Troops have arrested President Manuel Zelaya this morning, the day that Hondurans were to vote in a referendum to change the constitution to allow him to run for another term. The apparent coup comes four days after Zelaya fired the chief of the armed forces for refusing to assist in carrying out the referendum. Zelaya was reportedly put on a plane to Costa Rica, where he may be now.
[Added 12:15PM: Zelaya, now in Costa Rica, told CNN that he was "kidnapped," and that "at the moment of his detention, they aimed guns at his chest and head."]
The military claims it was carrying out an order from “judicial tribunals” to arrest Zelaya because of an apparent presence of Nicaraguan and Venezuelan political operatives in the referendum. Nonetheless, this appears to be the first military coup attempt since the April 2002 uprising that came close to unseating Hugo ChÃ¡vez (unless one counts the forced resignation of Lucio GutiÃ©rrez in Ecuador in 2005, in which members of the armed forces played a supporting role).
Regardless of one’s position on President Zelaya’s pursuit of a second term or his ties to President ChÃ¡vez, the actions taken in Tegucigalpa this morning deserve universal condemnation, as they are an illegal disruption of the democratic institutional process. If the coup is allowed to stand and an unelected leader takes power, Honduras should be considered in violation of the 2001 Democratic Charter and the United States should support its suspension from the Organization of American States.
On Friday, the State Department called on Hondurans “to seek a consensual democratic resolution in the current political impasse that adheres to the Honduran constitution and to Honduran laws consistent with the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter,” and to involve the OAS. As of 11:45AM EDT, there is nothing new on either the State Department’s website or the U.S. Embassy in Honduras website. The U.S. government must leave no doubt about its position and raise its voice as well.
[Update 5:00 PM: Secretary of State Clinton released this statement, which sounds the right notes: "The action taken against Honduran President Mel Zelaya violates the precepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and thus should be condemned by all. We call on all parties in Honduras to respect the constitutional order and the rule of law, to reaffirm their democratic vocation, and to commit themselves to resolve political disputes peacefully and through dialogue. Honduras must embrace the very principles of democracy we reaffirmed at the OAS meeting it hosted less than one month ago."]
The Honduran military has been a heavy recipient of U.S. assistance for decades. A U.S. military unit, Joint Task Force Bravo, has been based at the Palmerola airbase in Honduras since the early 1980s. If the Honduran military persists in violating the country’s democratic order, U.S. military aid must halt and JTF-Bravo must leave.
Links to coverage:
- Honduras: El Heraldo
- Honduras: Diario TIEMPO
- Honduras: La Prensa
- Google News page
- BBC: Troops Detain Honduran President
- CNN: Honduras president arrested, local media report
- AP: Honduras President Arrested in Military Coup
- Reuters: Honduran Troops Surround Presidential Palace
- AFP: EU calls for release of Honduran President