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Honduras in Turmoil

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In today's Wall Street Journal,

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya's push to rewrite the constitution, and pave the way for his potential re-election, has plunged one of Latin America's poorest countries into a potentially violent political crisis.

A day after Mr. Zelaya fired the head of the country's armed forces, hundreds of troops on Thursday deployed around the Congress, presidential palace and airport in Tegucigalpa, the country's capital. It wasn't clear whether the troops were responding to orders from Mr. Zelaya, or Honduras' other civilian and military powers, all of which oppose the president.

Zelaya wants a referendum to be held this Sunday that would allow voters in the upcoming presidential elections in November to also vote on rewriting the constitution. Zelaya's term is scheduled to end in January.

Most recently, rewriting the Constitution is one of the trademarks of Chavista-style regimes like Ecuador and Bolivia, but the maneuver is not limited to them.

There is strong opposition to the referendum:
* When the armed forces refused to distribute the ballots, Zelaya fired the chief of the armed forces, Gen. Romeo Vásquez, and the defense minister, the head of the army and the air force resigned in protest.
* Yesterday the Supreme Court ordered by a 5-0 vote that Vásquez be reinstated.
* Honduras's Supreme Electoral Tribunal ordered authorities to pick up all the ballots and electoral material, which were held by the country's air force.
* The country's Attorney General requested yesterday that Congress oust Zelaya.
* The courts have declared the referendum unlawful. Last Tuesday the Congress passed a law preventing the holding of referendums or plebiscites 180 days before or after general elections. Congress has also named a commission to investigate Zelaya.

Zelaya insists on holding the referendum and refers to these actions as "a technical coup". UN General Assembly president Miguel D'Escoto - the same guy who declared Fidel Castro "the closest thing we have to a saint" - denounced Zelaya's opposition as staging a coup d'etat against Zelaya, a sentiment voiced also by Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega. Hugo Chavez declared that "we are not going to watch with our arms crossed the goings-on in Honduras," and insisted "we will do what we will have to do so the sovereignty of the Honduran people will be respected."

Now the Honduran Congress requested that the Organization of American States withdraw its election observers sent for the Sunday referendum, since their presence would legitimize a vote declared illegal by the Supreme Court.

All the same, Zelaya insists, "Sunday's referendum will not be stopped."