I returned to Los Angeles on Sunday morning from Honduras for a scheduled trip, and it just so happened that my departure from the country occurred one day before the Honduran president, Manuel “Mel” Zelaya was removed from power. Sunday, June 28, was the day that Mel had set for a popular referendum to consult the Honduran voters whether or not to include a fourth voting category (“cuarta urna” in Spanish) in this coming November’s elections (in addition to the 3 established voting categories for President, local Mayor and Congressional Representative). The purpose of the fourth vote was purportedly to consult Hondurans as to whether they want a constituent assembly to “change the [Honduran] constitution.” While the objective of such a change has never been specified by Zelaya, it has been broadly believed by Hondurans and international observers of the situation that Mel intends to seek to change the constitutional ban on the re-election of a Honduran president after one 4-year term. There are certain articles of the Honduran constitution that are considered inviolable (they cannot ever be amended), and the one-term limit of 4 years is one of those articles – in fact, according to Honduran law, any politician who promotes a change to that article faces a punishment in the form of a 10-year ban on the right to serve in an elected position. The current Honduran constitution was created in 1982, after preceding decades involving periods of military rule and dictatorships, and the inviolable one-term limit was established at that time to stave off the possibility of another dictator arising to rule the country in the future.
I have been a witness to the developing political turmoil over the past 2 months since I moved to Tegucigalpa to get Tegu’s factory up and running. I was aware of much of the controversy surrounding Mel throughout his presidency leading up to this time, and as a businessman trying to get a successful new venture off the ground, I have been paying close attention to the situation. The most recent developments have included an increasingly bold Zelaya insisting on carrying out the planned referendum vote despite the formal disapproval of the National Congress and a ruling by the Honduran Supreme Court that the referendum is illegal. Mel has sought to circumvent the established procedures for conducting such a referendum, which could in theory be done in Honduras, if legislated by Congress and approved by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. This circumvention has led most observers to speculate that he is attempting to find a way to remain in power beyond the end of this year, when his 4-year term ends. In the process, Mel has faced opposition from almost all prominent groups in Honduras, including in recent months his own political party, the Liberal Party. Where he has found the support he does enjoy is amongst the poor population of the country, who he has successfully charmed with what many Hondurans call his “folkloric” manner – Mel typically sports a Stetson hat, verbally identifies with the poor while lashing out at the wealthy elite, has made a habit of visiting poor rural communities, and, more recently, has invited members of such communities and the groups that support him to the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa.
Last Wednesday, Mel fired the head of the Joint Armed Forces, after he refused to lend the military’s logistical assistance with the proposed referendum, citing the Supreme Court’s ruling of its illegality. The Supreme Court ruled the summary dismissal of the general to be illegal and ordered him to be reinstated the next day. On Thursday, June 25, Mel led a group of supporters from the presidential palace through the streets of Tegucigalpa to the nearest air force base, where he forced his way onto the base to retrieve referendum ballot materials delivered to the country by Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, which has lent significant support to Zelaya over the course of his presidency. The Supreme Court had previously ordered that all such materials be confiscated, again citing the illegality of the proposed referendum. Also last week, the Congress initiated an investigation into the mental health of Zelaya, in order to determine his fitness to continue governing as Honduras’s president.
On Sunday, things came to a head in the early hours of the morning, when the Honduran military, acting on orders from the Supreme Court, arrested Manuel Zelaya around 4am and proceeded to extract him from the country to Costa Rica. Later that morning, the Honduran National Congress met to formally remove Zelaya from power and to appoint his successor, the president of the Congress, Roberto Micheletti. Under the Honduran constitution, this is the correct order of events in the case of the death or incapacity of a president. At no time on Sunday or since did the Honduran military possess or demand power or control of the country.
Since Sunday, the international press have picked up on the story and labeled the events of Sunday, in many cases, a military coup d’etat. Political leaders, including Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez, have denounced the “coup” and demanded the reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya to the Honduran presidency. Zelaya has been welcomed to Nicaragua for a meeting of leftist heads of Latin American states, including most prominently Hugo Chavez, and subsequent to that meeting, he appeared at the UN in New York on Tuesday. I read this evening that the UN approved a one-page resolution demanding Zelaya’s reinstatement and delivered a prolonged ovation upon its ratification. Zelaya has announced that he intends to return to Honduras on Thursday along with the accompaniment of several allies, and in response, Roberto Micheletti (the replacement Honduran president) has stated that Zelaya will face criminal charges if he returns to the country. The charges, according to the Honduran attorney general, include treason.
Although I am currently away from the action in Tegucigalpa, I am keeping close tabs on the unfolding events, and the entire Tegu team is watching with me as we determine our company’s path forward. We are on track for our Honduran production launch, and we are hoping for things to settle down rapidly in Honduras, in order that our business timeline does not get delayed. That said, we hope for the best outcome for the country, especially one that allows for businesses in Honduras, including ours, to succeed and thrive, which will in turn lead to economic dynamism and the creation of new jobs, both of which are sorely needed in this country. One of Zelaya’s initiatives earlier this year, to increase the minimum wage by 60%, while quite popular amongst many Hondurans at the moment of its implementation in January, has reportedly led to massive layoffs in the private sector as businesses have struggled to deal with massively increased overhead. Such layoffs compound the already difficult economic situation resulting from the global downturn.
I intend to return to Tegus this weekend, and if all goes well, scheduled upcoming trips for the Tegu team and teams from the Mosaic community (my church in LA) will occur according to plan. I am grateful to say that despite the political upheaval, the country appears to be relatively calm, with only a few minor clashes between Zelaya supporters and police / military outside the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa. As far as I know, the rest of the city and the rest of the country has not seen any violent protests.
We would appreciate you joining us in prayer for a speedy and peaceful resolution to the situation in Honduras, resulting in a solution that upholds freedom, democracy and justice in the country. We will endeavor to keep you informed of any developments that are of significance to Tegu.
For some worthwhile articles on the situation, please check out these links: