Belmont Club

The eyes of Tejas are upon you

Jun Bautista at Philippine Commentary provides a glance at how the situation in Honduras may look from outside the Beltway. At the moment, many Filipinos are worried that the current President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, will amend the constitution in order to extend her term. It may not ring a bell in Washington, but the parallels are obvious in Manila. Bautista writes:

The parallels between the Philippines and Honduras are uncanny. As we all know very well [Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s] GMA’s allies in Congress have been assiduously pushing for charter change … Zelaya’s ouster was precipitated by his insistence on having a constitutional convention … Both moves are seen as attempts to extend the president’s term of office. GMA’s allies want to proceed with a con-ass [constitutional assembly] even without the Senate (clearly unconstitutional), while Zelaya wants a referendum on the convening of a con-con [constitutional convention] without congressional authorization as required by Honduras’s constitution. …

Going back to Honduras, it is disappointing to know that the international community – including the UN, Organization of American States, and the US – was quick to condemn the removal of Zelaya and announce its disapproval of the existing government, given the background of Zelaya and what prompted his removal. A review of what happened in Honduras shows that it was Zelaya who first committed constitutional shortcuts by disregarding the Honduran Congress in calling for a referendum to amend the constitution. The Honduran Supreme Court, backed by the attorney general, ruled that Zelaya’s call for a referendum was unconstitutional. Zelaya defied the Supreme Court ruling by firing the army chief who refused to support Zelaya’s self-initiated referendum. This prompted the military, in support of the Supreme Court’s ruling, to arrest Zelaya. As a result of this the Honduran Congress installed Roberto Micheletti, the constitutional successor to the president. …

Mr. Bautista’s piece might remind Washington that Third World Countries striving to become countries of “laws and not men” also have to struggle with problem of preserving their institutions even as they are tempted to take shortcuts to solve ‘social justice’ problems. The idea that Zelaya ought to be supported by Washington because he is considered by some NGOs to be a “man of the people” may or may not have moral validity. But even if he were, restoring him in violation of Honduran laws also has a downside. Those who worked for years to restore the semblance of constitutional rule in a Third World after a dictator has torn them up know how that it is much easier to scramble an egg than to unscramble it. Once the laws of Honduras are circumvented with a wink and a nod the temptation to circumvent them again will be irresistible. Honduras and the Honduran constitution may not mean much beyond a narrow circle in Washington, but to the Hondurans, it is all they have.

There are probably a great many ambitious leaders in the Third World who are watching how Washington handles the Honduran crisis. It is all the more reason to act carefully and wisely.

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