Edward Schumacher-Matos has a fairly good piece on Honduras in tomorrow’s Washington Post. Even with its weaknesses (a few contradictions and one simple verbal misunderstanding), the article clarifies some important issues.
You wouldn’t necessarily know that, though, from the way it begins:
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are on the verge of achieving their own coup in Honduras and advancing American interests with a deftness not seen from Washington in many years.
This is pretty embarrassing, but Schumacher-Matos goes on to outline some potentially good outcomes from what the president (and secretary of state) have said and done. Still . . .
He goes on to make some very good points:
The bigger question will be: What have the rest of us learned? We have all been pushing Latin Americans to uphold the rule of law, but beyond simply insisting that Zelaya was elected, few in the OAS, the European Union or other critics have been willing to give much credence to Hondurans for trying to do just that.
This is very good and others have been saying this as well (most powerfully, Miguel Estrada, both a brilliant lawyer and a Honduran native).
This is also very good:
The Honduran Supreme Court, as it is empowered to do under the constitution, ordered the army to arrest Zelaya after he began to carry out a referendum for a constitutional convention that the court, Congress and his own attorney general said was illegal. Yet, many Latin American and European governments still call it a “military coup” or, as the Associated Press called it several days afterward, a “military power grab.” Clinton and Obama dropped calling it a coup.
In the next paragraph Schumacher-Matos brings out a point I’ve been screaming to my friends about, but which even Estrada missed:
There are gray areas having to do with presidential powers and the fact that the Honduran constitution prohibits extradition of citizens. The army exiled Zelaya in consultation with civilian leaders to avoid precisely the sort of violence seen when Zelaya tried to return. He forced the country and its institutions against the wall, and for that he should take his medicine.
This is a crucial point which the legacy media has totally missed. Zelaya’s attempt to return in some sort of triumphal procession set off the very violent mob action his exile was intended to prevent (or at least minimize). Keep in mind his earlier attempt to lead a mob in storming the place where the ballots were being stored.
What mars the paragraph, though, is a misunderstanding between extradition and exile. I don’t have any familiarity with the Honduran constitution beyond what Schumacher-Matos and others say about it (Estrada and Octavio Sánchez in particular), and therefore don’t know which word is used in the passage he cites. Whichever one it is, there is a functional difference between the two terms. If the ban refers to extradition (and not exile), then the only criticism Schumacher-Matos has of the army’s actions falls away. And, as we’ve seen, the justification for the action is extremely compelling.
The mystery in the paragraph is exactly what Schumacher-Matos means by “take his medicine.” How is Zelaya’s returning to the presidency taking his medicine? And what is to keep him from, once again, organizing mobs?
And what of this claim by Sánchez?
Our Constitution takes such intent seriously. According to Article 239: “No citizen who has already served as head of the Executive Branch can be President or Vice-President. Whoever violates this law or proposes its reform [emphasis added], as well as those that support such violation directly or indirectly, will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years.”
Notice that the article speaks about intent and that it also says “immediately” – as in “instant,” as in “no trial required,” as in “no impeachment needed.”
If Sánchez is right, that means that Honduras cannot restore Zelaya to office—even if it wants to—without violating its own constitution.
Schumacher-Matos has made a compelling case here for something I’ve believed for some time now: There was, indeed, a coup in Honduras, and the proper constitutionally-empowered authorities defeated it.
As for the first part of the piece, I don’t think Schumacher-Matos has identified “deftness” on the part of the president or his secretary of state so much as he’s found a kind of silver lining. The dark cloud is the rashness they showed when they condemned a sovereign country before becoming aware of the actual facts.