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W.E. Gutman: Injustice under law and disorder

Posted: January 30, 2010 3:00 p.m.
Updated: January 31, 2010 4:55 a.m.
On June 28, 2009, as half the world awoke to a new round of fiscal woes, civil unrest and war, in another part of the globe, under the cover of darkness, a constitutionally elected leader was rudely stirred from bed and, still in his pajamas, abducted at gunpoint and flown out of the country.

The leader: President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras. The abductors: Masked soldiers acting under orders of General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez. The usurper of power: Right-wing Honduran Congress President Roberto Micheletti.

Everybody called it a coup, including the U.S. which, spurred by hasty but disingenuous scruples, later turned its back on Zelaya. Despite strong international pressure to return Zelaya to office for the remainder of his term (which should have ended on Jan. 27), Micheletti refused.

On Nov. 29, after months of political turmoil and less-than-transparent elections, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, the chameleon-like farmer/politician who attended Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow and has since bared his fondness of ultra-right-wing causes, was elected Zelaya's successor.

Predictably, the U.S., Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Peru certified the results. Nine Latin American nations and several European states rejected the legitimacy of Lobo's election on the grounds that he had been propped up by an illegitimate caretaker government that wrested power from Zelaya with military help.

Lobo was installed as president of Honduras on Jan. 27.

Myths and misinformation surrounding the crisis have since surfaced.
* Myth: This was not a coup; Zelaya was impeached by the Supreme Court.

Fact: Zelaya was overthrown by the military. Soldiers stormed into his bedroom, kidnapped him and dumped him on the tarmac in San José, Costa Rica.

* Myth: Zelaya was removed for illegally seeking to extend his term of office.

Fact: Zelaya proposed a non-binding, national referendum to gauge support for a re-draft of the constitution. Ineligible to run for a second term, Zelaya was not on the November ballot.

Gen. Romeo Vasquez, who refused to carry out Zelaya's orders to help oversee the plebiscite, was fired. The Supreme Court ruled that Vasquez's dismissal was illegal and most members of Congress ganged up on Zelaya.

* Myth: The plebiscite was a ruse to get Zelaya another term in office.

Fact: Even if voters supported constitutional changes, Zelaya was a lame-duck office-holder.

* Myth: Zelaya was out of touch with the Honduran people who were "happy" with the status quo.

Fact: Zelaya's call for constitutional amendments acknowledged that current statutes heavily favor the rich, especially landowners (such as Porfirio Lobo) while disfavoring the poor, especially the indigenous minorities and small farmers who make up the bulk of the population.

* Myth: The regime that overthrew Zelaya had popular support.

Fact: Coup supporters are overwhelmingly wealthy businessmen, ranchers and an urban middle class who have benefited from an economic system that favors the few rather than the many. Largely owned and controlled by the elite, the Honduran media have systematically skewed reality with lies.

Adding insult to injury, the coup regime has repeatedly suspended civil liberties and used violence to crack down on legitimate protests and demonstrations. Death squads trained by the infamous U.S. Army School of the Americas (as was Gen. Vasquez) were responsible for multiple deaths and disappearances.

Trade union leaders, heads of non-governmental organizations, indigenous leaders and opposition politicians were severely beaten. TV and radio stations were taken off the air. Journalists were assaulted.

Such brutal measures by a third-rate banana republic could not have been taken without the acquiescence of some mighty patron, presumably the U.S. In spite of his "electoral" victory, Lobo - whose security detail includes Mossad agents - lacks popular support and Zelaya backers have demanded that coup leaders be brought to justice.

Arrest warrants have since been issued for Honduras' top six military commanders, including Gen. Vasquez, for abuse of power.

In a supposed democracy, the military serve at the pleasure of the civilian government. It has no role in the executive branch other than to take orders. It cannot decide who should be in power.

Most Hondurans are disheartened. They know that Lobo, the "Wolfman" who once ran on the promise to reinstate the death penalty, will head a dictatorial, right-wing regime.

The tin-pot soldiers who engineered and carried out Zelaya's expulsion will be absolved of all charges because they will be judged by their own kind - Congress and the Supreme Court - the same institutions that conspired against the legitimately elected Zelaya.

They should instead be charged with treason, murder and gross human rights violations.

As the world watches the unfolding Punch and Judy show, the International Court in The Hague has not dropped the charges. Accustomed to injustice under law, Hondurans are not holding their breath.

W. E. Gutman is a veteran journalist. From 1991 to 2006 he covered politics, the military and human rights in Central America. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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