Following the removal of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from office, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quick to condemn the move, saying it could create a “terrible precedent.”
What terrible precedent did she think might be established? A Latin American country was actually following its constitution?
Despite what you may have heard from Secretary Clinton or read in the press, there was no coup d’etat in Honduras. Manuel Zelaya, a Hugo Chavez wannabe, was legally removed from office for violating his country’s constitution to extend his power.
Zelaya had proposed a national referendum to amend Honduran constitution to permit him to serve an unlimited number of terms – much as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez proposed in 2007. But unlike Venezuela, the chief executive in Honduras is constitutionally-barred from proposing such a referendum.
Zelaya was legally removed from office in a 15-0 decision by the Honduran Supreme Court for violating Article 239 of the Constitution which states: “No citizen that has already served as head of the Executive Branch can be President or Vice President. Whoever violates this law or proposes its reform…will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years.” Significantly, nine of the Supreme Court Justices are members of Zelaya’s party.
To the Court’s credit, its initial response to Zelaya’s referendum was very restrained. Rather than ordering his immediate removal from office, it ruled his referendum unconstitutional and ordered the military – which normally carries out balloting logistics – to refrain from distributing ballots.
But Zelaya decided to go ahead with it anyway. When his country’s top military leader, General Vasquez Velasquez, refused to violate the Court’s order, Zelaya fired him. When the Court ordered him reinstated, Zelaya refused.
Zelaya and a group of his supporters then broke into a military facility where the referendum ballots were stored, stole them and began distributing them in violation of the Court’s directive. The ballots, not surprisingly, were manufactured in Venezuela.
Zelaya shouldn’t have just been removed from office, he should have been imprisoned.