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THE CASE OF THE HONDURAN COUP

Wikileaks US Diplomatic Cable
Honduran Coup "Illegal and Unconstitutional"

By Ambassador Hugo Llorens

November 29, 2010 "
Information Clearing House" -- The Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch.

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Reference ID Date Classification Origin 09TEGUCIGALPA645 2009-07-24 00:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tegucigalpa

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INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS IMMEDIATE 0735
RHEHAAA/THE WHITE HOUSE WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEIDN/DNI WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUMIAAA/USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL IMMEDIATE

========

C O N F I D E N T I A L TEGUCIGALPA 000645 
 
SIPDIS 
 
WHA FOR A/S TOM SHANNON 
L FOR HAROLD KOH AND JOAN DONOGHUE 
NSC FOR DAN RESTREPO 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/23/2019 
TAGS: PGOV KDEM KJUS TFH01 HO
SUBJECT: TFHO1: OPEN AND SHUT: THE CASE OF THE HONDURAN COUP 
 
REF: TEGUCIGALPA 578 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Hugo Llorens, reasons 1.4 (b and d) 
 
1. (C) Summary:  Post has attempted to clarify some of the 
legal and constitutional issues surrounding the June 28 
forced removal of President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya.  The 
Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the 
military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired 
on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and 
unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch, while 
accepting that there may be a prima facie case that Zelaya 
may 
have committed illegalities and may have even violated the 
constitution.  There is equally no doubt from our perspective 
that Roberto Micheletti's assumption of power was 
illegitimate.  Nevertheless, it is also evident that the 
constitution itself may be deficient in terms of providing 
clear procedures for dealing with alleged illegal acts by 
the President and resolving conflicts between the branches 
of government.  End summary. 
 
2. (U) Since the June 28 removal and expulsion of President 
Zelaya by the Honduran armed forces, the Embassy has 
consulted Honduran legal experts (one cannot find a fully 
unbiased professional legal opinion in Honduras in the 
current politically charged atmosphere) and reviewed the 
text of the Honduran Constitution and its laws to develop a 
better understanding of the arguments being parlayed by the 
coup's supporters and opponents. 
 
------------------------------- 
Arguments of the Coup Defenders 
------------------------------- 
 
3. (SBU) Defenders of the June 28 coup have offered some 
combination of the following, often ambiguous, arguments to 
assert it's legality: 
 
-- Zelaya had broken the law (alleged but not proven); 
 
-- Zelaya resigned (a clear fabrication); 
 
-- Zelaya intended to extend his term in office 
(supposition); 
 
-- Had he been allowed to proceed with his June 28 
constitutional reform opinion poll, Zelaya would have 
dissolved Congress the following day and convened a 
constituent assembly (supposition); 
 
-- Zelaya had to be removed from the country to prevent a 
bloodbath; 
 
-- Congress "unanimously" (or in some versions by a 123-5 
vote) deposed Zelaya; (after the fact and under the cloak 
of secrecy); and 
 
-- Zelaya "automatically" ceased to be president the moment 
he suggested modifying the constitutional prohibition on 
presidential reelection. 
 
4. (C) In our view, none of the above arguments has any 
substantive validity under the Honduran constitution.  Some 
are outright false.  Others are mere supposition or ex-post 
rationalizations of a patently illegal act.  Essentially: 
 
-- the military had no authority to remove Zelaya from the 
country; 
 
-- Congress has no constitutional authority to remove a 
Honduran president; 
 
-- Congress and the judiciary removed Zelaya on the basis 
of a hasty, ad-hoc, extralegal, secret, 48-hour process; 
 
-- the purported "resignation" letter was a fabrication and 
was not even the basis for Congress's action of June 28; 
and 
 
-- Zelaya's arrest and forced removal from the country 
violated multiple constitutional guarantees, including the 
prohibition on expatriation, presumption of innocence and 
right to due process. 
 
------------------------------------------- 
Impeachment under the Honduran Constitution 
------------------------------------------- 
 
5. (U) Under the Honduran Constitution as currently 
written, the President may be removed only on the basis of 
death, resignation or incapacitation.  Only the Supreme 
Court may determine that a President has been 
"incapacitated" on the basis of committing a crime. 
 
6. (U) There is no explicit impeachment procedure in the 
1982 Honduran Constitution.  Originally, Article 205-15 
stated that Congress had the competence to determine 
whether "cause" existed against the President, but it did 
not stipulate on what grounds or under what procedure. 
Article 319-2 stated that the Supreme Court would "hear" 
cases of official or common crimes committed by high-level 
officials, upon a finding of cause by the Congress.  This 
implied a vague two-step executive impeachment process 
involving the other two branches of government, although 
without specific criteria or procedures.  However, Article 
205 was abrogated in 2003, and the corresponding provision 
of Article 319 (renumbered 313) was revised to state only 
that the Supreme Court would hear "processes initiated" 
against high officials.  Thus, it appears that under the 
Constitution as currently written, removal of a president 
or a government official is an entirely judicial matter. 
 
7. (U) Respected legal opinion confirms that the removal of 
a president is a judicial matter. According to a 2006 book 
by respected legal scholar Enrique Flores Valeriano -- late 
father of Zelaya's Minister of the Presidency, Enrique 
Flores Lanza -- Article 112 of the Law of Constitutional 
Justice indicates that if any government official is found 
to be in violation of the Constitution, that person should 
be removed from office immediately with the ultimate 
authority on matters of Constitutionality being the Supreme 
Court. 
 
8. (U) Many legal experts have also confirmed to us that 
the Honduran process for impeaching a President or other 
senior-level officials is a judicial procedure.  They 
assert that under Honduran law the process consists of formal 
criminal charges being filed by the Attorney General 
against the accused with the Supreme Court.  The Supreme 
Court could accept or reject the charges.  If the Court 
moved to indict, it would assign a Supreme Court 
magistrate, or a panel of magistrates to investigate the 
matter, 
and oversee the trial.  The trial process is open and 
transparent and the defendant would be given a full right 
of self-defense.  If convicted in the impeachment trial, 
the magistrates have authority to remove the President or 
senior official.  Once the President is removed, then the 
constitutional succession would follow.  In this case, if a 
President is legally charged, convicted, and removed, his 
successor is the Vice President or what is termed the 
Presidential Designate.  In the current situation in 
Honduras, since the Vice President, Elvin Santos, resigned 
last December in order to be able to run as the Liberal 
Party Presidential candidate, President Zelaya's successor 
would be Congress President Roberto Micheletti. 
Unfortunately, the President was never tried, or 
convicted, or was legally removed from office to allow a 
legal succession. 
 
----------------------------- 
The Legal Case Against Zelaya 
----------------------------- 
 
9. (C) Zelaya's opponents allege that he violated the 
Constitution on numerous grounds, some of which appear on 
their face to be valid, others not: 
 
-- Refusing to submit a budget to the Congress: The 
Constitution is unambiguous that the Executive shall submit 
a proposed budget to Congress by September 15 each year 
(Art. 367), that Congress shall approve the budget (Art. 
366) and that no obligations or payments may be effectuated 
except on the basis of an approved budget (Art. 364); 
 
-- Refusing to fund the Congress: Article 212 states that 
the Treasury shall apportion quarterly the funds needed for 
the operation of the Congress; 
 
-- Proposing an illegal constitutional referendum: The 
Constitution may be amended only through two-thirds vote of 
the Congress in two consecutive sessions (Art. 373 and 
375); a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, 
as Zelaya promoted, is therefore unconstitutional; however, 
it is not clear that proposing a constituent assembly in 
itself violates the constitution, only that any changes 
ensuing from that assembly would be invalid; 
 
-- Defying the judgment of a competent court: Zelaya 
insisted on pushing ahead with his constitutional reform 
opinion poll after both a first-instance court and an 
appeals court ordered him to suspend those efforts; 
however, while he clearly intended to follow through with 
the poll, he never actually did it; 
 
-- Proposing to reform unreformable articles: Since 
Zelaya's proposed constituent assembly would have unlimited 
powers to rewrite the constitution, it violated Article 
374, which makes certain articles unamendable; once again, 
though, Zelaya never actually attempted to change the 
so-called "carved in stone" articles; it was only assumed 
he intended to; 
 
-- Dismissing the armed forces chief: The Supreme Court's 
Constitutional Hall ruled June 25 that Zelaya was in 
violation of the Constitution for dismissing Defense Chief 
Vasquez Velasquez; the Constitution (Art. 280) states that 
the President may freely name or remove the chief of the 
armed forces; but the court ruled that since Zelaya fired 
him for refusing to carry out a poll the court had ruled 
illegal, the firing was illegal. 
 
10. (C) Although a case could well have been made against 
Zelaya for a number of the above alleged constitutional 
violations, there was never any formal, public weighing of 
the evidence nor any semblance of due process. 
 
----------------------- 
The Article 239 Cannard 
----------------------- 
 
11. (U) Article 239, which coup supporters began citing 
after the fact to justify Zelaya's removal (it is nowhere 
mentioned in the voluminous judicial dossier against 
Zelaya), states that any official proposing to reform the 
constitutional prohibition against reelection of the 
president shall immediately cease to carry out their 
functions and be ineligible to hold public office for 10 
years.  Coup defenders have asserted that Zelaya therefore 
automatically ceased to be President when he proposed a 
constituent assembly to rewrite the Constitution. 
 
12. (C) Post's analysis indicates the Article 239 argument 
is flawed on multiple grounds: 
 
-- Although it was widely assumed that Zelaya's reason for 
seeking to convoke a constituent assembly was to amend the 
constitution to allow for reelection, we are not aware 
that he ever actually stated so publicly; 
 
-- Article 239 does not stipulate who determines whether it 
has been violated or how, but it is reasonable to assume 
that it does not abrogate other guarantees of due process 
and the presumption of innocence; 
 
-- Article 94 states that no penalty shall be imposed 
without the accused having been heard and found guilty in a 
competent court; 
 
-- Many other Honduran officials, including presidents, 
going back to the first elected government under the 1982 
Constitution, have proposed allowing presidential 
reelection, and they were never deemed to have been 
automatically removed from their positions as a result. 
 
13. (C) It further warrants mention that Micheletti himself 
should be forced to resign following the logic of the 239 
argument, since as President of Congress he considered 
legislation to have a fourth ballot box ("cuarta urna") at 
the November elections to seek voter approval for a 
constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution.  Any 
member of Congress who discussed the proposal should also 
be required to resign, and National Party presidential 
candidate Pepe Lobo, who endorsed the idea, should be 
ineligible to hold public office for 10 years. 
 
--------------------------------------------- - 
Forced Removal by Military was Clearly Illegal 
--------------------------------------------- - 
 
14.  (C) Regardless of the merits of Zelaya's alleged 
constitutional violations, it is clear from even a cursory 
reading that his removal by military means was illegal, and 
even the most zealous of coup defenders have been unable to 
make convincing arguments to bridge the intellectual gulf 
between "Zelaya broke the law" to "therefore, he was packed 
off to Costa Rica by the military without a trial." 
 
-- Although coup supporters allege the court issued an 
arrest warrant for Zelaya for disobeying its order to 
desist from the opinion poll, the warrant, made public days 
later, was for him to be arrested and brought before the 
competent authority, not removed from the county; 
 
-- Even if the court had ordered Zelaya to be removed from 
the country, that order would have been unconstitutional; 
Article 81 states that all Hondurans have the right to 
remain in the national territory, subject to certain narrow 
exceptions spelled out in Article 187, which may be invoked 
only by the President of the Republic with the agreement of 
the Council of Ministers; Article 102 states that no 
Honduran may be expatriated; 
 
-- The armed forces have no/no competency to execute 
judicial orders; originally, Article 272 said the armed 
forces had the responsibility to "maintain peace, public 
order and the 'dominion' of the constitution," but that 
language was excised in 1998; under the current text, only 
the police are authorized to uphold the law and execute 
court orders (Art. 293); 
 
-- Accounts of Zelaya's abduction by the military indicate 
he was never legally "served" with a warrant; the soldiers 
forced their way in by shooting out the locks and 
essentially kidnapped the President. 
 
15. (U) The Armed Forces' ranking legal advisor, Col. 
Herberth Bayardo Inestroza, acknowledged in an interview 
published in the Honduran press July 5 that the Honduran 
Armed Forces had broken the law in removing Zelaya from the 
country.  That same day it was reported that the Public 
Ministry was investigating the actions of the Armed Forces 
in arresting and deporting Zelaya June 28 and that the 
Supreme Court had asked the Armed Forces to explain the 
circumstances that motivated his forcible exile. 
 
16. (C) As reported reftel, the legal adviser to the 
Supreme Court told Poloff that at least some justices on 
the Court consider Zelaya's arrest and deportation by the 
military to have been illegal. 
 
------------------------------------------ 
Congress Had no Authority to Remove Zelaya 
------------------------------------------ 
 
17. (C) As explained above, the Constitution as amended in 
2003 apparently gives sole authority for removing a 
president to the judiciary.  The Congressional action of 
June 28 has been reported in some media as acceptance of 
Zelaya's resignation, based on a bogus resignation letter 
dated June 25 that surfaced after the coup.  However, the 
June 28 Congressional resolution makes no mention of the 
letter, nor does it state that Congress was accepting 
Zelaya's resignation.  It says Congress "disapproves" of 
Zelaya's conduct and therefore "separates" him from the 
office of President -- a constitutional authority Congress 
does not have.  Furthermore, a source in the Congressional 
leadership told us that a quorum was not present when the 
resolution was adopted, rendering it invalid.  There was no 
recorded vote, nor a request for the "yeas" and "nays." 
 
18. (C) In sum, for a constitutional succession from Zelaya 
to Micheletti to occur would require one of several 
conditions: 
 
Zelaya's resignation, his death, or permanent medical 
incapacitation (as determined by judicial and medical 
authorities), or as discussed previously, his formal criminal 
conviction and removal from office.  In the absence of any of 
these conditions and since Congress lacked the legal 
authority to remove Zelaya, the actions of June 28 can only 
be considered a coup d'etat by the legislative branch, with 
the support of the judicial branch and the military, against 
the executive branch.  It bears mentioning that, whereas the 
resolution adopted June 28 refers only to Zelaya, its effect 
was to remove the entire executive branch.  Both of these 
actions clearly exceeded Congress's authority. 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
19. (C) The analysis of the Constitution sheds some 
interesting light on the events of June 28.  The Honduran 
establishment confronted a dilemma: near unanimity among 
the institutions of the state and the political class that 
Zelaya had abused his powers in violation of the 
Constitution, but with some ambiguity what to do about it. 
Faced with that lack of clarity, the military and/or 
whoever ordered the coup fell back on what they knew -- the 
way Honduran presidents were removed in the past: a bogus 
resignation letter and a one-way ticket to a neighboring 
country.  No matter what the merits of the case against 
Zelaya, his forced removal by the military was clearly 
illegal, and Micheletti's ascendance as "interim president" 
was totally illegitimate. 
 
20. (C) Nonetheless, the very Constitutional uncertainty 
that presented the political class with this dilemma may 
provide the seeds for a solution.  The coup's most ardent 
legal defenders have been unable to make the intellectual 
leap from their arguments regarding Zelaya's alleged crimes 
to how those allegations justified dragging him out of his 
bed in the night and flying him to Costa Rica.  That the 
Attorney General's office and the Supreme Court now 
reportedly question the legality of that final step is 
encouraging and may provide a face-saving "out" for the two 
opposing sides in the current standoff. End Comment. 
LLORENS
   
 

 

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