reqeusting a revision to the constitution which would lengthen his time in office. Such a revision is illegal, and he defied his country's supreme court in continuing this path.

This looks to me like political infighting that should be decided by the political process, but is being prempted by the military.

It remains to be seen how far CB and friends will contort themselves to form a rationale for supporting another reactionary coup in Latin America. So far.... asking voters to decide whether to consider an issue demands a forceful overthrow of the democratically elected government. Pretty good contortion.

"This looks to me like political infighting that should be decided by the political process, but is being prempted by the military."

"But on Thursday, the president led a group of protesters to an air force installation and seized the ballots, which the prosecutor’s office and the electoral tribunal had ordered confiscated."

Not necessarily saying anything; just wondering if that means the situation in Honduras had already gotten beyond the political process before the military intervened.

Here's the article from the Honduran Constitution: link here

ARTICULO 374.- No podrán reformarse, en ningún caso, el artículo anterior, el presente artículo, los artículos constitucionales que se refieren a la forma de gobierno, al territorio nacional, al período presidencial, a la prohibición para ser nuevamente Presidente de la República, el ciudadano que lo haya desempeñado bajo cualquier título y el referente a quienes no pueden ser Presidentes de la República por el período subsiguiente.

Rough translation of pertinent part: "The following cannot be amended, no matter what: The previous article [amendment process], this article, the constitutional articles that refer to the form of government, the national territory, the term of the presidency . . ."

CB: Yeah, but in what possible world is a non-binding resolution asking whether the people would want to have an assembly remotely coup-worthy?

It remains to be seen how far CB and friends will contort themselves to form a rationale for supporting another reactionary coup in Latin America.

Whoever said that I supported a coup, Oyster? I specifically wrote, "The president's removal is another issue..."

"CB: Yeah, but in what possible world is a non-binding resolution asking whether the people would want to have an assembly remotely coup-worthy?"

In a world where a President defies the Supreme Court, orders military to defy Court, and starts doing those kind of things that look like he is trying to overthrow the constitutional order he is supposed to be part of.

CB: My bad. I didn't realize that " is another matter" meant " I oppose".

Now that we're clear that you oppose the coup, we look forward to your support of statements from our administration opposing the same.

In fairness, this is an arguable debate. It seems that the military did not seize power, but transferred it to a different civilian authority at their insistence.

Here's a good article on what's really happening.

http://www.progressiverealist.org/blogpost/honduras-clarifying-chain-command

Oyster Tea, thank you for article cite. I think he captures it very well. And his 2000 thought experiment is good.

CB: My bad. I didn't realize that " is another matter" meant " I oppose".

Oyster, it means I didn't offer an opinion on the coup. This isn't a binary world. At least, that's what liberals keep telling me.

But that said, if the congress bypassed established constitutional procedure for removing the president, then I have problems with what the congress did. It sounds like they should've started something via the Chamber of Deputies.

However, Zelaya was no better. He had the get the ballots from Chavez because it was illegal for Hondurans to print them out themselves. It seems to me that, with his firing of his JSOS and Defense Minister and defying his country's supreme court, Zelaya was trying to launch his own kind of coup. Those were serious measures that he took for simply a "non-binding resolution", which tells me that it wasn't as innocuous as Hil was trying to portray.

on Thursday, the president led a group of protesters to an air force installation and seized the ballots, which the prosecutor’s office and the electoral tribunal had ordered confiscated."

The military normally handles the ballots, which is why they were there. The general in question (who was subsequently fired) refused to allow the referendum to happen, which is why the above happened.

He had the get the ballots from Chavez because it was illegal for Hondurans to print them out themselves.

Told you! Chavez: ooga booga! It's illegal for Hondurans to print their own ballots? They have a constitution which is unamendable? Sounds like they *need* a con con.

with [Zelaya's] firing of his JSOS and Defense Minister and defying his country's supreme court, Zelaya was trying to launch his own kind of coup.

The president firing his own defense minister and JSOS is indicative of a coup??

Interesting how fastidious some on the right are or aren't about the Law depending on which outcome they prefer. The president wanting to have a referendum on the possibility of amending the constitution is a 'kind of' coup, comparable to...well, an actual coup?

I didn't offer an opinion on the coup.

So very coy.

if the congress bypassed established constitutional procedure for removing the president, then I have problems with what the congress did.

What do you mean 'if'?

Those were serious measures that he took for simply a "non-binding resolution", which tells me that it wasn't as innocuous as Hil was trying to portray.

Why don't you tell us what was serious about it? I'd suggest what was serious about it was that it might have passed. It obviously was serious to the military and gov. elite, since they involuntarily deported the president in his skivvies.

Seems to me amyone who believed in rule of law shouldn't find this puzzling. President was defying Supreme Court, and firing Generals who refused to obey Presidential order which tried to circumvent Supreme Court ruling.
I haven't really had the time yet to read up on all of this, but it sounds like the deposed President is a repeated lawbreaker determined to illegally arrogate power to himself and a thoroughgoing bad egg. Still, that doesn't mean the military gets to hustle him out of the country, or that they get to determine the succession - surely their constitution must have some provisions comparable to impeachment? After all, two wrongs don't make a right and all that ...

"It's illegal for Hondurans to print their own ballots?"

Ha ha. It's illegal for Hondurans to print ballots for illegal referendums. The Honduran constitution apparently sets out certain actions, such as attempting to circumvent term limits, as so wildly unconstitutional that everybody has a legal obligation to actively oppose them.

Perhaps understandable in a region where "one man, one vote, one time" is a real threat.

"Still, that doesn't mean the military gets to hustle him out of the country, or that they get to determine the succession - surely their constitution must have some provisions comparable to impeachment?"

I don't read spanish. I understand they don't have an impeachment provision; but they do have an article in the constitution that apparently says if you propose amendment to certain articles in the constitution, article 239 you are relieved of your office and ineligible to serve for 10 years.

sounds as if President disqualified himself; supreme court had ruled on illegality of President's action.

Ironic that so soon after recognizing that US government shouldn't interferre in domestic affairs of other countries that they can't keep their finger out of the pie in Honduras

"Ironic that so soon after recognizing that US government shouldn't interferre in domestic affairs of other countries that they can't keep their finger out of the pie in Honduras"

The U.S. is interfering in the domestic affairs of Honduras? By... making a statement? Engaging in diplomacy? Isn't there a line between improperly interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries (bribery, subordination of violation of laws, etc.), and normal diplomatic activity? If the Obama administration has been engaged in the latter, can you be a bit more specific as to how, please?

"If the Obama administration has been engaged in the latter"

Sorry; I meant "former," of course.

Oh, for pete's sake. The referendum would have been/is non-binding, for political purposes only.

What would be your favored method of reforming a constitution imposed by a military dictatorship 27 years ago on its way out of nominal power? Should the people of Honduras have any say at all? If it's such a scary and dictatorial proposal, you'd think it should be easy to defeat at the ballot box.

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, with extreme, semi-feudal disparities of wealth. It's been a military tool of the U.S. for decades and decades. The current oh-so-sacred constitution was designed with U.S. assistance, since it was intended to facilitate the Reagan-era U.S. military and paramilitary takeover of the country as one big base for the U.S. campaigns to overthrow the government of Nicaragua and crush the left-wing insurgency in El Salvador.

@Brett Bellmore: one man, one vote, one time. Right. God forbid you should let go of any stereotypes, given that the last successful coup in the region was sixteen years ago, and that there's exactly one dictator left.

"Isn't there a line between improperly interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries (bribery, subordination of violation of laws, etc.), and normal diplomatic activity?"

I think the logical categories are -normal diplomatic activity and interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries.

Some forms of interference are more egregious than others (Bay of Pigs, Allende, Mossadegh). But I don't think the Canadian government should ever interfere to influence an American election. Mutatis mutandis US picking sides.

Ok, I understand: You don't like the Honduran constitution. Heck, maybe it IS a lousy constitution.

But the difference between a coup and a non-coup is whether you observe the nicities, and it appears to have been the case that the nicities say he booted himself out of the Presidency the moment he tried this. And he had plenty of notice that what he was doing wasn't constitutional.

So it wasn't a 'coup', even if you don't like it.

Oh, and if the referenum had passed, you suppose he would have still claimed it wasn't binding? Yeah, right...

But I don't think the Canadian government should ever interfere to influence an American election.

You don't think the Canadian government would issue some sort of statement if the U.S. military deposited a pajama-wearing U.S. President in another country?

"You don't think the Canadian government would issue some sort of statement if the U.S. military deposited a pajama-wearing U.S. President in another country?"

On the bright side, Zelaya could begin blogging immediately.

I think the logical categories are -normal diplomatic activity and interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries.

What exactly has the United States done in this case that isn't normal diplomatic activity?

What exactly has the United States done in this case that isn't normal diplomatic activity?

Obama has announced that in his view the removal was not legal- this is an issue for the Honduras Supreme Court and legislature.
Has claimed that former President is still President.

Why don't you tell us what was serious about it?

So defying the supreme court, the attorney general, the electoral board and congress, together with firing his JSOS and defense minister wasn't serious? Whatever, butter.

What would be your favored method of reforming a constitution imposed by a military dictatorship 27 years ago on its way out of nominal power?

How about by not violating the constitution in order to "reform" it, Nell.

What would be your favored method of reforming a constitution imposed by a military dictatorship 27 years ago on its way out of nominal power?

I'd pray to St. Jude and hope for the best for the next three or four decades. That would work out, I'm sure. Perish the thought of trying something violent and disruptive like a referendum.

Snark aside, a constitution which claims to be unamendable by the People - from whom legitimate power is supposed to flow in any democracy worthy of that name - is not what I'd call 'legal' in a broader sense.

Brett: So it wasn't a 'coup', even if you don't like it.

I rarely let the U.S. State Department do my talking for me, but "senior administration official #1" puts it as well as I could hope to:

I would certainly characterize a situation where a president is forcibly detained by the armed forces and expelled from a country an attempt at a coup.

The Honduran Congress could have impeached the President, but chose not to. Like some other Congresses I can think of.

In our case, cowardly "representatives" apparently decided to let the lawbreaking and Constitutional violations stand, a loaded weapon that has already begun to be picked up and waved around by its successors. In the Honduran case, they decided to break the law themselves in order to demonstrate their deep commitment to the rule of law.

Neither approach gets especially impressive results. If you really care about the Constitution, you need to follow its processes in good faith.

A constitution which claims to be unamendable by the People - from whom legitimate power is supposed to flow in any democracy worthy of that name - is not what I'd call 'legal' in a broader sense." Posted by: jonnybutter

So since the US constitution cannot be amended by referendum means it is not "legal'?

"The Honduran Congress could have impeached the President, but chose not to."
Posted by: Nell

Presumption that US method must be the appropriate method.
I do not understand Spanish but I have read that the Honduran constitution does not have an impeachment process. I understand the constitution (see my post at 3:44) provides that proposing certain changes automatically vacates the office. Seems their Supreme Court ruled; President defied; military removed; legislature removed.

Who is Obama to say he understands Honduran legal system better than its Supreme Court and legislature?

Johnny Canuck: So since the US constitution cannot be amended by referendum means it is not "legal'?

1 - The Hondurans weren't proposing to amend by referendum. The referendum was a NON-BINDING straw poll to test public support for convening a constitutional assembly, something that would be done by act of the Congress. The straw poll was to create political pressure on the Congress to do so.

2 - jonnybutter didn't say "directly by the People".

3 - It is totally normal diplomatic activity to refuse to recognize a new leader put in place by removing the legitimate leader by force. It is the default position that duly elected leaders must be allowed to complete their terms unless removed by legal, peaceful means (impeachment, resignation in the face of complete collapse of popular support).

So since the US constitution cannot be amended by referendum means it is not "legal'?

how sad. I mean, for pity's sake, you quoted me not saying that!

Nell says it well.

"So since the US constitution cannot be amended by referendum means it is not "legal'?"

Bzzt: not what respondent said.

"I would certainly characterize a situation where a president is forcibly detained by the armed forces and expelled from a country an attempt at a coup."

Ah, so would I. The problem is,

"Article 239.- The citizen that has been the head of the Execute Branch cannot be President or Vice-President (again).
Whoever violates this law or proposes its reform, as well as those that support such violation directly or indirectly, will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years.
"

The moment he embarked on an effort to abolish the term limit for his own office, he ceased to BE President. No action required, the clause is self-executing. Ergo, removing him from the country might have been many things, but it was NOT a "coup", by the very definition you cited.

A private citizen got expelled from the country. That's not a coup.

Brett Bellmore,

Come back to us when you've read the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

No action required, the clause is self-executing.

And you know this how? You know for a fact that there is no due process in Honduras?

Come back to me when it over-rides state constitutions. And I know this 'cause that's what the freaking Honduran constitution says: "Immediately". And both the Honduran supreme court and Honduran legislature agree with me about that. When he started promoting changing this aspect of the Honduran constitution, he "immediately" ceased being president.

They actually cut him more slack than the constitution strictly gave him, by giving him a chance to back down.

And you don't think a supreme court ruling is enough "due process"? It's not like he didn't know what he was doing.

And you don't think a supreme court ruling is enough "due process"?

Not when someone is denied the right to defend himself in what is normally known as a trial.

You still have supplied no proof that the provision is self-executing. There are laws against murder and rape in Honduras as well, but those accused are tried.

This is a mess but the main culprit remains Zelaya, by breaking the law and pushing Honduras's very wak institutions to the breaking point

You want to sling terms like "coup" around, when the legislature and supreme court of the nation in question don't think it was a coup, I think the burden is on you.

Still waiting for proof that the provision is self-exeucting.

As for your recent comment, this argument is compelling.

If it were not a coup, Micheletti and the rest of the usurpers in his "government" wouldn't be arresting reporters (AP, TeleSur)and blocking international news channels (CNN, TeleSur).

They wouldn't be declaring indefinite martial law.

The governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua wouldn't be sealing the borders and shutting down trade for 48 hours.

The usurpers are isolated. As are those who pretend this was not a coup.

"Still waiting for proof that the provision is self-exeucting."

No, still ignoring it. What the hell do you think "immediately" means, in this context? "After other unspecified things happen."? That's not a constitution which was intended to leave much wiggle room for anybody who violated the provision in question. And I don't think you'd be claiming otherwise, if you didn't approve of his efforts to violate it.

For the record, I don't think the events were particularly savory, but they were unsavory on both sides, and I don't think you can execute a "coup" against a former president who has already, according to his country's constitution, forfeited his office, by deliberately violating a rather clear clause of it.

He was a private citizen when they hustled him out.

And I don't think you'd be claiming otherwise, if you didn't approve of his efforts to violate it.

Please show me where I said that. Here's what I actually said in the psot linked to by Hilzoy:

What I can gather about Zelaya is that he may very well have overreached and that he had made a lot of enemies.

I'm not the one willfully ignoring things here.

As for your claim that it's self-executing, are you saying that it is expressly stated that people are removed and have no right of defense and that they are subsequently put on a plane to Costa Rica?

It said immediately, which logically precludes any intervening actions. What's that "immediately" mean in YOUR reading, nothing? And, no, it didn't say anything about being expelled from the country, which was part of why I said that both sides had been less than savory in their actions.

All I'm saying is, it wasn't a 'coup', because he wasn't, legally, president after he took action in the furtherance of abolishing the term limit on his office. It's a pretty clear document on that score.

Just out of curiosity, do you speak Spanish, Brett?

I have not been able to find an English version of the Honduran constitution online.

It said immediately, which logically precludes any intervening actions.

It defies logic. Are we to believe that if you murder someone in Honduras, you get a trial, but not if you do what Zelaya is accused of? Speaking hypothetically, what if someone had done an incredibly convincing forgery of a document in his name on his letterhead? Are we to believe that he would just be s^$# out of luck?

Sorry, it flies in the face of logic.

And yes it was indeed a coup. I can't help but find the OAS, EU and the UN far more credible on the subject.

"Just out of curiosity, do you speak Spanish, Brett?"

My Spanish is a bit rusty, admittedly, but every translation I've seen of this clause agreed on this point. Do you have a link to any explaination as to why Zelaya wouldn't have forfieted his office as a result of his actions?

"Are we to believe that if you murder someone in Honduras, you get a trial, but not if you do what Zelaya is accused of?"

That would be the implication of "immediately", yes. A constitutional requirement for a trial would be preferable to what they actually HAVE in that constitution. But whether or not it was a "coup" is dependent on whether or not they followed the laws they actually have, rather than some ideal set of laws they didn't have in place.

However, he DID get a court hearing on whether what he was doing was constitutional, and it went against him. So it's not like he was blindsided. Basically everyone was telling him he was violating the constitution.

I suppose they're in for some unrest now; I hear Chavez is threatening to try to reinstall his buddy by force.


Actually, there is some debate to that as some make the case that the ballot measure was consultative, but that notwithstanding, your secondhand interpretation of the constitution certainly seems prone to abuse.

Once again, the other nations of the world have unanimously come out against this coup as has the World Bank. There appears also to be a face saving settlement in the works for both sides. Vamos a ver.

Reading that constitution, whether it was "consultive" or not seems irrelevant. I will agree that their constitution seems to invite abuse on this score. Given that the legislature told him it was unconstitutional, and passed a law forbiding him from doing it, given that the supreme court ruled it was unconstitutional, and given that he was firing members of the military that refused to execute what they viewed as an illegal order, I don't think it was abused in this case.

Checking back in:
1.I am amazed that other countries feel they have a right to involve themselves with Honduran domestic affairs. ( I am trying to imagine American response if other nations had denounced the 2000 US presidential election, specifically inidcating that they knew better than the US Supreme Court how to interpret the US constitution, and how to properly conduct a democratic election.

2 I was initially surprised that Obama weighed in, although i accept the argument that if he hadn't this would have been widely interpreted in Latin America that the US government had authorized the "coup".

3 Then there was jonnybutter's post:" A constitution which claims to be unamendable by the People - from whom legitimate power is supposed to flow in any democracy worthy of that name - is not what I'd call 'legal' in a broader sense." To get him to clarify I asked if "unamendable by the people" meant unamendable by referendum was not legal (eg like US Constitution). This offended several commenters. Not sure how they square referendum is not a necessary means of amendment "by the People" with insistence that Honduran supreme court must be undemocratic in preventing President from defying Supreme Court order and staging a referendum (i know it is just non-binding and meaningless but President had to do it)

4 I also find Jonnybutter's thesis bemusing since Canada's constitution lacked an amending formula from 1867 until 1982. Someday i'll have to research if any post World War II American government told us our failure to have a formula for amendment by the people made us undemocratic.


it looks like the operative rationalization is Chavez Fear.

This strikes me as the main motivation of many.

Indeed, I noted this today and the other day and there was a good statement about this over at Foreign Policy.

Steven Taylor, thank you for links to Foreign Policy. I have a rule that whenever I find myself on the side of Krauthammer, I need to not only reexamine my assumptions, but also consider reversing my position immediately.
Being a rule of law kind of guy I was offended by the former Honduran President's behaviour and thought it impertinent for Obama et al to be telling the Honduran Supreme Court how to interpret their constitution. I'm not keen on Presidents who turn themselves into dictators for life.

But if i have to choose would rather have OAS or UN interfering rather than Venezuela.

Given that the legislature told him it was unconstitutional, and passed a law forbiding him from doing it, given that the supreme court ruled it was unconstitutional, and given that he was firing members of the military that refused to execute what they viewed as an illegal order, I don't think it was abused in this case.

Since you're busy professing your expertise in the Honduran Constitution, perhaps you should share with us the terms of Articles 81 and 102. Then perhaps you explain how Micheletti and company are defending the terms of Honduras' Constitution by violating it.

Johnny Canuck,

The Canadian Constitution had an amending formula between 1931 and 1982. It just required a joint resolution of the Canadian House of Commons and Senate, followed by an Act of the UK Parliament. The latter part was embarrassing, but it was a rule of sorts.

On a less pedantic note, I still don't know much about Honduras and I tend to suspect few others here do either. If Obama should have shut up about Iran, it seems even clearer he should shut up about this. If anything, Hondurans have even more valid complaints about past American interference in their affairs.

Pithlord, that is not what I learned in school.Consent of the provinces was an issue during that period. Care to provide citation.

Randy, I'm not defending what happened there, I think nobody covered themselves in glory. I'm simply saying that I don't think that the word "coup" is strictly applicable, since by the terms of the Honduran constitution, Zelaya had already forfieted his office. It could only be a "coup" if he was still legally president.

It must be possible to remove even a pretender to the presidency in an wrongful manner, no? But it's not a "coup".

But, as long as you're raising specific issues, I may as well respond specifically, to demonstrate that what happened to Zelaya was not so clearly wrong as you imagine.

Article 81,

"Every person has the right to circulate freely, leave, enter, and remain in the national territory."

Article 102

"No Honduran can be expatriated or handed over by the authorities to a foreign state."

But, Article 42 says that citizenship can be lost if you " Incite, encourage or support the continuity or re-election of President of the Republic", which Zelaya clearly was doing. It does, of course, state that this requires a sentence from a court. (In stark contrast to the clause stripping you of office if for the same offense.) It might be worth inquiring as to whether or not this happened. I doubt it, but I haven't looked into the details of the supreme court ruling.

Sorry, but the rest of the world disagrees with you.

I believe I read earlier that the Honduran Supreme Court has no constitutional authority to order the military to do what they did to Zelaya, perhaps no authority to order the military to do anything whatever. Can anyone shed light on this? Thanks.

Somewhat less than "the rest of the world", I would think, since I've got the Honduran supreme court in my corner. But, yes, I will agree that the leaders of nations get a bit antsy about any precedent that allows for the removal of leaders of nations.

But, yes, I will agree that the leaders of nations get a bit antsy about any precedent that allows for the removal of leaders of nations.

Without due process, I might add and removed him from the nation in viola.

Micheletti, the civilian coup leader has issued a decree signed by Congress to suspend habeas corpus, right to protest, right to move within the country and the right to privacy of the home.

Sounds like Iran.

JC, I wrote up a big long comment on the existence of a legal but the lack of a political amending formula in Canada before 1982, but it got eaten by TypePad. Probably a good thing, because it was thread hijacking par excellence.

Sounds like they expect Chavez to make good on his threats, and are getting ready for it. But, to get tiresome on the subject, I didn't claim that the people who ousted him were particularly savory. I just dispute the application of the word, "coup" to this situation, since he'd already forfieted his office by virtue of his actions.

Randy Paul,

If it is like Iran, shouldn't the US stay silent about the domestic legitimacy aspects, as it did in Iran. Nothing wrong with criticizing suspension of habeas corpus, etc, but why can't Obama shut up about the Honduran constitution?

"JC, I wrote up a big long comment on the existence of a legal but the lack of a political amending formula in Canada before 1982,"

Pithlord, I remain skeptical- if there had been a "legal" formula there wouldn't have been the repeated negotiations to come up with a formula- I think there were about 4 efforts 1938, 1950, Fulton circa 1960, Favreau circa 1965; and there most definitely wouldn't have been dissenting opinions in the Supreme Court when Trudeau asked them to bless his new formula (they would have used your preexisting legal formula).
I think it would be more correct to say there were political mechanisms used to effect amendments, varying depending upon which jurisdictions had valid interests, but no legal formula apart from passage of an Act by the UK Parliament- in the same manner as UK passed any other ordinary piece of legislation requested by the colonies.

"why can't Obama shut up about the Honduran constitution?"

This was my original thought but now think that if Obama had said nothing about coup, assumption in Latin America would have been that US govt OK'd it. I think strategically it is important that Obama not be painted into that corner, and therefore necessary to speak out.
One clever person has suggested -viz a viz Iran that Obama should ignore them but start negotiating with Cuba. I think that is an intriguing idea, and one more likely to resonate in Latin America if Obama destroys the stereotype of US always supporting military dictators.

Sounds like they expect Chavez to make good on his threats, and are getting ready for it

Oh please. They're also shutting down the media, too. CNN's feed into Honduras for CNN Español is intermittent according to Marc lacey of the Times on the ground in Tegucigalpa.

Pithlord,

Partly what Johnny Canuck says and partly because of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Despite Brett's protestations to the contrary, it was a coup. Not everyone agrees that what Zelaya is exactly as Brett is portraying.

Moreover, the matter has not been adjudicated. As Brett did not respond to my earlier comment in which I said the following:

Speaking hypothetically, what if someone had done an incredibly convincing forgery of a document in his name on his letterhead? Are we to believe that he would just be s^$# out of luck?

Zelaya is quoted in today's Times as follows:

“If I do something illegal, take me to court and give me the right to a defense,” he said. “But do not use the army to kidnap the president and carry him violently out of the country.”

Despite Brett's baseless accusation, I'm not carrying water for Zelaya. Nevertheless, I don't find anything unreasonable in his comments above.

Apparently Brett, the Honduran Supreme Court, and Zelaya's enemies, foreign and domestic have no issues with this. The rest of the world does.

This will be resolved with a lot of face saving gestures: amnesty for the coup plotters, Zelaya serves out his terma dn keeps his mouth shut and elections get held in November on schedule.

Lacking Randy Paul's confidence, I'm not going to predict how this will be resolved. But, unfortunately, amnesty for coup plotters is a regular ingredient in restorations. Chavez didn't prosecute those who tried to overthrow him in 2002.

I also don't share Randy's apparent eagerness for Zelaya to 'keep his mouth shut'. Zelaya is the President of Honduras until his term ends, and has done nothing that should remove him from that country's political conversation.

His actions provoked the worst elements of the elite into badly overplaying their hand, which in turn has brought the Obama administration into a much closer working relationship with the other countries in the hemisphere than would have happened otherwise.

The struggle for much greater participatory democracy on the part of the majority of Honduran citizens, and the long effort to curb the power of the military and end their impunity, may end up being strengthened by these events.

Certainly, the speed with which the coup government moved to suspend basic liberties has shredded any pretense that this exercise was about protecting democracy. It was about keeping power out of the hands of the majority of the Honduran people.

I believe I read earlier that the Honduran Supreme Court has no constitutional authority to order the military to do what they did to Zelaya, perhaps no authority to order the military to do anything whatever. Can anyone shed light on this? Thanks.

I don't know the Honduran Constitution well enough to say for sure, but it's worth considering an analogy with our constitutional system. After the Supreme Court ruled on Brown vs. Board of Education, the schools still refused to allow black children to attend. So the Supreme Court issued orders to State Troopers to escourt the black students into the school. The US Supreme Court does not explicitly have that power under our constitution.

Now a reasonable case can be made that in a constitutional system of government, if other branches of government are ignoring a supreme court ruling, that court can approriate emergency executive powers, issuing orders to the police or military, in order to make sure its ruling is carried out.

Certainly in Brown versus Board it looks appropriate. I'm queasier about having the military depose a president, but if he was really in serious violation of the constitution, a case could be made that the Honduran Court needed to take similar sorts of emergency steps.

I should add that calling it a non-binding resolution doesn't show that it isn't a serious constitutional violation. If the president here were to propose a non-binding resolution that he be allowed to suspend habeas corpus, I can imagine that people would consider this a serious assault on the constitution.

I mean, imagine it, "This isn't binding. I'm just seeing if people would be okay with suspending it, just as theoretical question, you know."

After the Supreme Court ruled on Brown vs. Board of Education, the schools still refused to allow black children to attend. So the Supreme Court issued orders to State Troopers to escourt the black students into the school.

I'm not sure how that compares. What was Zelaya doing in his pajamas when they took him to Costa Rica? The referendum had already been stopped (as far as I know). It seems that something like serving him papers in the middle of the day compelling him to appear in court would have been more than sufficient. I don't see the need for "emergency steps."

This is all sort of outside the scope of my original question, and I don't want to seem ungrateful for your reply, so "thanks."

"I also don't share Randy's apparent eagerness for Zelaya to 'keep his mouth shut'."

I don't see anything Randy has written that expresses any such "eagerness," Nell. Could you please quote what it is that Randy said that you have in mind?

Randy's forecast here, "This will be resolved with a lot of face saving gestures: amnesty for the coup plotters, Zelaya serves out his terma dn keeps his mouth shut and elections get held in November on schedule," certainly strikes me as plausible according to the very limited amount of news I've been reading on this. But I'll repeat that I've read a very limited amount.

I trust you have in mind something else that Randy said, though, Nell, because in this quote there's absolutely no preference whatever expressed, let alone "eagerness" for anything. It's purely descriptive of a prediction. Which comment of Randy's do you have in mind?

Also, if you could point out the quote that you put in quotation marks, "keep his mouth shut," that'd also save me considerable confusion, because a "find" search shows absolutely no one in this thread making this statement that you put in quotation marks. Are you referring to some other thread or blog? I have to assume so, but which one?

"If the president here were to propose a non-binding resolution that he be allowed to suspend habeas corpus, I can imagine that people would consider this a serious assault on the constitution."

I think it's a lot more likely that everyone would scratch their heads, since there's no provision whatever in our system for national referenda, binding, non-binding, or made of jello. As an analogy, this makes no sense whatever.

Also, I don't know what the phrase "assault on the constitution" means. It's some kind of metaphor, obviously, since you're clearly not proposing a literal attack on the National Archives but what it's a metaphor for, I don't know.

Maybe you could try this again in some way that make sense?

Gary, the comment I was referring to is Randy's at 1:59pm:

This will be resolved with a lot of face saving gestures: amnesty for the coup plotters, Zelaya serves out his terma dn [sic] keeps his mouth shut and elections get held in November on schedule.

Maybe 'eagerness' is too strong, but following closely as it did Randy's emphasis on the point that he isn't carrying water for Zelaya, this sentence conveyed the sense that he thinks Zelaya ought to keep his mouth shut.

To me. If not to you, so be it.

"the referendum had already been stopped (as far as I know).'

From what I read this was not the case. the supreme court had issued its order that the referendum was unconstitutional; the President defied it by first ordering the army general to administer the referendum, then firing the general who refused to, then stealing the ballots so he could organize it with out the army. He was escorted out of the country early on the day the referendum was to take place.

I must admit I find this a tough one. I'm not impressed by referendum, especially when the interested party administers it himself.

Zelaya has already had his day in court. He lost and then thinks he can ignore the ocurt ruling.

Essentially what the referendum was to generate support for throwing out the current constitution by holding a constitutional convention to write a new one.

"Maybe 'eagerness' is too strong, but following closely as it did Randy's emphasis on the point that he isn't carrying water for Zelaya, this sentence conveyed the sense that he thinks Zelaya ought to keep his mouth shut. "

No, it didn't. Really, that sentence does not, in fact, convey such a sense. There are simply no words in that sentence that convey any such sense.

"If not to you, so be it."

No, actually, grammatically, and according to any meaning in standard English usage, it does not have any words in it that convey a preference. There just aren't any such words there in that quote. I respectfully suggest that you can check this with anyone who is competent and paid professionally to edit English if "this will be resolved" conveys a preference.

There are endless numbers of phrases in English which are unclear enough that reasonable people can differ in their interpretation of their meaning. This is not one of those cases.

We're talking about exactly four words: "this will be resolved...." None of those four words conveys a preference.

If I say "[such and such] will be resolved [by such and such], it does not convey a preference. Such a statement may be right or wrong as a prediction, but it's grammatically a prediction, not a preference.

I appreciate, with the greatest of respect, that you have strong feelings about these issues. But, respectfully, your assertion that "this will be resolved" conveys a preference is a clear misreading.

(And thus you're doing Randy an injustice by mischaracterizing his statement, and making claims about his feelings that aren't supportable by the words you've quoted. Which is why I'm, again, with the greatest of respect, and no desire whatever to give offense, responding to this. I'd respond identically to anyone who make such claims about what someone believes and says that aren't supported by the actual words used.)

Also, you didn't respond to my query as to where you got your quotation of "keep his mouth shut" from: could you respond to that, please? Thanks muchly.

(It's entirely understandable if perhaps in the heat of the moment you put something in between quotation marks that were never said; if that's the case, thanks for clearing that up, and no problem; we all get passionate and angry and a bit carried away at times; otherwise I'd just like to know if Randy actually wrote somewhere the words you put in between quotation marks and attributed to him.)

This is all sort of outside the scope of my original question, and I don't want to seem ungrateful for your reply, so "thanks."

Apologies then. I took you to be asking if the Honduran Supreme Court had the authority to order the President deposed. My answer was, I'm not sure, but it could reasonably be construed as temporarily seizing additional powers because other branches of government were refusing to exercise their powers in accordance with the law.

But if the question was, was this really necessary in this particular case, I have absolutely no idea.

I think it's a lot more likely that everyone would scratch their heads, since there's no provision whatever in our system for national referenda, binding, non-binding, or made of jello.

Wow. Way to address my point.

So I guess it just strains your powers of imagination to think of us having a nation-wide referendum on something, just once.

As an analogy, this makes no sense whatever.

Why not?

Also, I don't know what the phrase "assault on the constitution" means. It's some kind of metaphor, obviously, since you're clearly not proposing a literal attack on the National Archives but what it's a metaphor for, I don't know.

Or maybe I meant that it was an instance of literally punching the Constitution in its soft fleshy belly.

Or maybe you're being intentionally obtuse in order to score a cheap point.

Maybe you could try this again in some way that make sense?

Holding a referendum, even a non-binding one, about whether the president should be allowed to violate the constitution could reasonably be seen as laying the groundwork for a presidential seizure of additional, unconstitutional power. Acting as though such a referendum is simply a theoretical exercise because it's called non-binding seems naive. (It's also very weird to have a public vote on a non-binding referendum.)

How's that?

"So I guess it just strains your powers of imagination to think of us having a nation-wide referendum on something, just once."

Well, yeah. There's no provision in our Constitution for it. How could it possibly happen?

"Or maybe you're being intentionally obtuse in order to score a cheap point."

No. I'm rather literal minded at times, but what I meant by "I don't know what the phrase 'assault on the constitution' means" is that I don't know what the phrase means, and what I meant by "what it's a metaphor for, I don't know," is that I don't know what it's a metaphor for. I'm really quite straightforward about things.

"Holding a referendum, even a non-binding one, about whether the president should be allowed to violate the constitution could reasonably be seen as laying the groundwork for a presidential seizure of additional, unconstitutional power."

But that can't happen in America. That's why I'm not following how your analogy works.

I get that you're trying to make an analogy to America, but that one just doesn't work, at least for me, since it can't happen. You might just say "if the president here were ask Congress that he be allowed to suspend habeas corpus, I can imagine that people would consider this a serious assault on the constitution," although, of course, that analogy would be considerably weaker, since it would, in fact, be legal, even if certainly regardable as "a serious assault on the constitution."

But my point is that for analogies to make sense, the analogy has to be something that's possible. Otherwise it's logically no different than an analogy such as "if the president here were to propose that he grow two more noses." That's all I'm saying. I'm just saying that it's impossible to posit an American president proposing a national referenda as long as it's impossible for that to happen. So I'm saying to make an analogy, you have to make one to something that isn't impossible.

Alternatively, possibly you could say "imagine that we've changed the Constitution so we have national referenda, and then the president asked for one about whether the president should be allowed to violate the constitution and if that then could reasonably be seen as laying the groundwork for a presidential seizure of additional, unconstitutional power," except by that point who the heck knows what the reasonable answer might be, we're so far into an alternate world.

This sort of thing tends to demonstrate why arguments by analogy tend to be bad ideas. :-)

I think your discussion of this referenum misses a key issue, Gary: The Honduran constitution doesn't just make changing the clause in question illegal. It makes it illegal for any officeholder to even advocate changing it, and specifically says they forfiet their office "immediately" if they do so.

It's not at all like any situation which could come up in the US, we don't have any remotely comparable clause.

And I have to laugh at the suggestion that it's all a tempest in a tea pot, because it was 'non-binding'. Defying an order of the supreme court, AND a law passed by the legislature, firing a general, obtaining the ballots from a neighboring despot... That was some awfully high stakes poker to play over the functional equivalent of asking a polling firm to gage public opinion on a subject. Which he could have done, if he was genuinely curious.

Realistically, there wasn't a ghost of a chance that he was going to treat that referendum as non-binding if it passed, and there was plenty of reason to suspect it was going to pass no matter how the people had actually voted.

"I think your discussion of this referenum misses a key issue, Gary"

I think your responses misses a lot, Brett, like the fact that I've yet to write a single word about anything going on in Honduras.

I don't think I know remotely enough about the situation in Honduras to offer a single word of commentary about it, which is why I haven't offered a single word about it. All I know about the Honduran political situation is what I've read in a smattering of newspaper articles, and only an idiot would make assertions about a foreign political situation based on that level of knowledge. (I have some general knowledge of their political history, to be sure, but very little about the last decade; I know a lot more about Honduras from the Forties through the Eighties than about the last decade of politics there.)

The only things I've written about in this thread are the U.S. system of government, the nature of analogy, and the meaning of the words "this will be resolved"." About Honduras? I've said nothing.

Got it, Gary: Your comments in this thread concerning events in Honduras have nothing whatsoever to do with Honduras.

Brett,

Isn't it possible to participate in a discussion by commenting on the nature of other participants' statements without directly discussing the actual topic? If so, might that be what Gary was doing? (If this were my only comment on this thread, a thread about Honduras, would I have said anything about Honduras?)

Gary,

I don't get your argument about a national referendum in the US not being possible. Once you're in unconstitutional space, how does the constitution make things impossible? Or are you simply saying it would be hard to imagine how a president in the US would be able to execute a national referendum, given that it's unconstitutional and we have strong, usually lawful institutions?

"Your comments in this thread concerning events in Honduras "

I don't know what you're reading, Brett, but I haven't made any comments concerning events in Honduras; not in this thread, not anywhere.

The fact that I've commented in this thread doesn't mean I've said a word about Honduras. I don't know how many other ways I need to point this out.

If you can find somewhere I've said anything about Honduras, by all means, let me know. Otherwise I'm sure you must know more than I do about what I've written.

From what I read this was not the case. the supreme court had issued its order that the referendum was unconstitutional; the President defied it by first ordering the army general to administer the referendum, then firing the general who refused to, then stealing the ballots so he could organize it with out the army. He was escorted out of the country early on the day the referendum was to take place.

Thanks, JC. I wasn't entirely sure, thus my parenthetical. I hope this isn't seen as my moving the goal post, but how much of a threat to the national order in Honduras is Zelaya's having some ballots? Couldn't they have just taken the ballots or kept an eye out for any attempts at actually having a national referendum - something that would be pretty hard to do in secret? I still don't get it. Why Costa Rica in pajamas?

Gary, quite obviously I was quoting Randy, whose predictions included "Zelaya ... keeps his mouth shut".

It was technically incorrect of me to write 'keeping his mouth shut'. The correct thing would have been to write "keep[ing] his mouth shut" or (in my more usual practice) to cut and paste Randy's last paragraph in italics at the top of the comment, and dispense with quotes in my response.

I say "technically" because the rule of only putting between quotation marks the words people have actually written or said exists to guard against misquotation that seriously changes the meaning of what they said. I didn't address your criticism because a reasonable reader would be able to tell that I had not seriously changed the meaning of what Randy said within the quotation marks. After all, the sentence to which I was responding appears directly above my comment.

In your view I've misinterpreted Randy's comment overall; you read him as only making a prediction. Yes, that is the literal meaning of the sentence to which I was responding. The context of his whole comment, in which he is at pains to distance himself from Zelaya, makes it defensible to detect a sense of at least complacent approval if not enthusiasm for the prospect of the president shutting up for the rest of his term.

The context of Randy's whole history of writings on the politics of the region, and his commitment to procedural liberalism, also makes my reading plausible. I wouldn't bring that up in response to most other people in an instance of 'interpretations differ' like this, but you've read enough of Randy's contributions here on ObWi to make that relevant to my defense, even if you've never read his blog.

If I've mischaracterized Randy's thinking in a way that he finds objectionable or insulting, I'm confident that he'll tell me so here.

To everyone other than Gary Farber, I think he is having a bad day. My impression is that his contributions to dialogue are usually constructive.

His mind game of saying how he can't see how something could be analogous because "that can't happen in America" has been dealt with upthread. The referendum in America is an excellent analogy because in the minds of the Honduran supreme court and legislature a referendum initiated by the President and not the legislature is something "that can't happen in Honduras".

Since he has clairfied by saying "I don't think I know remotely enough about the situation in Honduras to offer a single word of commentary about it, which is why I haven't offered a single word about it."- best just to ignore him.

To Gary:
Not sure whether you are just having a bad day or what game you are playing. Original post including words "keep your mouth shut" Post #1; your querying it was said Post #2; Nell responding and identifying when said Post #3; you claiming that it hadn't been responded to Post #4

#1
This will be resolved with a lot of face saving gestures: amnesty for the coup plotters, Zelaya serves out his terma dn keeps his mouth shut and elections get held in November on schedule.

Posted by: Randy Paul | July 02, 2009 at 01:59 PM
#2
Also, if you could point out the quote that you put in quotation marks, "keep his mouth shut," that'd also save me considerable confusion, because a "find" search shows absolutely no one in this thread making this statement that you put in quotation marks. Are you referring to some other thread or blog? I have to assume so, but which one?

Posted by: Gary Farber | July 02, 2009 at 11:07 PM

#3
Gary, the comment I was referring to is Randy's at 1:59pm:

This will be resolved with a lot of face saving gestures: amnesty for the coup plotters, Zelaya serves out his terma dn [sic] keeps his mouth shut and elections get held in November on schedule.

Maybe 'eagerness' is too strong, but following closely as it did Randy's emphasis on the point that he isn't carrying water for Zelaya, this sentence conveyed the sense that he thinks Zelaya ought to keep his mouth shut.

To me. If not to you, so be it.

Posted by: Nell | July 03, 2009 at 12:04 AM

#4
Also, you didn't respond to my query as to where you got your quotation of "keep his mouth shut" from: could you respond to that, please? Thanks muchly.

(It's entirely understandable if perhaps in the heat of the moment you put something in between quotation marks that were never said; if that's the case, thanks for clearing that up, and no problem; we all get passionate and angry and a bit carried away at times; otherwise I'd just like to know if Randy actually wrote somewhere the words you put in between quotation marks and attributed to him.)

Posted by: Gary Farber | July 03, 2009 at 01:10 AM

"I still don't get it. Why Costa Rica in pajamas?"

Because it was a move to legitimize Zelaya's own impending coup, or so you could reasonably presume. He was going to hold the referenum come hell or high water. It was probably going to come out massively in favor of making him president for life, regardless of how the people voted. And then he'd have a pretext for overturning the constitutional term limit he didn't want to obey, and becoming the next Chavez franchise.

"The fact that I've commented in this thread doesn't mean I've said a word about Honduras. I don't know how many other ways I need to point this out."

Gary, this is, indeed, a thread concerning events in Honduras. That's the context anybody reading your comments is going to take them in, so if you say anything which could, reasonably, be considered as bearing on those events, it will be taken as bearing on those events, unless you make explicitly clear that they have nothing to do with Honduras.

You have now so made clear, and I will henceforth understand your comments to explicitly have nothing to do with Honduras, despite that being the subject of the thread. Ok?

Anyway, you can't analogize the events in Honduras to anything that might happen here, because the US constitution has no even remotely comparable clause; The nearest we've got is the unamendable equal representation of the states in the Senate, and that lacks any language prohibiting advocating changing it, or stripping office holders who do so of their positions. (And even citizenship after subsequent proceedings!)

It's a situation with no parallels in most countries.

"I don't get your argument about a national referendum in the US not being possible. Once you're in unconstitutional space, how does the constitution make things impossible?"

Because that would be begging the question. You can't assume your conclusion in order to prove your conclusion: that's a classic logical fallacy. Another way of stating DBake's proposition would be: if the U.S. were in a situation where unconstitutional things could happen, people could consider something else the president proposed as unconstitutional. The initial premise undercuts the possibility of the subsequent premise: if we're already hypothetically in a state where we have a different constitution, we can't then make the assumption that we have our current constitution, and proceed from there. We'd have already said we don't have our current constitutional situation. It doesn't matter what question we asked after that attempt at a premise, because the premise contradicts itself. It's inherently illogical.

To return to the substance of what's happening in Honduras:

Yesterday soldiers forcibly took from his office the elected mayor of San Pedro Sula, Honduras' second-largest city, and replaced him with William Hall Micheletti, the nephew of the pretender "President" Roberto Micheletti. The new "mayor" came in a distant third in the Liberal Party primary won by the actual mayor last fall.

There has been no communication with or about Mayor Rodolfo Padilla since. The U.S. ambassador, one of the few left in Tegucigalpa, should take an especially serious interest in his situation because Padilla has U.S. as well as Honduran citizenship.

If the simple, brutal reality of Sunday's military coup were not enough, this incident, together with the nighttime suspension of fundamental constitutional liberties, should provoke an immediate cutoff of U.S. aid to Honduras under the terms of the Foreign Assistance Act.

However, the national holiday and weekend may make it difficult to convey this reminder to the State Department just as it's most urgent to do so.

"I hope this isn't seen as my moving the goal post, but how much of a threat to the national order in Honduras is Zelaya's having some ballots?"

Take a look at Iran. When one side has the blank ballots there is at least the appearance of impropriety. That is why in really democratic countries running elections is conducted by non-partisans, and the partisans are allowed to have observers present at all stages of voting and counting.

Why ship to Costa Rica? I think it is thought more humane to exile leaders rather than putting them in jail. But next time maybe they'll follow the American precedent of targeted killing for disposing of unwanted leaders.

Honduras seems to be a divided society. The referendum was to be held within hours. I think I can understand why the Supreme Court and legislature and army would believe they waited until the last moment before their move to stop the overthrow of the current constitutiion.

This sort of thing tends to demonstrate why arguments by analogy tend to be bad ideas. :-)

Actually it just demonstrates that you dislike them. But whatever.

Also, you didn't address my restatement of the point.

The initial premise undercuts the possibility of the subsequent premise: if we're already hypothetically in a state where we have a different constitution, we can't then make the assumption that we have our current constitution, and proceed from there.

Actually you can. It's called counterfactual reasoning. You assume the minimum number of changes in the actual situation in order to make the assumed counterfactual consistent, then you reason from there. It only breaks down if the assumed counterfactual is so out there that the changes needed are so intense that we lose our grip on how to reason. You seem to be saying that a world in which the US Constitution allowed non-binding national referenda would be so weird that we have no idea what such a place would be like.

I'm afraid I find this baffling.

"Yesterday soldiers forcibly took from his office the elected mayor of San Pedro Sula, Honduras' second-largest city, and replaced him with William Hall Micheletti, the nephew of the pretender "President" Roberto Micheletti."

Yeah, I'd say that, while Zelaya's removal can't technically be regarded as a "coup", since he'd ceased to be the lawful president by his own actions, we're NOW into genuine coup territory.

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