Wall Street Journal | Mary Anastasia O’Grady | June 29, 2009
Fidel Castro and Hillary Clinton object.
Hugo Chávez’s coalition-building efforts suffered a setback yesterday when the Honduran military sent its president packing for abusing the nation’s constitution.
It seems that President Mel Zelaya miscalculated when he tried to emulate the success of his good friend Hugo in reshaping the Honduran Constitution to his liking.
But Honduras is not out of the Venezuelan woods yet. Yesterday the Central American country was being pressured to restore the authoritarian Mr. Zelaya by the likes of Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Hillary Clinton and, of course, Hugo himself. The Organization of American States, having ignored Mr. Zelaya’s abuses, also wants him back in power. It will be a miracle if Honduran patriots can hold their ground.
That Mr. Zelaya acted as if he were above the law, there is no doubt. While Honduran law allows for a constitutional rewrite, the power to open that door does not lie with the president. A constituent assembly can only be called through a national referendum approved by its Congress.
But Mr. Zelaya declared the vote on his own and had Mr. Chávez ship him the necessary ballots from Venezuela. The Supreme Court ruled his referendum unconstitutional, and it instructed the military not to carry out the logistics of the vote as it normally would do.
The top military commander, Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, told the president that he would have to comply. Mr. Zelaya promptly fired him. The Supreme Court ordered him reinstated. Mr. Zelaya refused.
Calculating that some critical mass of Hondurans would take his side, the president decided he would run the referendum himself. So on Thursday he led a mob that broke into the military installation where the ballots from Venezuela were being stored and then had his supporters distribute them in defiance of the Supreme Court’s order.
The attorney general had already made clear that the referendum was illegal, and he further announced that he would prosecute anyone involved in carrying it out. Yesterday, Mr. Zelaya was arrested by the military and is now in exile in Costa Rica.
It remains to be seen what Mr. Zelaya’s next move will be. It’s not surprising that chavistas throughout the region are claiming that he was victim of a military coup. They want to hide the fact that the military was acting on a court order to defend the rule of law and the constitution, and that the Congress asserted itself for that purpose, too.
Mrs. Clinton has piled on as well. Yesterday she accused Honduras of violating “the precepts of the Interamerican Democratic Charter” and said it “should be condemned by all.” Fidel Castro did just that. Mr. Chávez pledged to overthrow the new government.
Honduras is fighting back by strictly following the constitution. The Honduran Congress met in emergency session yesterday and designated its president as the interim executive as stipulated in Honduran law. It also said that presidential elections set for November will go forward. The Supreme Court later said that the military acted on its orders. It also said that when Mr. Zelaya realized that he was going to be prosecuted for his illegal behavior, he agreed to an offer to resign in exchange for safe passage out of the country. Mr. Zelaya denies it.
Many Hondurans are going to be celebrating Mr. Zelaya’s foreign excursion. Street protests against his heavy-handed tactics had already begun last week. On Friday a large number of military reservists took their turn. “We won’t go backwards,” one sign said. “We want to live in peace, freedom and development.”
Besides opposition from the Congress, the Supreme Court, the electoral tribunal and the attorney general, the president had also become persona non grata with the Catholic Church and numerous evangelical church leaders. On Thursday evening his own party in Congress sponsored a resolution to investigate whether he is mentally unfit to remain in office.
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