Coup d’état a thing of the past?

"OUT PINOCHELETTI" (a combination of Pinochet the dictator and Micheletti the interim president) Honduran military maintaining order while country awaits further developments

The elected president of Honduras was physically removed from office by the Honduran military and flown to Costa Rica on Sunday June 30. Apart from no foreign country (outside of Taiwan and Israel) recognising the new illegitimate government, the Organization of American States  (OAS) has demanded that Manuel Zelaya be reinstated or Honduras will be banned from the organization.

No where else have military dictatorships been more successful and more frequent than in Latin America. The latest and more infamous being the one of Chile’s Pinochet. Who made the news in 1998 when he was arrested in London for crimes against humanity. While Pinochet evaded trial for the killings, torture and disappearances of more than 3000 people, the arrest did send a chilling message to all former dictators that their days of immunity could be numbered.

Since that episode, the international community particularly in Latin America thought that the days of police states, military governments and nation-wide boot camps were over. As mentioned in my previous post, democracy was the model Latin America along with the Western countries aspired to uphold. Even Chavez’s Venezuela qualifies as a democracy.

Well Honduras was enjoying democracy since their military dictatorship which lasted from 1963-1981. In a close race, Manuel Zelaya won the 2005 election and until June 28, was the elected president of Honduras. Elections were to be held in November 2009.

What Occurred

Zelaya was about to embark on a referendum in the country which asked citizens to decide on whether a question relating to the constitution would be asked in Novermber’s voting ballot. Sounds complicated right? A better way of explaining it would be: Zelaya wanted to pop an additional question when voters turn out in November to decide on the new President. The question appearing in the ballot would ask if citizens agree to a creating a National Constitutional Assembly. In order to be allowed to include such an item on a voting ballot, Zelaya had to create a referendum and seek permission from the electors six months before the actual election.

This request undermines the current constitution as it proposes a possible change to it. Of course certain groups were gravely worried about the consequences of allowing voters more participation on decisions affecting the country. Perhaps this is a reason why so many in the congress opposed the intention. So much so that they have deemed this act of asking people for permission to include a question in a ballot box as anti-constitutional and therefore illegal.

Zelaya’s critics claim that the referendum was a disguised attempt at extending his presidency until the next election – which would not have been allowed under the current constitution.

A party colleague of Zelaya, Roberto Micheletti became president the day following the coup, being elected by the congress.

What Went Wrong

Unlike past military overthrows, the Zelaya opponents underestimated the impact of the ordeal and the reaction of the international community. While some commentators speculate that this has all the signs of a CIA-led operation, the US government has publicly condemned the recent actions and recognise no other government than Zelaya’s.

Micheletti, while not having many options is still defiant and swears that Zelaya’s term is over and threatens to have him arrested upon entering the country.

The OAS has already given Honduras a 72 hour ultimatum. Further action depends on what result is reached. Already, the US has withdrawn from military operations with Honduras and the World Bank has put loans to the country on hold until the situation stabilises. The US will decide on Monday on whether it will freeze aid to Honduras.

The Media

While following the events, I viewed what CNN español has said over the past few days. To my surprise their reporters are very critical and biased with Zelaya, challenging and arguing with him on live tv. I enjoy watching the news with the expectation of watching an unaltered and neutral coverage of the news.

The following days, CNN covered the pro-coup protestors implying that majority of the country is in favour of the recent changes. I think the only merit of CNN’s coverage is that they are showing perhaps the other side of opinions and offering a complete contrast to other media information from Honduras.

Let’s Wait

Curfews have been put in place until Friday, restricting movement/transit from 10pm to 5am. Other freedoms such as the right to associate and the ability to leave the country have also been suspended. The national media have faced some restrictions being given conditions on what to broadcast by the military.

While this situation is concerning and negatively affects the country in both diplomatic and financial ways, it is a challenge for this Latin American country. Are these countries able to continue a  parliamentary democracy without falling back on old dirty practices of the past? Can the people and outside entities be trusted to not intervene and overthrow democratically elected presidents as has happened too many times in the past?

My opinion on this is the same as the secretary of the OAS “we will not accept a return to the past in this continent” – Jose Miguel Insulza.


MSN Chile: International community mounts pressure on Honduras
Wikipedia: 2009 Honduran coup d’état