Obama says Honduran ouster was 'not legal'

President Barack Obama says the weekend ouster of Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya was a “not legal” coup and that he remains the country’s president.

Obama spoke to reporters in the Oval Office on Monday after meetings with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Obama said he wanted to be very clear that President Zelaya is the democratically elected president.

Read it all.


Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Central America, Foreign Relations, Honduras, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama

47 comments on “Obama says Honduran ouster was 'not legal'

  1. JC Olbrych says:

    Yes, he was democratically elected but was trying to get himself into the position of continuing indefinitely as such. Hugo Chavez is his big buddy. Is Obama reading this correctly?

  2. JC Olbrych says:

    Sorry, let me clarify…he’d like to be “elected” permanently. This sounds like a step in the wrong direction

  3. Old Pilgrim says:

    [blockquote]Jennie CO wrote:

    Yes, he was democratically elected but was trying to get himself into the position of continuing indefinitely as such. Hugo Chavez is his big buddy. Is Obama reading this correctly?
    June 29, 4:04 pm[/blockquote]

    The POTUS is reading it as he chooses to read it…as he does everything. Most of what he has done to date indicates he would prefer to work with dictators-for-life. Chavez, Kim, Khamenei/Ahmadinejad, now Zelaya, and, no doubt, there will be others. Since the American electorate is too late beginning to see his true political nature, we can only hope for constructive change in the future.

  4. Old Pilgrim says:

    …make that would-be dictators-for-life

  5. Alice Linsley says:

    I think he took advice from Hillary on this one. She’s a leftist.

  6. gdb in central Texas says:

    ARTICULO 239.- El ciudadano que haya desempeñado la titularidad del Poder Ejecutivo no podrá ser Presidente o Designado.
    El que quebrante esta disposición o proponga su reforma, así como aquellos que lo apoyen directa o indirectamente, cesarán de inmediato en el desempeño de sus respectivos cargos, y quedarán inhabilitados por diez años para el ejercicio de toda función pública.

  7. Alta Californian says:

    I’m not so sure about this. President Zelaya’s actions look dictatorial, dangerous, and illegal. The Supreme Court’s ruling against him looks somewhat justified. But the sudden seizure of power by the military looks a bit fishy, and other actions don’t look particularly democratic (clamping down the media, dispersing peaceful protests, prohibiting travel, cutting power to the capital city – essentially locking down Tegucigalpa, and arresting opposition leaders like the Mayor of San Pedro Sula, the country’s largest city). Neither party’s actions are passing the smell test.

    You don’t have to be a leftist Chavez lover to argue that a military coup may not have been the proper way to respond to Zelaya’s illegal actions. Of course if you’re a conservative Obama hater, any action he took would be proof of perfidy one way or another.

  8. William P. Sulik says:

    gbd is right on about this. I am so very dismayed by Obama – this is one case where the President tried to stage a coup against the constitution and the government and people of his own party have unanimously embraced the law and rejected the easy pursuit of the dictator.

  9. William P. Sulik says:

    Alta California – you are wrong about the military. [I am somewhat passionate about this because my boss and close friend of over 20 years is from Honduras – his mother and family are still there.]

    What happened is the President gave the head of the military an order to commit an illegal act. When the Chief, General Romeo Vasquez, refused, Zelaya fired him. In support of the military, the Defense Minister resigned to demonstrate his solidarity with Vasquez. Please understand that El Ministro de Defensa was a member of Zelaya’s party (the Liberal Party) and was appointed by him.

    The actions of the military are taken pursuant to the orders of a unanimous congress – controlled by Zelaya’s own party – and the Supreme Court.

    My friend tells me that there is very little military presence on the streets in Honduras and that it’s mainly in the capital. The police are still keeping the peace in the villages and the military remains in the barracks. The telephone lines have not been cut and the electricity continues to flow as normal (which means spotty drop-outs).

    Pray for the people of Honduras – that they may continue to live in peace and that the rule of law will be followed.

  10. Alta Californian says:

    William, I hope you are right.

    Our Diocese has a companion relationship with Honduras. I have been there and have friends there, too. I love the Honduran people and hope only the best for them. So I do hope you are right.

  11. Chris says:

    not just Chavez that Obama has aligned himself with – the Castro boys and Daniel Ortega as well. another blunder from “The One.” He’s also been much tougher on this than Iran, what up with that??

  12. dawson says:

    obama dosent like this it might set a bad precedent for when he wants to continue as dictator for life

  13. gdb in central Texas says:

    Chris said, “what up with that??”
    It’s really simple. Socialists try to cover each other’s back. The ballots that Zelaya had came from Nicaragua. Obama is just trying to support his good friend Hugo.

  14. Alta Californian says:

    Dictator for life…friend of Hugo…you guys are funny.

  15. rbatts says:

    I’m assuming the quote in #6 is from the Honduran Constitution. If I read it correctly (and my Spanish is very shaky) it looks like Zelaya’s removal may have been quite legal, although done in a ham-fisted manner.

  16. William P. Sulik says:

    AC – I may be wrong, but I do not think so. I’ve been following this story for the past week and have been extremely troubled by it. My hope was that Zelaya would back down and yield to his party (and the requirements of the law).

    Because of what has happened in the past, Honduras has struggled to implement the rule of law in its constitution. In articles such as the first (“Honduras es un Estado de derecho, soberano, constituido como república libre, democrática e independiente para asegurar a sus habitantes el goce de la justicia, la libertad, la cultura y el bienestar económico y social.”), second (imputing the popular will to oneself and the usurpation of constitutional powers are declared treason), and third (no one owes a duty to a usurper) are designed to dictatorships and juntas and coups a thing of the past.

    Moreover, the constitution established the one-term rule for each president as sacrosanct and declared that those who sought to change this rule would forfeit their citizenship (“Por incitar, promover o apoyar el continuismo o la reelección del Presidente de la República” roughly to incite, encourage or support the continuation or re-election of President of the Republic is to terminate one’s citizenship) Art. 42, Cl. 5.

    The constitution of 1982, as amended, may be found on-line here:


    Again, please pray that this gets settled peacefully now and in such a manner that no one – military or otherwise – seeks to overthrow the rule of law in the future.

  17. AndrewA says:

    Let me put it this way: I don’t think Obama will ever attempt to make himself El Presidente for Life. However, should he attempt to do so, I would be the first to support the military giving him the boot and restoring Constitutional order. I fully support the Hondurans doing the same thing in their country.

    We don’t need a Julius Caesar, and neither do they. Too bad Obama has clearly reacted to the CNN headlines instead of the facts on the ground. He is dead wrong on this, and I hope there is someone left in the government with the courage to call him out publically on this.

  18. gdb in central Texas says:

    rbatts: you are correct. Article 239 from the Honduran Constitution basically translates – [i]the citizen that has been the head of the Executive Branch cannot be President or Vice-President (again).
    Whoever violates this law or proposes its reform, as well as those that support such violation directly or indirectly, will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years.[/i]
    The action taken by the military was in direct response to the Supreme Court. Zelaya’s efforts to hold an election to serve another term as president was illegal and the court acted within its authority to have him removed.

  19. Jeffersonian says:

    [blockquote]Dictator for life…friend of Hugo…you guys are funny. [/blockquote]

    From what I’ve read, this is precisely what was going on. Zelaya was attempting to use a popular referendum to justify his continuation in office beyond a consitutionally-limited term. The referendum itself was not the proper manner to amend the Honduran Constitution, so Zelaya was attempting a coup himself, just by other means.

    And yes, he’s a pal of Chavez, who has been rattling his sword about invading Honduras to reinstall his stooge as El Senor Presidente.

  20. Katherine says:

    In addition to the links above, at the Wall St. Journal both Mary O’Grady, their Latin America correspondent, and John Fund are reporting that this is not a military coup. The military is acting upon the instructions of the legislature and the Supreme Court to prevent an illegal act. Hillary Clinton and Obama are dead wrong here. To be supporting an incipient dictatorship in agreement with Venezuela and Cuba is an international embarrassment.

  21. John Wilkins says:

    I think its amusing when we second guess the president. Most of us don’t know what is going on, and just cite the pundit of the day.

    1) It would be far easier for Obama to support the coup. This is what, most of the time, the US has done.

    2) What, exactly, was the president proposing? I can’t tell. I do know that the constitution was drafted at a time when the Death Squads were running the show. The history of US supported violence in Honduras is fairly repellent.

    3) To assume that Obama and Chavez have much in common is… I think quite repellent, and in the same camp of 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

  22. Dave B says:

    Hum, John, you didn’t seem to feel Bush knew more about issues so it was OK to second guess Bush… Just wondering. It would not be easier to support the coup for Obama, the ex president has the same prinicipals as the Obama…

  23. gdb in central Texas says:

    Once again John shows us he knows nothing, just like his idol, Obama.

  24. Katherine says:

    JW #23, it is so easy to simply assume that our favorite “pundits” mindlessly support one side or the other. In this case, “pundits” are pointing out that Honduras has a constitution which specifically prohibits consecutive terms for the President. This is to prevent dictatorships. The constitution can be amended under certain conditions. These conditions are not met by the current President; he simply ordered a vote. The vote is illegal by Honduran constitutional definition. The Supreme Court ordered the illegal vote to be canceled. Zelaya tried to go ahead with it anyhow.

    This is not a case of conservatives knee-jerk disagreeing with anything Obama says. Deal with facts.

  25. Katherine says:

    Let’s put it in American terms. Our Constitution as amended prohibits a President from being elected to more than two terms. Suppose Obama runs and wins again in 2012, and then decides to run a third time in 2016, in contradiction of the Constitution. Would you support that, JW?

  26. Jeffersonian says:

    [blockquote]It would be far easier for Obama to support the coup.[/blockquote]

    It depends on which coup you’re talking about. If it’s the coup that supports the Honduran Constitution, he’s dead-set against it. If it’s the one that tramples same, he’s all for it.

    [blockquote]I can’t tell.[/blockquote]

    As usual, proof-positive our friend [i]can[/i] tell, but doesn’t like the answer.

  27. stevejax says:

    I’m curious. How many “legal coups” have there been?

  28. John Wilkins says:

    I confess a bit of confusion about the issue. My instinct is to oppose the Honduran Military, in part because of its sordid history. I will admit my bias here.

    GDB in Texas – um, what is it I don’t know? That Honduras wasn’t exactly a model of democracy? I’m willing to be proven wrong, but I’m not particularly impressed with the idea that a simple referendum justifies military action.

    My understanding is that the constitution bars changes to its own document. So, how do people democratically change it if they want to? The referendum itself did not seem to give the president another term. If they don’t want to, they can vote against it.

    That said, Zelaya may have overplayed his hand by sacking the head of the armed forces. Given the class stratification in Honduras, I wonder if the wealthy don’t want things to change.

    Zelaya isn’t your normal leftist. He’s a landowner, a businessman, a libertarian. I just don’t think this issue is as “neat” as people here describe.

  29. William P. Sulik says:

    As I wrote above, this does not seem to be a typical coup d’état – Zeleya was not assassinated, the electricity was not cut off nor were the radio and television stations seized (this is from reports in newspapers in Honduras and Costa Rico as well as first hand reports from – via email and telephone – from Tegucigalpa and surrounding cities). Nevertheless, in an editorial in the Economist, here:
    it is stated “…The army silenced the state television station, cut electricity supplies and the bus services in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and sent tanks and planes to patrol the city.”

    While I would normally believe the Economist, I think my sources are more credible. I think too many people are looking at this through the haze of the 1970s and 80s and not seeing that Hondurans do not want a return to those days – which is why Zeleya was unanimously opposed by members of his own party when he signaled his intent to overthrow the constitution.

    Some other reports and opinion pieces:

    from the ultra-left wing Guardian:
    the Washington Post:
    former Bush administration official Roger Noriega:
    the NY Times:
    Álvaro Vargas Llosa:
    Charles Krauthammer (video): http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2009/06/29/charles_krauthammer_on_honduras_obama_is_wrong.html
    Juan Diego Zelaya , General Counsel to the mayor of Tegucigalpa and [b]member of the opposition party[/b]:

    My personal view on the President’s comments are that they were off-the-cuff remarks following his meeting with Alvaro Uribe, a supporter of Zeleya, and someone who has bent his own constitution to remain in office. See this report in the Washington Post yesterday afternoon:

  30. Katherine says:

    The constitution allows changes via certain prescribed procedures. Zelaya didn’t do those. He simply declared a referendum to change the constitution so he could run for another term. The referendum was outside constitutional procedures and was illegal. Even of his own party leaders opposed it for constitutional reasons. I agree that this isn’t the ordinary left v. right argument. It’s about whether they have a constitutional democracy.

    The analogy would be if a US President declared a referendum to change the constitution. That’s not how we change our constitution. What Zelaya tried isn’t how the Honduran constitution is supposed to be changed.

    There’s a similar argument re: Iran. What they have isn’t a democracy in the ordinary sense. All of the candidates had to be chosen by the mullahs. But then the mullahs wouldn’t even allow the people to chose from among those limited options. They violated their own system because they didn’t like the outcome.

  31. Alta Californian says:

    Jeffersonian, it is the extent to which those things were being applied to President Obama in comments 14 and 15 that I found humorous.

  32. Jeffersonian says:

    Yes, #14 was over the top, #15…well, we shall see.

  33. William P. Sulik says:

    John writes:

    [blockquote] My understanding is that the constitution bars changes to its own document. So, how do people democratically change it if they want to? The referendum itself did not seem to give the president another term. If they don’t want to, they can vote against it. [/blockquote]

    The constitution – because of past corruption – makes it difficult for the President to change it. In fact, s/he is barred from making changes. Nevertheless, it can and has been changed many times. If you go to the Georgetown University website which has a copy of the Constitution posted, you will see that it has been amended many times since it was adopted:


    Because of past abuses – and seeing what happened with Hugo Chavez – members of the Honduran legislature unanimously opposed the Zeleya referendum as being the nose in the tent. As I wrote above, Art. 42, cl. 5 is strongly worded to prevent the type of action that Zeleya was advocating.

    [blockquote] Zelaya isn’t your normal leftist. He’s a landowner, a businessman, a libertarian. I just don’t think this issue is as “neat” as people here describe. [/blockquote]

    You are right – and that is why I am surprised to see you standing up for a man like this who wanted to toss out the rule of law. It is very complex and it seems to me that the other branches of government were trying to uphold the Constitution – it was only after both the Judiciary and the Legislature acted did the military take action. As I understand it, they did so not on their own authority, but under the legal authority of the government and constitution of Honduras.

    Once again, please pray that this gets settled peacefully now and in such a manner that no one – military or otherwise – seeks to overthrow the rule of law in the future.

  34. Br. Michael says:

    I find it amusing that that none of the constitutional issues addressed here have been reported on NPR today. All they are reporting is that there was a military coup. The Honduran President’s actions are totally unreported.

  35. William P. Sulik says:

    I was just talking with my boss and he reminded me that the President had also violated the constitutional requirement to submit a budget. See article 366. http://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Honduras/hond05.html Specifically, Zelaya has refused to present a budget or to disclose how public funds are being spent.

    The Washington Post had a good editorial:

    See also, this AP story on Zelaya:

  36. William P. Sulik says:

    [blockquote]Here’s a question for all these new-found defenders of Honduran democracy: Where were you last week? Perhaps if some of these warnings about sticking to the constitution had been addressed to President Zelaya, the Honduran army would still be in the barracks where it belongs. [/blockquote]
    -Glen Garvin

  37. Loren+ says:

    Is there a way to keep this near the top so we can keep current with the discussion. I am impressed with the level of involvement here and as mentioned above by others, have not been able to follow up some of the details mentioned here in other media outlets. Thank you.

  38. InChristAlone says:

    “a “not legal” coup”
    Since I haven’t seen anyone else say it, I figure I might as well ask… what exactly would a “legal” coup look like?

  39. rbatts says:

    Just to take matters a step further. It looks like Article 42 of the Honduran Constitution describes those actions which would result in someone losing their citizenship. One of those actions is attempting to be re-elected to the presidency or supporting the changing of the single term limit. Constitutionally, Zeleya was not a citizen of Honduras and therefore was ineligible to hold office. Of course, my translation is using high school Spanish so someone may want to check it.

  40. Bill C says:

    Obama does know that he has only two 4 year terms, doesn’t he …. doesn’t he???

  41. Dave B says:

    maybe it’s just that the constitution is unconstitutional….

  42. John Wilkins says:

    Mr. Sulik – thank you for the links. They are informative.

    It does seem that Zelaya did lack finesse, and learned the wrong lessons from Chavez.

    I do think he should have the right to finish out his term.

    I’m interested to see how the OAS will react to this.

  43. Br. Michael says:

    42, my understanding is that there is a move afoot to repeal the 22nd Amendment which limits a President to two consecutive terms. I don’t know if this predates Obama or not.

  44. Alta Californian says:

    [url=http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/termlimits.asp]Snopes[/url] has a good explanation of that Bro. Michael.

  45. Katherine says:

    Thanks for the Snopes link, Alta Californian. That’s an interesting list of people who have proposed this over the years, and I agree with the article that there’s virtually no chance this would happen, especially in time to benefit a sitting President. What I can’t understand is why any of these Democrats and Republicans would have thought more than two terms would be a good idea. Look at how Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both aged in office. Eight years is more than enough for one President.

    I’d like to make it clear that my references above to Obama’s hypothetically doing this were rhetorical only, to show JW how outrageously the Honduran president is behaving.