The mediation efforts of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias in the Honduran situation seem to be headed for failure. Elected, yet deposed, President Manuel Zelaya says he is the only legitimate head of state, as does the entire world. The coup president, Roberto Micheletti, says he is the constitutional president and the military coup was a normal succession to power.
But what does the Honduran Constitution say?
A country’s constitution is a political document meant to provide the basic laws. As a political document it reflects the needs of the ruling class and whatever freedoms the working class is able to wrest from them.
Honduras’ constitution is no different. It has startling contradictory parts.
The current constitution is the 16th since Honduras won its independence from Spain in 1821. The 1982 constitution was drafted by a Constituent Assembly while the country was under military rule. The assembly was almost evenly divided between delegates of the Liberal and National parties. A small social-democratic party, the Party of Innovation and Unity, held a handful of seats.
In 1979, after years of fighting the U.S.-supported Somoza dictatorship, the Sandinista National Liberation Front took power and formed a coalition government in neighboring Nicaragua.
When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, his administration started arming former members of Somoza’s army, the now infamous “Contras,” who attacked Nicaragua with impunity while being armed, trained and stationed in Honduras. The Contras were financed by an “off the books” operation of arm sales and drug-trafficking by Reagan administration officials in the National Security Agency.
The Honduran military government and the subsequent civilian Liberal Party administration of Roberto Suazo Córdova served as a client-state of the U.S. and supported the use of Honduran national territory for the Contra attacks against their neighbor to the south. It was in this context that the 1982 constitution was written.
The official reasons for getting rid of deposing Zelaya was that he “violated” Article 239 which prohibits even expressing any opinion in favor of changing presidential terms of office, or even supporting it “directly or indirectly.” Article 374 of the Constitution prohibits making changes to a number of articles including Article 239 on presidential reelection.
The constitution also prohibits any abridgement of the right of opinion, yet it does exactly that in treating as “treason” any opinion in favor of changing the inviolate articles.
Another contradiction is that Article 2 states “sovereignty comes from the people” but the same article equates change by the people to the inviolate articles as treason.
One can argue that Zelaya’s proposal for a vote on whether to convene a Constituent Assembly is within the rights stated in the constitution since Article 2 says, “The People’s sovereignty can also be exercised through a plebiscite or referendum.”
If the people had been allowed to vote and had decided in terms of a Constituent Assembly, it would’ve showed the contradictions in the constitution. If the political establishment blocked the means to elect the Constituent Assembly, they would’ve been seen as undemocratic and not bowing to the will of the people.
The coup d’etat was a clear violation of the constitution. Article 5 states, “Nobody needs to obey a government which usurps power nor assumes functions or public employment through the use of force… The laws made by such authorities being null, the people have the right to enter into an insurrection in defense of the constitutional order.”
Likewise, Zelaya’s detention and removal is explicitly prohibited by the Constitution which states, “Article 102 – No Honduran may be expatriated to nor surrendered to the authorities of a foreign State.”
The coup-president, Micheletti, had called for the exact same constitutional change in 1985. Micheletti, however, tried to do it by congressional fiat, that is, he tried to get the National Congress to declare itself a National Constituent Assembly.
Then, no one was thrown out of office and no one was exiled from the country. Then again, the change sought back then would’ve just continued the same president who did the bidding of U.S. imperialism and the local oligarchy.
Zelaya based the constitutional proposal on a bottom up approach with the people taking a protagonist role and by logical conclusion, a new path for the country, following the example of Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and others who have chosen a pro-people, socialist path of development.