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Hypocrisy, Paternalism, and Ignorance on Honduras

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When I agreed to debate Professor Grandin on Democracy Now, I was hoping for a fact-based dialogue that would shed light on the origins of the current crisis in Honduras and suggest possible resolutions to that crisis. Instead, I was shocked to hear Professor Grandin repeatedly misstate facts in an apparent attempt to advance an ideological agenda. He has done so again on this website.

Needless to say, I disagree with much of Professor Grandin's characterization of my statements, but going through them is clearly a waste of time - Professor Grandin does not want to listen, but only to rant. I will, however, correct a few significant factual errors in Professor Grandin's screed. For example, Professor Grandin asserted, without evidence or qualification, that "Zelaya was overthrown because the business community didn't like that he increased the minimum wage." In fact, Mr. Zelaya announced a 60% increase in the minimum wage on December 23, 2008, six months before he was removed from office. The increased minimum wage is still in effect under the new government. Either the "business community" removed Mr. Zelaya six months after the fact and then forgot why they removed him or Professor Grandin is content to impute to others motives that support his preconceived version of events while ignoring or distorting the facts that contradict his beliefs.

Professor Grandin makes a far more pernicious error in claiming that the Honduran judiciary falsified legal opinions after Mr. Zelaya's removal in an attempt to fraudulently portray Mr. Zelaya as a lawbreaker. According to Professor Grandin, "[t]he legal reasoning . . . is all done retroactively in order to justify a military intervention into civilian politics. . . . Zelaya was never presented with an arrest warrant, nor did the military ever mention acting in response to a warrant. All of this was done retroactively in order to justify the military intervention."

Professor Grandin goes so far as to implicate the Honduran Supreme Court in this conspiracy, claiming that the unanimous 15-0 vote by the Supreme Court, including 8 members of Mr. Zelaya's own party, to order the military to arrest Mr. Zelaya "was done retroactively." In fact, on June 26, two days before Mr. Zelaya was arrested, the Supreme Court issued a warrant ordering the military to arrest Mr. Zelaya for crimes against the form of government, treason, abuse of authority, and usurpation of power. A copy of the order, along with some additional legal documents I reference below, can be seen here (the arrest warrant is on page 51).

Claiming that this document is a retroactive fraud removes the debate on Honduras from the realm of fact and places it in the same hysterical fringe occupied by the anti-Obama "birthers." Worse, disparaging the Honduran Supreme Court with the libelous claim that it corruptly conspired to provide ex post facto justification for the removal of Mr. Zelaya undermines an institution whose health and independence are necessary to a stable democracy. As U.S. history has repeatedly demonstrated, the checks and balances that the judiciary provides against the Executive and Legislative branches are essential to the protection of the Constitution.

Professor Grandin also conveniently ignores the fact that the Supreme Court's arrest warrant was the culmination of months of due process and multiple legal opinions and court rulings. As former Supreme Court Justice Guillermo Perez-Cadalso explained in testimony before the U.S. House Committee on International Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere:

• On May 11, the Honduran Attorney General issued a press release stating that Mr. Zelaya's attempt to hold a referendum in support of a new Constitution was illegal.

• On May 27, the Honduran Administrative Law Tribunal ruled that the referendum violated the Constitution and ordered suspension of all acts in support of the referendum.

• One May 29, the Honduran Administrative Law Tribunal clarified its May 27 ruling, explaining that any acts that would lead to any vote or poll similar to the referendum would violate the Constitution. The Tribunal then specifically ordered Mr. Zelaya to abide by its ruling.

• On June 25, the Honduran Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Mr. Zelaya violated the law when he fired the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for refusing to provide logistical support for the illegal referendum. The Chairman had cited to the multiple court decisions ruling the referendum illegal and told Mr. Zelaya that he would not order the military to violate the court orders.

• On June 9, the Appellate Court of the Administrative Law Tribunal ruled that Mr. Zelaya's actions violated the Constitution.

• On June 25, the Honduran Supreme Electoral Tribunal declared that the referendum violated the Constitution and ordered that the ballots and polling materials for the referendum be confiscated and held on an air force base. Mr. Zelaya later lead a large group of supporters who forced their way into the base to seize the ballots.

• On June 25, the Honduran Attorney General filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Zelaya for crimes against the form of government, treason, abuse of authority and usurpation of power with the Honduran Supreme Court.

Also omitted from Professor Grandin's accusations against the judiciary is the fact that, under Articles 272 and 306 of the Honduran Constitution, the military is tasked with ensuring the "alternation in the exercise of the Presidency of the Republic," and the Supreme Court is authorized to "require the help of the security forces to enforce their resolutions." I am not a scholar of Honduran Constitutional law and do not know if these Articles support the manner in which Mr. Zelaya was arrested. And, as members of the military and the Micheletti government have acknowledged, the decision to remove Mr. Zelaya from the country could have been handled differently. However, I, unlike others, have no intention of paternalistically or ignorantly second-guessing the rulings of Honduran courts on questions of Honduran law.

To support his invective against the Honduran judiciary, Professor Grandin cites to a 2008 State Department report that notes that "[t]he media and various civil society groups continued to express concern that the eight-to-seven split between the National and liberal parties in the Supreme Court of Justice resulted in politicized rulings and contributed to corruption in public and private institutions." A politicized judiciary is indeed a legitimate threat to democracy, but Professor Grandin appears to forget that the arrest warrant against Mr. Zelaya was issued by a unanimous Supreme Court, with all eight of the Liberal justices who are members of Mr. Zelaya's party voting in favor of the arrest. I also wonder how Professor Grandin would compare this unanimous bi-partisan ruling to the 5-4 party-line vote that the U.S. Supreme Court cast in the 2000 election.

Perhaps the most telling fact about Professor Grandin's style of argument is that he cites the 2008 State Department report on the judiciary while ignoring what the report had to say about the Zelaya government. This is particularly puzzling in light of the fact that Professor Grandin is sharply critical of alleged, but unsubstantiated, human rights violations under the new government. According to the report, Mr. Zelaya's presidency saw "unlawful killings by members of the police and government agents; arbitrary and summary killings committed by vigilantes, street gangs, and former members of the security forces; beatings and other abuse of detainees by security forces; harsh prison conditions; failure to provide due process of law; lengthy pretrial detention; politicization of the judiciary, as well as judicial corruption and institutional weakness; erosion of press freedom; government restrictions on recognition of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); violence and discrimination against women; child prostitution and abuse; trafficking in persons; discrimination against indigenous communities; violence and discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation; ineffective enforcement of labor laws; and child labor."

I am glad Professor Grandin took the time to follow up on our debate. His article helped me fully understand, for the first time, the ideologically-driven support for Mr. Zelaya. This ideology combines the paternalistic belief that the United States knows better than the "corrupt" and "elite" Honduran Congress and Supreme Court with the hypocritical notion that Mr. Zelaya, the son of a land baron who was convicted and imprisoned for murdering priests and labor activists then dumping their bodies down a well on his ranch in the Los Horcones massacre, is neither elite nor corrupt.

President Obama recently decried this approach. "The same critics who say that the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say that we're always intervening and the Yankees need to get out of Latin America. If these critics think that it's appropriate for us to suddenly act in ways that in every other context they consider inappropriate, then I think what that indicates is that maybe there's some hypocrisy involved in their -- their approach to U.S.-Latin American relations."

I applaud President Obama for his principled stance and fervently hope that President Arias of Costa Rica can help the parties resolve this crisis and ensure the future of Honduran democracy. In the meantime, I hope that Professor Grandin and other Zelaya supporters will agree with me that the best outcome of this crisis is a healthy Honduran democracy supported by the Honduran people and recognized by the international community.

Elections in Honduras for all elected officials (national, departmental, and municipal) occur once every four years on the same day. All Hondurans age 18 or older may vote in elections, and elections for the President, Vice President, and National Congress are by simple, anonymous majority vote. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal oversees and manages the elections, with help from Departmental Electoral Courts, Municipal Electoral Courts, and polling stations. The National Congress elects the three judges (and one alternate judge) of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal by two-thirds vote to five-year terms.

Like the United States, Honduran election law provides various protections to safeguard voters from intimidation and to preserve their anonymity. For example, similar to U.S. law, political parties may not campaign on election day within 50 meters of polling stations, with violations punishable by immediate closing of any such party's information center and, ultimately, by criminal penalty.

The electoral process for this November's upcoming presidential elections began last year, during the month of May 2008, when the Supreme Electoral Tribunal called for primary elections to be held in November 2008. Accordingly, each of the five political parties selected its presidential and vice presidential candidates last November 2008 during that primary process after campaigning among each party's membership. All five political parties have fielded presidential candidates, including Zelaya's own party.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems - an independent, non-governmental organization funded by bilateral and multilateral development agencies such as the U.S. AID - in conjunction with the U.N. Development Program worked with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal during the 2008 primary elections, helping develop he Rapid Transmission of Preliminary Results system, training poll workers, and creating training and electoral materials. The IFES is once again helping the Supreme Electoral Tribunal with this November's elections, assisting in the foregoing areas as well as in the areas of media monitoring, electoral logistics assistance, and the enfranchisement of persons with disabilities.

In addition to Honduran citizens living in Honduras, Honduran citizens living in Miami, New Orleans, New York, Washington, Houston, Los Angeles, and elsewhere in the United States will also be able to vote for the next president in this November's upcoming elections.

The following Honduran institutions support the upcoming presidential elections: All five political parties, including Zelaya's own party; The Supreme Electoral Tribunal; The Supreme Court; The National Congress; The National Human Rights Commission; The Catholic Church; The protestant churches; The armed forces; and The Attorney General.

This coming November, presidential elections will be held in Honduras, with the new President taking his oath in January 2010. Everyone expects these elections to be free and fair, with candidates from all political parties competing for office, as they have been for more than 20 years in Honduras. Regardless of what one thinks of Mr. Zelaya and the events of June 28th, we should all stand behind the new President and Honduran democracy.