Church Leaders, Senators Oppose Forcing Honduras to Reinstate Ousted President and Would-Be Dictator

Honduran church leaders, and 17 U.S. Senators, are now opposing outside pressure on Honduras to reinstate the corrupt president that it ousted last Sunday for seeking to eliminate constitutional term limits and become a dictator. The Obama Administration has joined Cuban dictator Castro, the anti-American Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, and the Organization of American States in demanding that Honduras put ex-president Mel Zelaya back in power.

“Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, and a Cardinal, strongly warned against Zelaya’s return to Honduras, which could lead to a ‘blood bath.’ Rodriguez, in a televised speech on July 4, asked the Organization of American States (OAS), which has demanded Zelaya’s restoration, to examine the ‘illegal deeds’ under Zelaya’s regime:'” “‘The Honduras people are also asking why the warlike threats against our country have not been condemned,’ he continued, by implication referring to invasion threats by Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.”

Speaking on behalf of Honduras’s bishops, he criticized international sanctions and threatened trade blockades against Honduras: “‘We declare the right we have to define our own destiny without unilateral pressure of any sort, seeking solutions which promote the good of all,’ said Cardinal Rodriguez in his July 4 broadcast, reading from the bishops’ statement. ‘We reject threats of force or blockades of any sort which only make the poorest suffer.'”

“Implicitly defending Zelaya’s ouster by the Supreme Court and Congress, Cardinal Rodriguez said: ‘Each and every one of the documents which have come into our hands show that the institutions of the Honduran democratic state are valid and that what it has executed in juridical-legal matters has been rooted in law.’ Rodriguez noted that the Honduran constitution asserts that ‘whoever proposes’ to change the constitution’s prohibition against presidential reelection ‘immediately ceases to hold his post and remains disqualified for ten years for any public function.’ The Cardinal concluded: ‘Therefore, the person sought, when he was captured, no longer held the position of President of the Republic.’ The Supreme Court had authorized an arrest warrant for the President, he noted.” In short, the removal of Zelaya was valid under Article 239 of the Honduras Constitution, as the Honduran-American lawyer Miguel Estrada, the Honduran lawyer Octavio Sanchez, and a former assistant secretary of state, have noted.

Cardinal Rodriguez did, however, criticize the military for exiling Zelaya after removing him from office, taking him in his pajamas to the nearby country of Costa Rica, “when he observed that the constitution prohibits expatriation to a ‘foreign State,'” referring to Article 81 of the Honduran Constitution.

(The military’s role in removing Zelaya from office was valid under Article 272 of the Honduras Constitution. Moreover, it acted on orders of the Honduran Supreme Court, and the president was replaced by the Congressional speaker, Roberto Micheletti, who was duly selected by an almost unanimous vote of Honduras’s Congress. Given the country’s civilian leadership, the oft-repeated claim that Honduras had a “military coup” or is controlled by a “military junta” is simply false).

Obama and the State Department have argued that Zelaya’s removal from office was an “illegal” “coup,” but they have not explained how his removal could violate Honduran law if it was approved by the Honduran Supreme Court and carried out in accord with Articles 239 and 272 of the Constitution. That has puzzled many in the Senate.

On July 8, 17 senators sent Secretary of State Clinton a letter calling on the Administration to stop pressuring Honduras to accept the return of its would-be dictator, and asking the Administration to explain how it can possibly call the removal illegal when it was carried on orders of the Honduran courts and approved by the Honduran Congress. They noted that “the removal of Mr. Zelaya was legal and legitimate” pursuant to the Honduran Constitution’s “system of checks and balances.” Accusing the Administration of “disregarding Honduran law,” they argued that “U.S. assistance should not be interrupted to Honduras” based on the false assumption that it has experienced a military “coup d’etat.”

(To argue that Honduras acted illegally, the Obama Administration has made some pretty radical, and unfounded, legal claims, such as suggesting, contrary to the U.S. and Honduran Constitutions, that corrupt government officials can’t be removed from office without elaborate “judicial process,” and that there is a “universal principle” that allows elected presidents to stay in office, even, apparently, if they violate the law or constitutional checks and balances.).

The Episcopal Bishop of Honduras has also criticized ousted president Zelaya, noting that he had defied the Supreme Court and Congress when he “led a group of protesters to an air force installation and seized the ballot boxes, which the procurator’s office and the electoral tribunal had ordered confiscated.”

The democratically-elected president of Panama is now telling other American leaders not to meddle in Honduras’s affairs by forcing Zelaya’s return.