The United States may seem to find itself among strange bedfellows in calling for the reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya as president of Honduras, but it can hardly do other than denounce a coup d'etat against a still-legitimate leader. Zelaya appears to be a lame-duck leader, doomed by term-limits to leave office next year. A leftist after the manner of Hugo Chavez, he sought a referendum to do away with the term limit, but the military struck, claiming to act in defense of the nation's constitution, before the vote could take place. Chavez and his allies in the region have rallied around Zelaya, Chavez himself threatening to overthrow the new government. This report suggests that Zelaya has lost the support of most of his own population. If that were so, however, why did the military fear the referendum? If the military didn't back him, how could they fear an incipient dictatorship? Is the American media being sold a bill of goods?
From what I'm learning, Honduras has no mechanism for removing a president comparable to the American impeachment process. Instead, the country's Supreme Court claims that it ordered the army to remove Zelaya in order to prevent what it deemed an unconstitutional referendum. The military is involved in the election process in Honduras, and the top soldier there refused to have the army carry out the referendum, again on constitutional grounds. The constitution forbids changing the rules for presidential terms and elections by referendum. All well and good. So if the army doesn't cooperate the referendum doesn't happen and Zelaya remains a lame duck. This still begs the question of why he had to be removed. If the army didn't support him, then all he could do is appeal to the mob. But we're being told that the people had turned against him, and that only a few hundred people turned out in the capital today to protest the coup. Again, what was the risk in letting him stew until his term expired?
A lively discussion is going on at Wikipedia over whether what's happened should be called a "coup" or not, the issue being whether the Supreme Court has the authority it claims to order the president removed summarily or not. Meanwhile, here is a Honduran blogger who supports the action of the military and the Supreme Court, and here is one who criticizes the "golpe de estado." Reading these, I got some gossip that the military has claimed or will claim that it has evidence that Zelaya meant to "steal" the referendum, though the point of doing so is elusive if the relevant authorities regarded it as "non-binding." I can understand the notion that Zelaya needed to brought to account if he violated the constitution, but the Wikipedia debate shows that it's unclear, at least to English speakers, whether the constitution itself requires some kind of due process before the president is removed. The question remains: why was it absolutely imperative to depose the man immediately? It really does seem like we're getting one side of the story, at least from English-speaking Hondurans. The pro-coup blogger claims that there's no pro-Zelaya commentary to be found in English, which may tell us something about his base of support, but I've found at least one exception to that rule. We are sure to learn more in the coming hours and days, but whether that information clarifies or complicates the picture remains to be seen.