What really happened in Honduras?

Mr. Zelaya was going to conduct a referendum on June 28th 2009 that he (the executive branch) had total control over: his plan was to execute it, tally the results, and announce them to the country. There were to be no independent observers, and no controls to ensure honesty. To this end, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez supplied Zelaya with advisors and logistical support.

The ballots came from Venezuela on Chavez’s plane and the “YES” side was definitely going to win regardless of how Hondurans truly voted. Zelaya would “call a constituent assembly,” and that very night (Sunday, June 28) as soon as the results “came in” he was going to call the constituent assembly, dissolving the Supreme Court, National Congress, and any other institutions he deemed necessary. The scheduled November General Elections would have been postponed if not canceled.

He was then going to form a “constituent assembly” composed of his supporters, and basically have a blank check to rewrite the Honduran constitution to his and Hugo Chavez’s liking.

Meanwhile, the Honduran Supreme Court, by a 15-0 vote, found that Mr. Zelaya had acted illegally by proceeding with an unconstitutional “referendum,” and it ordered the Armed Forces to arrest him. The military executed the arrest order of the Supreme Court because it was the appropriate agency to do so under Honduran law. 

Eight of the fifteen votes on the Supreme Court were cast by members of Mr. Zelaya’s own Liberal Party. Thus, Mr. Zelaya’s arrest was at the instigation of Honduran constitutional and civilian authorities-not the military.

The Honduran Congress voted overwhelmingly in support of removing Mr. Zelaya. The vote included a majority of members of Mr. Zelaya’s Liberal Party.

Independent government and religious leaders and institutions-including the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the Administrative Law Tribunal, the independent Human Rights Ombudsman, four-out-of-five political parties, the two major presidential candidates of the Liberal and National Parties, and Honduras’s Catholic Cardinal-all agreed that Mr. Zelaya had acted illegally.

The constitution expressly states in Article 239 that any president who seeks to amend the constitution and extend his term is automatically disqualified and is no longer president. The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision affirmed that Mr. Zelaya was attempting to extend his term with his illegal referendum. Thus, at the time of his arrest he was no longer-as a matter of law, as far as the Supreme Court was concerned-president of Honduras.

Days before his arrest, Mr. Zelaya had his chief of staff illegally withdraw millions of dollars (allegedly $40 million) in cash from the Central Bank of Honduras.

A day or so before his arrest, Mr. Zelaya led a violent mob to overrun an Air Force base to seize referendum ballots that had been shipped into Honduras by Hugo Chávez’s Venezuelan government.

Roberto Micheletti succeeded Mr. Zelaya under the Honduran constitution’s order of succession (the vice president had resigned before all of this began so that he could run for president). This is and has always been an entirely civilian government. The military was ordered by an entirely civilian Supreme Court to arrest Mr. Zelaya. His removal was ordered by an entirely civilian and elected Congress. To suggest that Mr. Zelaya was ousted by means of a military coup is demonstrably false.

Perhaps reasonable people could disagree about the decision to expel Mr. Zelaya from the country the evening of June 28 without a trial, and that this particular action could have been handled differently. But it is also necessary to understand the decision in the context of genuine fear of Mr. Zelaya’s proven willingness to violate the law and to engage in mob-led violence.

Instead of launching immediate consultations between the two sides to reduce the prospects for violence and seek some common ground and resolution of differences, the OAS chose confrontation and ultimatums by declaring on July 1 that if Zelaya was not reinstated within three days, Honduras would be expelled from the OAS. The Honduran interim government beat the OAS and quit first. It is worth noting that if the Honduran Constitution was good enough to allow Honduras to be a member of the OAS in the first place, even with its strict prohibition of multiple presidential terms, then it cannot be un-constitutional to remove Zelaya because he repeatedly violated it.

At Chávez’s request, Insulza went to Nicaragua, where a summit of the anti-democratic ALBA group became the hemisphere’s political center of gravity after the coup. Insulza and other populist presidents said nothing about Zelaya’s dictatorial conduct leading up to Sunday’s events.

On July 5, Zelaya tried to fly back to the country. As the plane Chavez had provided from CITGO was nearing Tegucigalpa, the ousted president broadcast that “the blood of Christ is coursing through my veins” and “soon I will be with you all to raise the crucifix.” The Honduran government blocked the airport runways, so Zelaya flew dramatically into El Salvador to join Insulza and several Chavista presidents.

Twice, since then, Zelaya has illegally entered Honduras through Nicaragua, increasing the prospects for violence and unrest to further destabilize his nation. For this, he has been widely criticized by the United States.

Zelaya wanted to follow in Chavez’s footsteps by using the law to break the law and become President for life. Incredibly, Insulza decided to openly side with the dictator in the making, even though the Honduran Congress and the Supreme Court respected independent democratic institutions. The majority of the Honduran population supports the ousting of Zelaya because they understand that their country and their future were at risk. In spite of this, Insulza and his band of followers at the OAS, under the influence of Hugo Chavez, want to reinstate Zelaya at all costs. But why?

Who Exactly is Jose Miguel Insulza?

Insulza was born on June 2nd, 1943 and is a Chilean politician and member of the Chilean Socialist Party, and a founding member of the São Paulo Forum. After Augusto Pinochet became President of Chile, Insulza went into exile for 15 years, first in Rome (1974-1980) and after that in Mexico (1981-1988).

He has occupied many official positions under Presidents Patricio Aylwin, Eduardo Frei and Ricardo Lagos. Insulza faced constant fire during his time as Chile’s minister of interior, a position he held during Lagos’ regime, beginning in the year 2000 when he threatened to have a fist-fight with Chilean Deputy Jaime Naranjo, who protested the inefficiency of the police investigation of former Nazi and alleged child molester, Paul Schaeffer, leader of the Colonia Dignidad. The Chilean Carabineros (the national police), who served under Insulza’s command, were involved in the November 2002 death of mapuche worker Alex Lemún in Temuco in a protest between mapuches and timber companies. The case remains open.

Insulza was elected on May 28, 2005 as Secretary General of the OAS following the withdrawal from the race of Mexico’s Foreign Minister, Luis Ernesto Derbez, making Insulza the winner by default.

Insulza has been openly criticized by many Chilean politicians for using his post as OAS Secretary General as a launching pad for his failed pre-candidacy to become President of Chile. They claimed his frequent trips to Chile and continuing commentary on Chilean politics were a way to remain visible on the local political scene. Insulza openly stated his intention to run for President of Chile, but on January 5, 2009, he stepped out of the race and vowed to continue as OAS chief until the end of his mandate. He gave his support to Eduardo Frei Ruiz – Tagle as the Concertación candidate for President and many suggest that his plan to run for President remains very much alive.

He is nicknamed El Panzer, for his tank-like drive and reputation for charging hard in whatever endeavor he takes on. His critics also say that he is capable of crushing anyone that stands in his way. A case in point is that Insulza censured a blogger in Washington, DC, requesting through his Press secretary- that the Chilean newspaper, La Nación, revoke the OAS press accreditation for Montserrat Nicolas of the blog “Curvas Politicas” (Political Curves). Insulza was apparently angered because she informed the Chilean daily, that Santiago had withdrawn its ambassador from Honduras, just after Venezuela. La Nación decided to publish this news story on the front page, exposing Chile’s position.  Following the orders of Mr. Insulza, his press secretary, Patricia Esquenazi, made repeated phone calls to the Chilean newspaper pressuring them to fire Ms. Nicholas. This all took place during the height of the Honduran crisis. Ms. Esquenazi personally contacted the Director of La Nación, Marcelo Castillo, the General Manager, Francisco Feres and the President of the board, Mr. Valenzuela, to make them fire the blogger.

The Bottom Line

Instead of promoting democracy and the rule of law in the hemisphere, Mr. Insulza seems mainly concerned about his reelection as Secretary General of the OAS, which date has been set for May 2010. In this regard, it is important to point out that this past month, Chilean daily “El Mercurio” reported that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had “twice directly told Chilean government officials” that the U.S. would not support Insulza’s reelection in 2010 due to his role in personally promoting the unconditional readmission of Cuba to the OAS. Even though Insulza furiously denied this version, it is no secret that Insulza and the U.S. were openly at odds regarding the presidency of the OAS in 2005 when the latter staunchly promoted Mexican Foreign Minister Ernesto Derbez for the OAS appointment despite wide-ranging support for Insulza across the region.  The U.S. was reportedly concerned by Chávez’s support for Insulza, and favored a more pro-U.S. candidate in the form of Derbez. Following five successive tied ballots between the two candidates, the U.S. eventually gave way, with Derbez stepping out of the race thus allowing Insulza to take the presidency.

El Mercurio also reported that several U.S. senators are concerned that Insulza’s policies, such as his support of ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, are designed to favor Venezuela’s influential president Hugo Chávez. Insulza understands that the Venezuelan has great power over many Latin American countries, which sadly have become dependent on his oil giveaways.

But what Mr. Insulza doesn’t seem to grasp is that the OAS was not created as a tool to be used at the will of any dictator. The OAS’ principles established at the Organization’s inception in 1948 are to promote democracy, defend human rights, and help to establish markets based on free choice with minimal government interference. But since Insulza achieved the leadership of the organization, he has not done anything to defend these statutes.

The OAS has been a complete failure and has demonstrated that it does not have what it takes to deal objectively and constructively with a regional crisis. As commentator, Gustavo Coronel, correctly states, “the tolerance Insulza has exhibited for Cuba’s dictatorship of 50 years contrasts dramatically with the 72-hour ultimatum he gave the new government of Honduras, to reinstate Zelaya in the presidency, without listening to what the other side had to say.” 

Insulza has aligned himself so completely with Chavez that many people are beginning to wonder if there’s something more serious going on. To this end, the Secretary General should fully disclose his assets and personal accounts. Insulza’s membership in the Forum of Sao Paolo is also extremely worrisome and remains a threat to the region. At present, there are fourteen Latin American governments connected to the FSP, which was created in 1990 By Inacio Lula da Silva and Fidel Castro to regroup leftist groups after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The FARC and the ELN belong to the Forum as well. 

Given the fact that Insulza has not supported the democratic principles upon which the OAS was founded and has so completely aligned himself with Chavez, the question of his re-election to a second term as secretary general should be very carefully considered by the U.S. and other member states.
Nicole M. Ferrand is the editor of “The Americas Report” of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project. She is a graduate of Columbia University in Economics and Political Science with a background in Law from Peruvian University, UNIFE and in Corporate Finance from Georgetown University.


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