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Casualties of the ‘Bloodless’ Coup (cont’d)

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‘Slaves to a piece of paper’

The coup-plotters in Honduras claim they acted to prevent Zelaya from extending his time in office and becoming a despot like Hugo Chavez. In his editorial for the Journal, DeMint also defended the legality of their actions, citing an August briefing from the Law Library of [U.S.] Congress.

In fact, the law library report (PDF file) makes clear that the Honduran military’s decision to exile Zelaya was “in direct violation of the Article 102 of [their] Constitution.”

DeMint also accuses Zelaya of defying the Honduran Supreme Court regarding the much-disputed constitutional referendum. But such accusations must be viewed in context. The Library of Congress brief says that when the Supreme Court first outlawed the referendum, Zelaya was willing to play along. He obliged the Court by suggesting a nonbinding poll so that, in the words of the report, “The Honduran people could express their opinion” on Constitutional reforms.

But the Supreme Court ruled even a simple poll to be inexplicably illegal. The judicial branch of the Honduran government was preventing a plebiscite, one of the basic tools of transparent, isocratic government.

The Court’s injunctions were increasingly repressive, obviously designed to thwart much-needed reforms. According to Oliva, Zelaya was simply answering public demand by agreeing to a referendum on the Constitution. “In the current system, everything is rigged for the interests of the wealthy,” Oliva said. “Zelaya wanted to give the people a voice.”

DeMint, echoing the junta itself, claims that the nonbinding poll on political reforms would have somehow allowed Zelaya to extend his time as president. In fact, the proposed ballot question made no mention of term limits, and Zelaya was not even running in the upcoming elections.

“They are usurpers,” Oliva said. “The only way they can hold onto power is by spreading lies and fear.”

Dr. Valerio Gutierrez, Secretary of State under current de facto leader Roberto Micheletti, said in a recent interview that Zelaya had tried to subvert the authority of Congress and the Supreme Court, thus legalizing his own deposition. Yet Gutierrez admitted that “many people in Honduras want to change the constitution” and that this could be a good idea “if the majority voted for it.” If such a vote is not allowed, said Gutierrez, the people would be little more than “slaves to a piece of paper.”

Constitutional contention

Near the close of his Wall Street Journal article, DeMint praises the Honduran Constitution, and likens its framers to our own Founding Fathers. But several legal experts I’ve spoken to in Tegucigalpa, including Honduran Congressman Marvin Ponce, admit that their national charter is deeply flawed, describing it as ‘draconian’ and ‘outdated.’

The Honduran Constitution was written in 1982 under the auspices of Policarpo Paz Garcia, the last military junta to rule this beautiful but impoverished country.

“It does not include rights for women, or for minorities, and it lends itself to exploitation by the elite sectors of society,” said Ponce, who recently had his arm broken in three places when soldiers attacked him during a peaceful demonstration.

But in his editorial for the Journal, DeMint insisted on the connection between America’s own patriotic heritage and the current peasant-killing, media-censoring de facto regime in Honduras. The Senator wrote that the Micheletti government had comported itself, “as our own Founding Fathers would have hoped.”

When I asked Oliva why she thought powerful U.S. politicians like DeMint were backing the coup in Honduras, she answered using the Spanish word “golpista.” Golpista translates literally as “putschist” – although today in Honduras, it has taken on a meaning closer to the English word “fascist.”

“There are golpistas everywhere in the world,” she said. “Not just in Honduras. It is a mindset. An ideology. Of course they would stick together.”

Jeremy Kryt is a Chicago-based journalist.

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