Honduran President, Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales, known as “Mel” to most Hondurans, was ousted from power this past Sunday, June 28. In the early hours of the morning, he was woken up by military officers, forcibly taken from his home in pajamas, and placed on a plane headed for San Jose, Costa Rica, where he was placed in exile.
Later that morning, the Honduran Congress held an emergency session in which they read and approved a letter of resignation written by Zelaya (although he categorically denies having written it). In the afternoon, according to the succession of power outlined in the Constitution, the President of Congress, Roberto Micheletti, was appointed as interim president until the next election is held in November.
In order to fully understand what is being presented by much of the international press as a gross violation of democracy, one must examine the events leading up to Sunday. Honduras’ Constitution currently states a presidential limit of one term. Zelaya has been trying for months to gain support of a referendum vote to modify the Constitution. The desired outcome of this modification includes a re-election and potential indefinite presidential stay in power – similar to dictators such as Hugo Chavez, Zelaya’s close political ally, and Fidel Castro.
Furthermore, Zelaya has been widely criticized for his blatant abuse of power and obsession with winning the upcoming referendum vote at the expense of his other responsibilities. Without an approved federal budget in place, Zelaya has been spending government funds at will. Most notably, government workers who had not received a salary in several months due to supposed lack of funds were paid 300-500 Lempiras ($15-25) in exchange for marching in a pro-referendum demonstration. Meanwhile, hundreds of Hondurans severely affected by the May 28 earthquake and thousands more in subsequent danger of flooding from destroyed levees of Ulúa River were completely ignored.
In the weeks before the referendum vote, it became clear that Zelaya did not have legal grounds to hold an election. Although the Constitution can be modified, the Supreme Court declared Zelaya’s referendum illegal because the President does not have authority to propose such modifications and, even if he did, it must be approved by Congress. In addition, the Attorney General supported the Supreme Court’s decision and declared that he would prosecute anyone involved in carrying out the illegal vote.
Just a few days before the referendum vote, the Head of the Armed Forces, Romeo Vasquez, declared that he would not participate in the logistics of making an illegal election take place (a role traditionally carried out by the military). Zelaya responded by firing him and refused to reinstate Vasquez on the Supreme Court’s order. Shortly thereafter, the Defense Minister and Heads of the Navy and Air Force also resigned.
On Friday, June 26, in a desperate attempt to carry out his illegal referendum vote despite widespread opposition, Zelaya led a crowd of supporters to a military compound near the airport in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. They successfully took possession of the country’s ballot boxes and distributed them, along with thousands of illegal ballots that had been sent from Venezuela by Hugo Chavez, throughout Honduras for Sunday’s illegal vote.
The international community, including the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union, has been quick to condemn what they are calling a military coup, while the new administration insists it was not a coup because Zelaya was clearly warned beforehand about the potential consequences if he carried out his illegal referendum vote. Furthermore, the military is not ruling the country. Rather, an interim president has been appointed to govern until the next election in November. The OAS has called for Zelaya to be returned to the Presidency and will hold a meeting in Washington D.C. to discuss the crisis.
The United States, while condemning Sunday’s actions as illegal, has stopped short of officially declaring a coup, which would require the U.S. to cut off millions of dollars of aid to Honduras, where over half the population lives in extreme poverty. The U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, indicated U.S. reluctance to returning Zelaya to the Presidency when she said, “We haven’t laid out any demands that we’re insisting on, because we’re working with others on behalf of our ultimate objectives.” President of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington D.C., Peter Hakim, summarized the international community’s predicament by saying that Zelaya had been “fighting with all institutions in the country” and that “he’s in no condition to really govern. At the same time to stand by and allow him to be pushed out by the military reverses a course of 20 years.”1
In Honduras, there is a sense of tense anticipation over what is to come. Monday, while Micheletti was naming his new cabinet, an estimated 1,500 pro-Zelaya demonstrators were sprayed with tear gas by soldiers attempting to control the protests outside the Presidential Palace in Tegucigalpa. A nationwide 48-hour curfew was imposed from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. starting Sunday evening and is likely to be extended. Meanwhile citizens throughout the country have been lining up at grocery stores and gas stations to stock up on fuel and supplies as they wait to see what will happen next. As these events unfold, Adelante will continue to support our clients and work to improve the standard of living of the extreme poor.
 Sheridan, Mary Beth. U.S. Condemns Honduran Coup: Still, Administration Steps Lightly. The Washington Post. 6/30/09.
 Rosenberg, Mica. Honduras Isolated over Zelaya Ouster. Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE55R24E20090629. 6/29/09.