Monday, June 29, 2009

We're all Honduran Constiutional Scholars now


Obama didn’t want to insert the U.S. into an Iranian dispute. Iranians, he said, would decide their own future. Hondurans apparently are not accorded the same respect. Their sovereignty isn’t quite as important. Obama withheld judgment about the legality of what had happened in Iran. In Honduras, he just knows that what the military did was illegal, despite far stronger evidence that it was legal and a result of the proper functioning of their constitutional system.

Where is this "strong evidence" that what happened over the weekend in Honduras was "legal and a result of the proper functioning of their constitutional system"? Daniel Larison is a very intelligent man but I seriously doubt he has any expertise on Honduran democracy or the Honduran constitution. That's ok, we bloggers pontificate on subjects we have little expertise in everyday - it's part of the fun! But usually when one makes such a definitive statement about a complex issue there is evidence of some kind cited. Larison provides none, he simply states that it what occured was legal and proper and moves along to his next point.

Litbrit brings a little extra snark along while making essentially the same point,

Having only read portions of the Honduran constitution (and arrgh, if you think legalese in English makes for tricky reading...), I cannot say for certain that it does not have a special amendment tucked into it somewhere that legally authorizes the congress to order soldiers to invade the president's bedroom, kidnap him at gunpoint, fly him out of the country in darkness, falsify a letter of resignation from him and forge his signature on same, and install a brand-new president within hours. But I'm reasonably sure there are no provisions of that nature. If, however, there is such an article, subsection, or amendment that I may have missed, Estimados Lectores con abilidad de leer en Español e interpretar la ley Hondureña para nosotros Gringos, favor de avisarme.*

[*Dear Readers with the ability to read in Spanish and interpret Honduran law for us Gringos, please let me know.]

Now moving on to the core of Larison's argument,

After quite a few weeks of defending Obama against his more unreasonable detractors, it is refreshing to be able to criticize the administration for its incredible incompetence in responding to the “coup” in Honduras. What is so impressive about the bungling here is that it contradicts every argument the administration has made in support of restraint and caution when it comes to the Iranian protests.

I'm not entirely sure how one can compare the two situations in any meaningful way. In Iran a corrupt regime rigged an election to keep an authoritarian thug in power. His opponent, it should be noted, was only slightly less of an authoritarian. In Honduras we have a president who, it appears, was at least skirting legality. In response the military carried out an extralegal night time raid, kidnapped the president at gun point and deported him. I'm not really sure why Larison expects the President of the United States to remain silent about a military coup against a democratically (there's that word again!) elected world leader but apparently that's exactly what Larison expects,

One can only guess why the administration is getting this one so badly wrong, whether it is currying favor with other OAS member states or not wanting to appear as a supporter of a “coup” or just plain fumbling the issue, but it has dropped the ball on Honduras.

I'm also not entirely sure why Larison completely discounts the relative global strategic weight that Iran carries versus Honduras. Or for that matter the domestic political situation of Iran, ie that Obama weighing in on the election would have played directly into the hands of the regime.

Larison also spends some time discussing "the rule of law" and "legality,"

The President said that a “terrible precedent” would be set if Zelaya was not allowed to return to office. Yes, there would be a terrible precedent that Presidents cannot break the law and get away with it; there would be a terrible precedent that the rule of law prevailed...

Rule of law? You cannot cite the rule of law when you are supporting a military coup. That's ridiculous. If Zelaya broke the law then impeach him and have a trial. The supporters of the coup seem convinced that he broke the law, if it is that clear then a trial wouldn't be too high of a hurdle. Zelaya's alleged law breaking does not ipso facto suspend the constitution.

The rule of law most certainly didn't prevail here, quite the opposite actually Mr. Larison.

UPDATE: I see that earlier today Larison had linked to this article which purports to give some rationale for why the coup may actually be legal. It's an interesting piece which touches on the historical role of the military in Latin America as opposed to the United States. Like I said, it's an interesting read but the author is a Political Science doctoral student specializing on the American military. In other words he's not an international law scholar, a Latin American scholar or anything of the sort. The author also fails to point to any concrete evidence of his supposition that the coup was legal. It's mere speculation on his part, interesting speculation but speculation from a non-authoritarian voice nonetheless.

I'll keep waiting for actual evidence to emerge.


Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I've looked at it quite a bit, and I'm marginally inclined to believe that this was legal. The President was in the process of trying to hold an unconstitutional election to hold onto power, but the conduct of elections there is reserved to the military and the Hondorus Supreme Court had forbidden the election as illegal, an order which was being defied. The Attorney General of Hondorus was involved in the decision making and it may have been a criminal offense of violating the election code, rather than a constitutional or contempt of court offense. We don't use the military for law enforcement in the U.S., but many nations do, and the Honduran legislative branch appears to be in accord with the Honduran Supreme Court.

You are right, we are not Honduran Constitutional Scholars, but the case that this is a simple coup by a renegade military acting without civilian guidance is not at all clear.

Steve Balboni said...

Thanks Andrew.

I think that's really my point, its not at all clear what actually occurred and what the applicable portion of the constitution or Honduran law is.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Which suggests that Secretary Clinton, the President and others have been too hasty in offering their opinions condemning the events in Honduras.

Steve Balboni said...

That's a fair point.