Miguel Luna on Honduras, or When A Providence City Councilman is Saying Obey Executive Authority at Any Cost, You Know He’s Not Thinking Straight
As his term of office was coming to an end, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya decided he didn’t like the way the government of Honduras was structured. Unfortunately for President Zelaya, according to Article 373 of the existing Honduran Constitution, a 2/3 vote by the Congress and not a unilateral decision by this President, is needed to initiate Constitutional change. (“La reforma de esta Constitución podrá decretarse por el Congreso Nacional, en sesiones ordinarias, con dos tercios de votos de la totalidad de sus miembros.”)
And according to Article 375, the Constitution cannot be changed by means other than what it specifies. (“Esta Constitución no pierde su vigencia ni deja de cumplirse por acto de fuerza o cuando fuere supuestamente derogada o modificada por cualquier otro medio y procedimiento distintos del que ella mismo dispone.”)
Faced with these obstacles, Zelaya decided to begin a process of going outside the existing political structures to convene a “constituent assembly” to write a new Constitution. We know the process was outside of any existing legal authority, because Zelaya said so himself, in the March Presidential decree (PCM-005-2009) calling for a referendum on the subject of a constituent assembly…
CONSIDERING that the Constitution does not provide a procedure for convening a National Constituent Assembly, the executive in order to practice participatory democracy must appeal to the mechanism of popular consultation to determine if Honduran society demands a new constitution.Various organs of the Honduran government — most of them, actually — objected to the extra-legal attempt to re-write the Constitution. Testimony from former Honduran Supreme Court Judge Guillermo Perez-Cadalso before the U.S House of Representatives provides a short outline of how they expressed their objections.
(“CONSIDERANDO: Que la Constitución vigente no preve un procedimiento para convocar a una Asamblea Nacional Constituyente; por ello, el Poder Ejecutivo, como una forma de practicar la democracia participativa, apela al mecanismo de la consulta popular para determinar si la sociedad hondurena demanda una nueva Constitucion.”)
Paraphrasing Mr. Perez-Cadalso’s timeline: The current Honduran Attorney General, Luis Alberto Rubi, went to court to prevent the referendum that Zelaya was attempting to conduct, arguing that it violated the Constitution. Honduras’ Administrative Law Tribunal and an appellate tribunal agreed. Despite this, Zelaya continued to prepare to have the referendum carried out, ordering General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, the chief of the Honduran military, to help facilitate it (note: I believe that it is not unusual for the military to be involved in the Honduran election process.). General Vásquez Velásquez refused, believing the order to be an illegal one. Zelaya fired him; Attorney General Rubi went to Supreme Court to have him re-instated, which the Supreme Court ordered. At about the same time (late June) Zelaya rescinded the referendum decree – but then on the next day issued a new decree (PCM-020-2009) calling for the referendum to go ahead, then led a mob to an Air Force base to take possession of ballots that had been ordered impounded by the Courts, so he could carry out the referendum on his own, outside of the existing electoral mechanisms of the government. The Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for Zelaya, Congress voted (including every member of his own party) to remove him from power, and the military found Zelaya and forced him to leave the country.
Now enter — the Providence City Council?
Providence City Councilman Miguel Luna has introduced a resolution supporting Zelaya’s return to power, apparently believing that Executive Authority trumps all other authority in Honduras. (I wonder if he believes that principle should apply in his home city of Providence, too?)
Beyond the question of the Providence City Council taking positions on foreign affairs, the question to ask about the merits of the situation is this: If Governor Donald Carcieri decided that the best way to reform Rhode Island government was to call a “constituent assembly”, to replace the existing constitution with a new one, without the consent of the state legislature or the courts, without any constitutional authority, and planning to administer the election directly himself, would councilman Luna (or anyone else) consider that action legitimate? Or do Councilman Luna and his fellow travelers believe that some countries have a lower bar for what constitutes democracy and the rule of law – so long as they agree with the leftist ideology of their leaders?
Below the fold is an excerpt from Mary Anastasia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal, who has a few more details on Manuel Zelaya’s colorful leadership style over his past (and hopefully last) few months in office.
Two incidents earlier this year make the case. The first occurred in January when the country was preparing to name a new 15-seat Supreme Court, as it does every seven years. An independent board made up of members of civil society had nominated 45 candidates. From that list, Congress was to choose the new judges.
Mr. Zelaya had his own nominees in mind, including the wife of a minister, and their names were not on the list. So he set about to pressure the legislature. On the day of the vote he militarized the area around the Congress and press reports say a group of the president’s men, including the minister of defense, went to the Congress uninvited to turn up the heat. The head of the legislature had to call security to have the defense minister removed.
In the end Congress held its ground and Mr. Zelaya retreated. But the message had been sent: The president was willing to use force against other institutions.
In May there was an equally scary threat to peace issued by the Zelaya camp as the president illegally pushed for a plebiscite on rewriting the constitution. Since the executive branch is not permitted to call for such a vote, the attorney general had announced that he intended to enforce the law against Mr. Zelaya.
A week later some 100 agitators, wielding machetes, descended on the attorney general’s office. “We have come to defend this country’s second founding,” the group’s leader reportedly said. “If we are denied it, we will resort to national insurrection.”