Green Room

The Curious Case of Tegucigalpa’s Traveling Traitor

posted at 8:05 pm on July 15, 2009 by

I highly recommend the excellent Los Angeles Times commentary-analysis by filibustered D.C. Circus nominee Miguel Estrada; he makes an excellent legal (and moral) case that:

  1. The ouster of former Honduran President (and now accused traitor) Manuel Zelaya was perfectly legal (and a darned good idea), not only in accord with the Honduran constitution, but also at the express direction of the Supreme Court of Honduras;
  2. The arrest of Zelaya by the military was also properly carried out under both an arrest warrant and a search warrant issued by the Supreme Court;
  3. That the replacement of Zelaya with Roberto Micheletti (as acting president until the November elections) was also completely legitimate: Vice President Elvin Ernesto Santos Ordóñez had already resigned (to run next November for president); the newly-minted “Vice President Commissioner” (Arístides Mejía Carranza) — a position that had never before existed — was not in the line of succession; and that left Micheletti, as President of the National Congress, next at bat;
  4. And that this ouster satisfies no element of the basic definition of a “coup d’état.” It was in fact what we would call an impeachment and conviction under the rules established by the Honduran constitution.

On point 4, as Estrada — who himself immigrated here from Honduras at age seventeen — sums up:

As noted, Article 239 states clearly that one who behaves as Zelaya did in attempting to change presidential succession ceases immediately to be president. If there were any doubt on that score, the Congress removed it by convening immediately after Zelaya’s arrest, condemning his illegal conduct and overwhelmingly voting (122 to 6) to remove him from office. The Congress is led by Zelaya’s own Liberal Party (although it is true that Zelaya and his party have grown apart as he has moved left). Because Zelaya’s vice president had earlier quit to run in the November elections, the next person in the line of succession was Micheletti, the Liberal leader of Congress. He was named to complete the remaining months of Zelaya’s term.

It cannot be right to call this a “coup.” Micheletti was lawfully made president by the country’s elected Congress. The president is a civilian. The Honduran Congress and courts continue to function as before. The armed forces are under civilian control. The elections scheduled for November are still scheduled for November. Indeed, after reviewing the Constitution and consulting with the Supreme Court, the Congress and the electoral tribunal, respected Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga recently stated that the only possible conclusion is that Zelaya had lawfully been ousted under Article 239 before he was arrested, and that democracy in Honduras continues fully to operate in accordance with law. All Honduran bishops joined Rodriguez in this pronouncement.

But Estrada leaves us with one very curious mystery worthy of Perry Mason: Why was accused traitor Zelaya sent into immediate exile in Costa Rica instead of being prosecuted?

(In an amusing synchronicity, Sen. — yecch — Al Franken, D-MN, not yet rated — the Clown Prince of Recount Crime — quizzed self-described Perry Mason fan Judge Sonia Sotomayor, asking which one case did Perry lose? She could not answer… but astonishingly, neither could Franken! One would think, while preparing his climactic question, that he would have sense enough to find the answer himself, even if he had to restort to Google — as I did. The answer, discovered in about a second with one query, is “the Case of the Deadly Verdict,” season 7, episode 4, first aired October 17th, 1963. Oh, and in case your jaw is still hanging open, worry not… the case is reversed at the end when the real murder is caught.)

Before we get too deep into the Honduran jungle — excuse me, “rainforest” — our previous offering on the Zelaya impeachment was Piddling Away Greatness, also cross-posted here in Hot Air’s rogues’ gallery.

Here’s how Estrada describes the case (the Honduran case, I mean, not the Deadly Verdict):

It would seem from this that Zelaya’s arrest by the military was legal, and rather well justified to boot. But, unfortunately, the tale did not end there. Rather than taking Zelaya to jail and then to court to face charges, the military shipped him off to Costa Rica. No one has yet explained persuasively why summarily sending Zelaya into exile in this manner was legal, and it most likely wasn’t….

True, Zelaya should not have been arbitrarily exiled from his homeland. That, however, does not mean he must be reinstalled as president of Honduras. It merely makes him an indicted private citizen with a meritorious immigration beef against his country.

I believe I have found the key to the mystery (with apologies to nineteenth-century French occultist Éliphas Lévi, who of course wrote La Clef des Grands Mystères, the Key to the Mysteries — which has nothing whatsoever to do with this post.) My key to the present mystery is contained in the two sentences I highlighted in blue above: Micheletti (and a plurality of the National Congress) share membership in Zelaya’s Liberal Party.

And it’s a fairly thin plurality at that: 62 Liberal Party seats to 55 National Party seats (out of a total of 128 congressmen). This is almost an exact reversal from the previous election in 2001, when the Liberals had 55 seats to the National’s 61. And of course, the next election is just around the corner, less than 20 weeks away, on November 29th.

It seems to me a no-brainer that the removal of Zelaya from office, his replacement with another president (of the same party), and arrest, all for the crimes of treason and abuse of authority, stands a good chance of tainting his political party in the elections a few weeks hence, no matter what else may happen. Even though the party moved swiftly to remove Zelaya once he began angling to make himself “president for life,” like his buddy Oogo Chavez in Venezuela, the reality is that some percent of marginal Liberal voters will switch to the rival (and more conservative, and very much more pro-American) National Party.

A swing of just 3% – 4% from Liberal to National could easily mean a swing of four seats, giving the National Party a plurality of 59-58. A swing of six seats — which often happens when the previous election was close — would put them nearly back where they were in 2001, with the National Party up 61 to 56.

Even worse for the Liberals, in the last election, Zelaya only beat National Party nominee Porfirio Lobo Sosa by 49.9 to 46.2 (3.7%). Again, a tiny switch of less than 2% from Liberal to National would give Honduras a new presidential party.

At the moment, the National Party has a (very narrow) working majority, being allied with other parties; but the Liberals control the presidency. If, as I suspect, the Zelaya scandal throws a cocked hat into the electoral ring, the Liberals could find themselves in the position the American Democrats were in 2001 or the Republicans are today: Exiled from all banches of national government.

So how does this explain the mysterious exiling of Zelaya? Fairly well, I believe: The only chance the Liberals have is to bury the Zelaya scandal in a shallow grave; so the very last thing they would want is an actual court trial, for heaven’s sake.

With Zelaya in exile, and if Micheletti can possibly persuade him to shut his pie hole and stop making trouble, maybe things would quiet down, giving Liberals a chance to get beyond that whole “treason” flap. Perhaps the Liberals could even play off Micheletti’s few months of incumbency to persuade voters at least to let them retain the presidency, even if their functioning deficit in the National Congress gets worse. With divided government, there is always hope one can get one’s way at least some of the time.

So it again seems obvious which party benefits from hustling Zelaya off to neutral Costa Rica… at least until after the election.

But a vital question remains unanswered: Who actually ordered Zelaya sent away? The military arrested him under Supreme Court orders, but they would need separate, explicit orders to exile him. I can’t find a precise enough timetable to see whether the exile was ordered before or after Michelitti was declared acting president.

If after, then the exile was probably ordered by Michelitti himself, under his acting presidential authority. But if before, then it would have to have been ordered by the Congress, since nobody else is left: I can’t see the Supreme Court going to such great lengths to follow the law — and then issuing such a flagrantly illegal order. If Michelitti is the culprit, then all the legal blame for exile rests on the Liberal Party; but if it’s Congress, then the Nationalists must also share that blame.

It would be very illuminating to find out; alack, the elite media are too busy obsessing about the Honduran “coup d’état” of a “democratically elected president” to trouble to find out such basic facts as who actually ordered Zelaya’s exile.

But in either case, if Zelaya is actually brought back to Honduras before November, and his crimes fully aired just before the elections, that will almost certainly provoke a long string of pointed questions about the complicity of other members of the Liberal Party in those felonies — and their participation in and support for the machinations of Oogo Chavez and Los Bros Castro. Not to overlook the “secondary allies” of Zelaya, including Iran and their pet terrorist group, Hezbollah, who have been very active in Latin America in recent years (with Oogo’s aid, comfort, and complicity).

If all the poison that lurks in the Honduran mud hatches out, as Robert Graves might put it, then almost certainly, the Liberal Party, the “presidential party, will get re-tagged as the “treason party.” This could cause a much more significant vote shift, and might give the National Party not only the presidency but even an absolute majority in Congress.

Why didn’t Miguel Estrada mention this possibility? I’m sure he closely follows the politics of the country in which he was born and raised. I can only conclude that, in true judicially conservative fashion, he chose to decide the case on the narrowest possible grounds. And speculating as to why Zelaya was sent into exile was not essential to finding that the removal, replacement, and arrest (though not the exile) of Manuel Zelaya was entirely legal — which was the only case he was interested in making.

Cross-posted on Big Lizards

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This is a great posting Dafy and very well researched!

I wish people would get over the “exile” part of this story. Even Conservative bloggers here in the U.S. are all worried about it.

But … we should not project U.S. circumstances on Honduras. The U.S. has had a stable democracy for well over 200 years. Honduras has for??? Early 80’s I believe. Their democracy isn’t as stable. Where we may have arrested and tried say … Richard Nixon … the Hondurans may feel the fabric of their democracy couldn’t take it.

Now I think about it – I’m not sure even our democracy is that strong. Imagine what would happen if Obama tried to put Bush in jail for torturing terrorists. Do you think American’s would just sit back and allow it to happen? I don’t think so – I think we would have a real crisis on our hands.

So I trust the Hondurans that they did the right thing. The fact that Obama, Chavez, and Castro are whining to the high heavens about it pretty much confirms they did the right thing.

HondaV65 on July 15, 2009 at 9:53 PM


Fixed a “wordo” — word-sized equivalent of a typo — that had me quoting Peter Graves (“Good morning, Mr. Phelps”) instead of Robert Graves, author of I, Claudius and Claudius the God, along with many other works.

Hat tip to frequent Big Lizards commenter Geoman for pointing the mistake out, with perhaps a bit too much hilarity…


Dafydd ab Hugh on July 16, 2009 at 6:00 PM

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