Warning: Constant ABSPATH already defined in /home/public/wp-config.php on line 27
Rule Of Law — Why Now?
On-line Opinion Magazine…OK, it's a blog
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Rule Of Law

I prefer to look things up for myself to be sure that the people reporting aren’t spinning things. The situation in Honduras revolves around their constitution, so I decided to find out for myself who was telling the truth.

I located a synopsis in English, as my Spanish is not geared toward the legal language of a constitution and found most of my questions answered.

The current Honduran constitution is its sixteenth. They have had long periods where they were ruled by dictators, both military and civilian, and the current constitution, which took force January 20, 1982, reflects the desire to avoid any future dictators.

Created in an era of typewriters, copy machines, and high speed printing presses, it is much longer, and more detailed than the US Constitution.

Title IV addresses the constitutional review of laws by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of Honduras, like the Supreme Court of the US rules whether or not things are in accordance with their constitution.

The next point is one that bothered me because it is a difference between the US and Honduran systems:

Title V, Article 285 279 says the commander in chief of the armed forces is elected by Congress for a term of three five years. [correction from comments, note that he is removed by a two-thirds vote of Congress]

This is why Zelaya couldn’t remove him, the President doesn’t have the power to hire and fire the head of the military, that power is given to Congress. This makes sense in light of the concern about dictators, and also shows why the military would back Congress rather than the President.

Now we get to the meat of the controversy: amending the constitution.

Title VII says that the constitution may be amended by Congress after a two-thirds vote of all its members in two consecutive regular annual sessions. This looks simple and straight-forward. It has to be of all the members, not just members present, so you can’t just throw people in jail until you get what you want, and there is a year to cool off, so something isn’t done in haste.

So, what’s the catch? Why didn’t Zelaya move his bill through Congress? From the synopsis:

However, several constitutional provisions may not be amended. These consist of the amendment process itself, as well as provisions covering the form of government, national territory, and several articles covering the presidency, including term of office and prohibition from reelection.

There is no constitutional way for Zelaya to get what he wanted. He wasn’t talking about amending the constitution, he was talking about rewriting it, and he doesn’t even bother to make a case for what he wants to do.

Amazingly enough, as detailed as this constitution is, there doesn’t seem to be any formal procedure for removing anyone from office. A number of people have been looking, including people at the Wall Street Journal, but it doesn’t seem to be there. That may be the real reason for what happened, i.e. Congress and the Supreme Court were improvising.

I don’t know about the people in Honduras, but the expat communities in Miami and New Orleans seem to be happy that Zelaya was thrown out.


1 MeMiMoMum { 06.30.09 at 5:49 am }

Not sure that your synopsis is still valid.
Lists more recent changes
In particular, Article 280 now gives:

ARTICULO 280.- El Secretario(a) de Estado en el Despacho de Defensa Nacional, será nombrado o removido libremente por el presidente de la República; en igual forma lo será el Jefe del Estado Mayor Conjunto de las Fuerzas Armadas, quien será seleccionado por el Presidente de la República, entre los miembros que integran la Junta de Comandantes de las Fuerzas Armadas, de conformidad con lo que establece el Escalafón de Oficiales, prescrito en la Ley Constitutiva de las Fuerzas Armadas.
* Modificado por Decreto 163/1982 y ratificado por Decreto 10/1984.
* Modificado por Decreto 245/1998 y ratificado por Decreto 2/1999.

Which seems to say the Presidente can remove the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The original 1982 doc: http://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Honduras/hond82.html
has for #279:

ARTICULO 279.- El Jefe de las Fuerzas Armadas deberá ser un oficial General o Superior con el grado de Coronel de la Armas o su equivalente, en servicio activo, hondureño de nacimiento y será elegido por el Congreso Nacional de una terna propuesta por el Consejo Superior de las Fuerzas Armadas. Durará en sus funciones cinc años y sólo podrá ser removido de su cargo por el Congreso Nacional, cuando hubiere sido declarado con lugar a formación de causa por dos tercios de votos de sus miembros; y en los demás casos previstos por la ley Constitutiva de las fuerzas Armadas. No podrá ser elegido Jefe de las Fuerzas Armadas ningún pariente del Presidente de la República o de sus sustitutos legales, dentro del cuarto grado de consanguinidad o segundo de afinidad.

Which says that the term in 5 years, and can only be removed by Congress.

2 MeMiMoMum { 06.30.09 at 6:20 am }

You might also look at the 5th number in article 42, which believe it or not, suggests loss of citizenship “for inciting, promoting, or abetting the continuation or re-election of the President of the Republic”…

ARTICULO 42.- La calidad de ciudadano se pierde:
5. Por incitar, promover o apoyar el continuismo o la reelección del Presidente de la República;

3 Bryan { 06.30.09 at 4:29 pm }

Actually, MeMiMoMum those are different positions in the Honduran military. The Defense Minister and the chiefs of staff all resigned, but the commander-in-chief is above them and is hired and fired by Congress.

I would note that his, the commander-in-chief’s, reaction to the President firing him was to file a lawsuit, not to ring the presidential palace with tanks, and the service heads resigned when ordered to. Not much of a military coup.

Article 42-5 is probably what they will arrest Zelaya for if he returns.

When all you’ve ever done in Spanish is take trips to Baja California to fix your nephew’s vehicles, reading someone else’s constitution is a bit daunting.

4 Badtux { 06.30.09 at 6:12 pm }

Well, looks like I was right about the “coup” in Honduras actually being a case of a President blatantly violating the Constitution and getting kicked out. Not one, but TWO articles of the Honduran Constitution got violated. Wow.
.-= ´s last blog ..Faggot-knockin’ is the new nigger-knockin’ =-.

5 Bryan { 06.30.09 at 7:22 pm }

Doesn’t even take into account his pronouncement that he had the right to tap everyone’s telephones, and to require all radio and television stations to carry two hours of his rants every day.

He stopped sending budgets to the congress and just spent money however he felt like, including the money he got from Chavez without even a note to the congress telling them what he was up to.

This constitution was passed at the end of the last military dictatorship, and it really demonstrates the national paranoia about anyone being president for more than 4 years.

6 Bryan { 06.30.09 at 10:23 pm }

MeMiMoMum, El Jefe de las Fuerzas Armadas is the “commander-in-chief” while El Jefe del Estado Mayor General de las Fuerzas Armadas is the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. If the commander-in-chief’s position is open for any reason, the chairman of the joint chiefs fills in. Only the commander-in-chief is appointed by congress.