CRS: Zelaya arrest lawful

posted at 2:55 pm on September 25, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

The official position of the Obama administration casts the removal of Manuel Zelaya from office in Honduras as an illegal coup d’etat, and almost every other nation in the region has lined up with the US — or more accurately, we have lined up with them.  The Hugo Chavez protege has used this international support to demand a return to his office, and the US has ratcheted up the pressure by canceling visa services and suspending aid to the poor nation, which had been until now a fairly reliable friend in Latin America.  Even with Zelaya spewing paranoid rantings about Israeli mercenaries and mind rays, the Obama administration has not budged from its position.

But was Zelaya’s removal actually illegal?  The Congressional Research Service analyzed it, and concluded that Honduras’ parliament and Supreme Court, while lacking an impeachment mechanism in the country’s constitution, had the authority to issue an arrest warrant for Zelaya and remove him from office (via Fausta Wertz):

V. Was the removal of Honduran President Zelaya legal, in accordance with Honduran constitutional and statutory law?

Available sources indicate that the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system.

However, removal of President Zelaya from the country by the military is in direct violation of the Article 102 of the Constitution, and apparently this action is currently under investigation by the Honduran authorities.

The Hondurans made a blunder by exiling Zelaya.  Had they kept him in custody, very little of what followed would have occurred.  Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega would have screamed about it, but the US and most of the rest of the OAS — including Costa Rica, where Honduras dumped Zelaya — would have probably remained on the sidelines.  That action clearly violates both the Honduran constitution and the notion of due process.

Otherwise, though, the removal from office appears to be legal.  The Supreme Court heard evidence of lawbreaking by the president, and unless the US now subscribes to a principle of putting politicians above the law, the parliament and the court had not just the right but the responsibility to hold him accountable.  The succession of Roberto Micheletti was also constitutional after Zelaya’s removal.  The CRS notes that the Honduran court applied the statutes properly and followed the correct procedures:

IV. Did the Supreme Court follow up by holding a proper, constitutionally mandated trial of the President?

As stated in the answer to question II(a), above, the Supreme Court, based on its constitutional powers, heard the case against Zelaya and applied the appropriate procedure mandated by the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The Chief Prosecutor filed a complaint (requerimiento fiscal) against President Zelaya before the Supreme Court on June 26, 2009. The complaint: (1) accused the President of acting against the established form of government, treason against the country, abuse of authority, and usurpation of functions; (2) requested that the Court order the arrest of the President; (3) requested that the Court notify the President of the facts alleged against him; (4) requested that the President’s testimony be heard; and (5) requested that the President be suspended from office.

The Supreme Court, based on its constitutional45 and statutory46 powers, appointed one of its Justices to hear the process in the preparatory and intermediate stages. Following the procedure, the Justice admitted the complaint and issued an arrest and raid warrant.47 The process at the Supreme Court did not continue due to the events that occurred after Zelaya’s arrest.

The CRS analysis supports the position of the current Honduran government and undermines the argument of the Obama administration.

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why doesn’t Honduras invite him back, take him into custody, give him a trial, a blindfold, a ciggartette, and….

paulsur on September 25, 2009 at 8:24 PM

I can’t tell you how much this story is improved by the commercial of yellow teeth at its end…

elfman on September 25, 2009 at 9:08 PM

The new ads below the posts are tedious and annoying.

silverfox on September 25, 2009 at 10:37 PM

It certainly was a military coup that removed a lawfully elected President from his office.

There is more to this story than we know about and there are larger groups looking to obtain control of this vital central american country than we are aware of.

Hopefully Obama will do the right thing and restore him to his rightful position as the elected leader of his country.

But of course Obama will NOT do that.

He simply likes to TALK and PRETEND he is on the right side of an issue, but in reality in his ACTIONS he is always on the wrong side.

Obama is simply a Neocon puppet. The neocons that frequent this site should just love him and be thrilled about his presidency.

MaximusConfessor on September 25, 2009 at 10:51 PM

It certainly was a military coup that removed a lawfully elected President from his office.

When the military is acting on the order of the Court with the consent of the Legislature, it isn’t a military coup. When the Presidency is immediately assumed by the proper constitutional successor, it is not a military coup. The military simply did what it was told, and perhaps a little bit more, but at no time was the military running the country. Not a military coup.

Zelaya violated the Constitution in an attempted power grab and the rest of the government did its job and took him out. Honduras done good.

Pablo on September 25, 2009 at 11:10 PM

MaximusConfessor on September 25, 2009 at 10:51 PM

Obviously you are an expert on this subject who is privy to great information. Why don’t you enlighten us on all those undercurrents affecting this situation and tell us who these “larger” groups that are “looking” at controlling this vital country are. Of course, you should only reveal what you feel comfortable with but enough so that we can all partake of the knowledge.

elduende on September 25, 2009 at 11:42 PM


The Hondurans made a blunder by exiling Zelaya.

Yes and no. While it was in direct violation of section 102, the exile of tyrannical presidents is an old, old Latin American precedent, dating back at least to the overthrow of Flores in Ecuador in the (IIRC) 1830s. Given the weakness of institutions throughout much of the area, getting the former ruler out of the country was considered essential, and also nicer than shooting him. It’s the difference between the ideal of what we’d like to see (the rule of law) vs. practical reality (the stability of the country and the prevention of civil war). I’m not saying the Hondurans were absolutely correct when the exiled Zelaya, but their actions were in line with Latin American traditions.

That action clearly violates both the Honduran constitution and the notion of due process.

Unless I’m grossly mistaken, what we think of as “due process” is the norm for countries whose judicial systems derived from England. Honduras inherited its procedures from Spain. The norms of due process there may well be very different from ours, and I’d be very hesitant to make a blanket statement that they violated those norms. (It’s clear from the CRS report that they violated the Honduran constitution in exiling Zelaya, of course, but I consider that minor compared to the threat he posed.)

irishspy on September 26, 2009 at 2:40 AM

MaximusConfessor on September 25, 2009 at 10:51 PM

Never heard such absolute rubbish in all my life as that which you spouted.

Zelaya is no longer the lawful president of the Honduras by virtue of his attempt to change the Constitution of the Honduras to favour him… It is for this reason that he was removed from power.

As seen by the events that followed, the Zelaya lackeys are not even Hondurans. They come from Venezuela.

I shall never forget the behaviour of the CNN reporter and the open manner of partisanship with the communists that are backing Zelaya, and the fact that the reporter was willing to go as far as displaying fauxtography.

maggieo on September 26, 2009 at 6:15 AM

BO is showing his communist goals and unlawful tendencies by challenging Honduras. If Hillary were not a fascist herself, she would have resigned over BO’s terrible policies.

proconstitution on September 26, 2009 at 3:20 PM

As a large Nation that prides itself on it’s Constitution, it is amazing that we can still learn from a small Nation. Our Supreme Court an Congress should take notice of Honduras, they have shown that they take their Constitution seriously, and not simply pay lip-service to it. If they would simply take their oath seriously and have the stones to enforce our most basic of laws, we would not be where we are today.
The people are as much to blame, we allow these elected to run over us, for shame.

Another lesson to be learned from a small Nation was taught this past week buy the Israeli PM, learn anything Barrack? That was a show of strength and resolve, Bibi has a backbone, Barrack, not so much. He called out the UN for not doing anything it’s charter mandated, and for being weak. You Barrack did what the world is used to you doing, blaming us, and apologizing for our existence. You should not be the leader of anything, you simply don’t know how. You have been President for nine months, you are still campaigning, when will you govern?

I would love to trade two of our branches of government with Hondurans, and the third with Israel, these people get it.

M-14 2go on September 27, 2009 at 9:39 AM