Monday, September 21, 2009

News and Human Rights 7: Honduras Constitutional Crisis

I'm not sure any editorializing is really necessary in this story, so all the moralizing and big picture messages I usually paste all over these articles will probably be absent from this one. This is all pretty cut and dry stuff, and mostly I think it's useful because I get to jump on my high horse and tell you that there are things going on in Honduras and that Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift is not what you should be paying attention to when you consider current events.
I think that maybe I should name my high horse. What do you think a good name would be for a horse that you use to jump on and get real preachy and bleeding heart liberal about everything? Maybe Kanye West.
Yeah, it's gonna be Kanye West.
Alright, so Honduras.
Not the most politically stable place, historically. That kind of goes without saying, since Central America in general has been pretty rocky since, like, 1500. Mostly this has to do with white people coming across the ocean (as do so very many of our world's current political problems) and within the last thirty years or so, America has done its fair share of damage down there, as was discussed in the Chomsky blog. If you didn't read the Chomsky blog, just suffice it to say that America looks out for America's interests, not for the interests of brown people in foreign countries. So if it's a choice between a democratic socialist government that's already in place and working perfectly fine or a military coup that will ensure staggering human rights violations and the destruction of democracy itself, America won't get caught up in moral baggage. It will choose the financially sound decision, and coups are good for business. At least that has been my impression of the region's history, correct me if I'm wrong.
I would like to stress at this point that the most recent political upheaval in Honduras was not US backed, thankfully. Obama commented that the coup was illegal and that it would set a dangerous precedent in the world if we were to revert back to a time when coups were the standard for political transformation. As usual I both agree and hope he means what he says.
Here's the story about the Honduran Constitutional Crisis of 2009:
Honduras, by nature, is slightly suspicious of dictators. They haven't had a real good relationship with them in the past and they just don't want anything to do with them anymore. For this reason the presidential term in Honduras, according to the constitution, is only one term and only four years. I'm not a political science major so I can't say with any knowledge whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. But that's the whole trick to government, everybody thinks everyone else is doing it wrong. Here's a good joke I know in that same vein:
Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.

Anyways, Manuel Zemalya is the current president of Honduras, and earlier this year he called for a preliminary poll to be held on June 28 to see if the people of Honduras would be interested in adding a fourth ballot to the general elections that are scheduled to be held in November. What he said, exactly, is this: "Are you in accord that in the general elections of November 2009 there be included a fourth ballot in which the people decide whether to convoke a National Constituent Assembly?" What he means by "National Constituent Assembly," is that there would be an opportunity to revise and rework the nation's constitution.
Remember what I said about Hondurans being suspicious of dictators? Well, this suspicion led many to believe that Zemalya was basically trying to sneak into the constitution before the end of his term and extend the length of his presidency. According to the German newspaper Die Welt, "Opponents of Zemalya believe he was pushing the limits of democracy with his drive to extend the single four-year term of presidents to allow re-election."
See, I wouldn't call that pushing the limits of democracy. First of all, Zemalya and many others have observed that it would be impossible for Zemalya to run for re-election because the re-election is to be held on the same day as the ballot for the Constituent Assembly. Any political effects that the constitutional revision would allow for would come into play after Zemalya was technically out of office.
What I do think is pushing the limits of democracy is for the military to organize a couple hundred soldiers, storm the presidential palace, put a gun to the head of a democratically elected president, and deport him to El Salvador simply because he suggested an opinion poll in order to find out who would like to take another look at the constitution. Either pushing the limits of democracy, or, as Obama put it, committing a crime. And that is exactly what happened in Honduras on June 28, the day the opinion poll was to be taken.

Since the military has seized control of Honduras, police and military brutality is unsurprisingly on the rise. Amnesty International has reported hundreds of instances of students and civilians being brutalized by the police, beaten with batons while in the midst of peaceful marches and protests. Women have been especially vulnerable to these attacks and women as old as 59 years old have been beaten with batons during peaceful resistance. Many have been detained but released without charges. Curfews and check points have also been put into affect and are largely arbitrary, it would seem. To me, these look like great way to control for the sake of control.
As I read about these things, I can't help imagine how badly it would suck to live in a place where one morning you might wake up and your entire life has been flipped upside down because of a military coup. I don't think any of us can really understand what that would be like.
"Shit, did you hear? This morning Obama got marched out of the White House with a gun to his head and they sent him to Canada. Now the military's in charge, there's check points all over the roads, and everybody who thinks that this isn't such a good idea is getting their asses handed to them with the business end of a baton."
Sounds like a science fiction movie, but it's reality for millions and millions of people all over the world.
Oops, there's that moralizing stuff again. Sorry about that.

As of today, Zemalya is claiming to be back in Honduras while the government and a UN spokeswoman assure the rest of the world that this is not the case. The US has a lot of stuff going on right now, it's true, but our government needs to put more pressure on the Honduran military to allow its rightfully elected president to return to office for the remainder of his term, and to let democracy continue from there on out. For now, the situations goes unresolved.

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