Hey, I am currently in Berlin on a minor holiday away from Central America, and then this stuff happens! I phoned the Honduran embassy here, but they were not quite sure which side they were on yet, and the Nicaraguan embassy asked me if I could try to help them get their statements out to the big media.
I do not particularly care about the legal situation much more than many other aspects of this, but the reporting on this has been equal also in many other European countries, and so I thought I would translate and repost this Norwegian response to the allegations that are made:
President Zelaya has not violated the constitution
(originally a press release in Norwegian by Latin American Groups in Norway written by Alberto Valiente Thoresen, Cecilie Hirsch and Susanne Normann, http://www.latin-amerikagruppene.no/Artikler/10685.html, translated by myself )
Several media reported Monday that the president of Honduras was abducted by the military, after he allegedly should have tried to conduct a referendum to change the Honduran constitution to prolong his presidency. Latin-American groups in Norway (LAG) believe that this is a gross simplification and inaccurate information, which is used to support arguments that coup government uses to justify the coup against the state government of Manuel Zelaya. LAG will here provide a thorough explanation of what happened in Honduras, and hope that the Norwegian media, will henceforth present the situation in a more balanced way.
1) President Zelaya called for a non-binding popular consultation and not a binding popular plebiscite. In accordance with article 5 of the “Act on popular participation” from 2006, all state powers in Honduras can carry out such inquiries to learn and take into account what people think about certain actions and issues.
2) The non-binding popular consultation asked what people would think about adding another ballot box at the election in November 2009. This vote was to conduct a poll whether people wanted to form a basis for a future assembly to write a new constitution. If people had said yes, an election for the members of this assembly would then have been arranged. After the assembly would have been chosen, they would have made a proposal of a new constitution, which eventually would have had to have been voted upon by the people.
3) Article 5 and 374 in the current Constitution from 1982 (with the reforms of 2005) specifies that it is not possible to reform the Articles of the Constitution which deals with the government, presidency, Honduran territory or opportunities for re-election, as described in the Constitution. It is not possible to conduct binding referendums with this purpose. So here there is a distinction between reforming the Articles of the current Constitution, and to undergo a democratic process to create a new constitution with an elected assembly set up to write a new constitution.
4) The Constitution does not prohibit the formation of an elected assembly with a mandate to write a new constitution.
5) The Supreme Court of Honduras did not look upon the “Act of popular participation” as unconstitutional when it was adopted in 2006. Thus, it is not unconstitutional that the government is conducting a consultation of this type.
6) When it comes to a possible extension of the election term, this would have been something the constitutional Assembly would have had to take a position on. In the current constitution the president can only sit for one term. Zelaya can not stand for re-election in November 2009. He could possibly have tried again, once a new constitution was in place, which would have taken one to two years depending on how quickly the constitutional assembly worked. The new constitution proposal would have had be adopted by the people in a popular vote before it could have been put into effect.
7) Constitution Article 205 Paragraph 22 specifies that Congress can prosecute officials who violate the constitution. Article 239 states that a president can only sit for one term, and if the president tries to break this article, he will automatically lose office and with this immunity. If Zelaya had broken the law, there are thus legitimate procedures that can be followed. This is not what Congress and the military used. He will, however, be accused of breaking article 239, which is not the case.
8) it seems clear that those doing the military coup realized that they didn’t have a case against President Manuel Zelaya and therefore decided to ignore the Constitution and the democratic institutions that they claim to defend.
A misleading representation of the intentions of Manuel Zelaya is not acting neutral. It helps spread the propaganda the coup makers need to manipulate the international and Honduran media, which may help to recognize and maintain their power position. The same happens if this legitimate discussion is played down. So LAG asks the media to use a more balanced language.