What follows in italics is a letter received by a friend of the Quixote Center from Senator John Cornyn of Texas in response to her letter advocating respect for human rights and constitutionality in Honduras. I have responded below to Senator Cornyn’s reply, paragraph by paragraph, in an attempt to expose the misinformation being touted by some members of the U.S. Congress. This document may be useful to U.S. Citizens hoping to engage their representatives on Honduras.
Thank you for contacting me regarding recent political events in Honduras. I appreciate having the benefit of your comments on this important matter.
As you know, on June 28, 2009, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was arrested by the Honduran military and exiled to Costa Rica. Honduras’ congress then removed Zelaya from power and subsequently selected Roberto Micheletti, the head of the congress, to fulfill the remainder of Zelaya’s term until national elections are held in November 2009.
On June 28, 2009, soldiers came to President Manuel Zelaya’s home before six a.m. and forcibly removed him in his pajamas. In Honduras, the military has no power to “arrest” citizens. If someone has committed a crime and the state has issued an arrest warrant for that person, it is the responsibility of the police to make the arrest.
At the time of his forced removal from Honduras, Zelaya had no charges pending against him. Had congress, or anyone, wanted to file charges, they could have followed the procedures outlined in the Honduran Penal Code regarding the prosecution of high officials of the state. None of these procedures call for the military to leave the official in question alone in his pajamas on a runway in Costa Rica.
Senator Cornyn helps to isolate the United States from the rest of the international community when he refuses to acknowledge that the events of June 28th constitute an illegal coup d’etat in Honduras.
These decisive actions came in the wake of months of political turmoil due to Zelaya’s defiance of Honduran political and legal institutions. Perhaps most notably, Zelaya attempted to hold a referendum with the goal of amending the Honduran constitution to extend the presidential term limit, thereby extending his own power. This action was in direct violation of the Honduran constitution, which forbids altering the current one presidential term limit and only empowers the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to organize referenda. Therefore, the Honduran Supreme Court issued a ruling declaring Zelaya’s proposal unconstitutional. Nevertheless, Zelaya defied the Supreme Court and scheduled the referendum for June 28—the day on which he was overthrown.
Zelaya never said that he wanted to extend presidential term limits – in fact, if he had been able to get congressional approval, the people would have voted to create a constitutional assembly in the same election in which they chose Zelaya’s successor. Constitutional reform has long been a goal of much of Honduran civil society. Grassroots leaders are clear that while they want Zelaya to return to the presidency so that constitutionality can be restored, what they really want is to proceed with a legal process of constitutional reform.
What Zelaya attempted to hold on June 28th was not a legal referendum, but a non-binding survey to ask the population of Honduras if they would favor or not the chance to elect a constitutional assembly. Zelaya had every right to hold this non-binding survey under a Citizen Participation Law passed in 2006 – making the Supreme Court’s Ruling arguably unconstitutional. Even if every single Honduran checked “yes” in the survey, Zelaya would have had to submit a formal proposal to congress. Congress could have then rejected it, legally blocking the creation of a constitutional assembly.
Senator Cornyn seems to have taken as fact what in reality has just been often repeated — that Zelaya was trying to extend his own power. Had the Senator investigated further what’s behind this issue of constitutional reform, he would have found a society desperate for it.
In 1982, the people of Honduras triumphed when the Honduran military was forced to relinquish control of the country after nearly two decades in power and a democracy was established. The Hondurans’ resilient determination to preserve their nation in the midst of trying political times—both then and now—is inspiring. Hondurans should not be expected to stand by and let a Hugo Chavez-style dictator take their hard-fought freedom from them, and the United States has a moral obligation to stand in support of their actions to preserve democracy, liberty, and order. Because the Honduran congress, the Honduran Supreme Court, and the Honduran military have all acted in accordance with the Honduran constitution to uphold the rule of law, I strongly support and commend their efforts.
Senator Cornyn is right – it was an achievement for the Honduran people when the military went back in the barracks, where it remained under Zelaya’s presidency. Under the coup regime, however, the military has been active on the streets, responsible for numerous human rights violations. The regime of coup president Roberto Micheletti has instated illegal curfews, has declared a suspension of all constitutional rights, and has declared peaceful assembly illegal. Under Micheletti, the military and police have beaten, detained, and assassinated members of the nonviolent resistance as well as unaffiliated citizens.
And Senator Cornyn is right – the United States has an obligation to stand in support of Hondurans’ efforts to preserve democracy, liberty, and order. But Senator Cornyn has misidentified who it is in Honduras that deserves international support. The majority of Honduran people disagree with the coup regime, and many are being severely punished for it. Hondurans resisting the coup regime seem to be the only ones in the country acting in accordance with the constitution, which states clearly that Hondurans owe no obedience to a usurping government. Senator Cornyn should “strongly support and commend” the efforts of the nonviolent resistance against the coup – Hondurans in the streets day after day to defend constitutional order, refusing to “stand by” and let a dictator – Micheletti – with military support “take their hard-fought freedom from them.”
I am very troubled by the Obama Administration’s calls for the reinstatement of Zelaya, as well as the Organization of American States’ and United Nations General Assembly’s resolutions condemning these recent events. I recently had the opportunity to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding this issue, and urged her to give equal time to both sides of the current conflict, ensure that the Honduran Constitution is not undermined, and that the health of the Honduran democracy and its rule of law are preserved. I have also met with several Honduran leaders, including two former presidents, six current members of the Honduran Congress who supported the deposition of Zelaya, and two individuals who helped to draft the 1982 Honduran Constitution. I am hopeful that Costa Rica’s upcoming mediation will be successful and that the health of Honduras’ democracy will be preserved.
Senator Cornyn has met with “several Honduran leaders,” all from the political/economic elite – not a very diverse pool of opinion, given that about twelve percent of the population controls about eighty-five percent of the country’s resources. What about the other eighty-eight percent? Did Senator Cornyn meet with laborers, teachers, lawyers, women’s organizations, or indigenous leadership? These groups – who represent the majority of Hondurans – have a vested interest in restoring the rule of law in Honduras, because when laws are arbitrarily implemented or upheld, they, the poor, find themselves on the losing end of it.
Giving “equal time” to “both sides” in this “conflict” is an approach that legitimizes the illegal power-grab that took place on June 28th. Military coups are always illegal and unconstitutional, and the only way to restore constitutionality in Honduras at this point is to restore the elected president to power. Negotiations only succeed in treating a usurping power as a legitimate governing body.
If he is truly concerned for democracy and rule of law in Honduras, Senator Cornyn should approve of President Obama’s calls for Zelaya’s reinstatement; in fact, he should urge the President, Secretary of State Clinton, and his fellow Senators to take a much stronger stand on unequivocally denouncing the human rights violations happening under the coup regime and demanding the immediate and unconditional return of elected president Manuel Zelaya to office.
The people in Honduras, Iran, and elsewhere who are currently fighting for the freedom should never be left to wonder which side America will choose. The Obama Administration must realize that despots such as Manuel Zelaya, Hugo Chavez, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be strongly renounced in favor and support of those who are fighting to obtain the same values, liberties, and privileges that we as Americans hold dear, and that our United States Armed Forces fight to defend.
Only the business elite are conflating the administration of Manuel Zelaya with that of Hugo Chavez – the majority of Hondurans remain unconcerned with Chavez, and are only struggling for their own self-determination. Zelaya did initiate Honduras’s participation in ALBA and Petro Caribe, economic alliances with Venezuela and other countries in the region, but he did so with the approval of the Honduran Congress. The same Congress under Micheletti has yet to revoke participation in these agreements. If we are to condemn Zelaya for joining ALBA and Petro Caribe, we would also have to condemn the Micheletti regime.
Better that we condemn the Micheletti regime for its blatant disregard for due process, constitutionality, or human rights. The coup regime has overseen dozens of politically motivated assassinations, hundreds of detentions and death threats, and thousands of human rights violations committed by the Honduran police and military forces. Are these the values that “we as Americans hold dear and that our United States Armed Forces fight to defend”?
I appreciate having the opportunity to represent the interests of Texans in the United States Senate. Thank you for taking the time to contact me.
Senator Cornyn, if you are interested in representing the interests of US citizens concerned for democracy and human rights in this hemisphere, you should urge the State Department to freeze the assets of the individuals in the coup regime, demand the unconditional return of Zelaya to office, and unequivocally denounce the human rights abuses committed under the coup regime.
What happens in Honduras is essential in “sending a message” to the entire hemisphere that military coups, dictatorships, and disregard for rule of law and unconstitutionality are unacceptable. We owe it to Honduran citizens to support their nonviolent movement for self-determination, and their defiance of brutal, illegal military rule.
United States Senator
517 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Tel: (202) 224-2934
Fax: (202) 228-2856