CRS Report: Honduran 'coup' appears legit

In response to the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, the U.S. State Department cut off foreign aid to Honduras and stopped approving visas for government officials. The U.S. is even threatening now to de-legitimize that nation's upcoming November elections, and has been treating the interim government of Roberto Micheletti as a rogue regime.

But State's is not the only opinion. By way of contrast, a new report (click here for the pdf) from the Congressional Research Service bears out what our editorial board has been pointing out for months now: The situation in Honduras should not be a cause for concern in Washington. It should a relief.

President Zelaya, who was attempting to subvert the constitutional order of Honduras by seeking re-election (considered a crime there) was removed from office by the order of civilian authorities, and the constitutional order of succession was honored afterward.

The legal arguments made in the report, which was prepared by Senior Foreign Law Specialist Norma Gutierrez, are quite intricate and based in Honduran law. But the bottom line is this:

  • The Honduran Congress appears to have acted properly in deposing President Manuel Zelaya. Unlike in the United States, the Honduran Congress has the last word when it comes to interpreting the Constitution. Although there is no provision in Honduras's Constitution for impeachment as such, the body does have powers to disapprove of the president's official acts, and to replace him in the event that he is incapable of performing his duties. Most importantly, the Congress also has the authority to interpret exactly what that means.
  • The Supreme Court was legally entitled to ask the military to arrest Zelaya. The high court, which is the constitutional venue for trials of the president and other high-ranking officials, also recognized the Congress's ouster of Zelaya when it referred his case back down to a lower court afterward, on the grounds that he was “no longer a high-ranking government official.”
  • The military did not act properly in forcibly expatriating Zelaya. According to the CRS report and other news stories, Honduran authorities are investigating their decision, which the military justified at the time as a means of preventing bloodshed. In fact, Zelaya should have been given a trial, and if convicted of seeking reelection, he would have lost his citizenship. But he is still a citizen now, and the Constitution forbids the expatriation of Honduran citizens by their government.
  • The proper line of succession was followed after Zelaya's ouster. Because there was no Vice President in office when Zelaya was removed (he had resigned to run for president), Micheletti was the proper successor, as he had been president of the Congress.

“The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service concluded the removal of former President Zelaya was Constitutional, and we must respect that,” Rep. Aaron Schock said today. “It's unconscionable the administration would attempt to force Honduras to violate its own Constitution by cutting of foreign aid.”

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