Zelaya Arrest Warrants Dismissed

Via the BBC: Honduras drops arrest warrants for ousted Manuel Zelaya.

As we all may recall, Honduran President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya was invited, one fine Sunday morning, to board a plane to Costa Rica. Now, I must confess that I would very much like to go to Costa Rica, but there is a good way to be invited to Costa Rica, and a bad way. The problem in the Zelaya case is that said invitation was delivered by the military while Mel was still in his jammies.

At any rate, after many adventures, Mel found himself out of a job and is currently residing in the Dominican Republic and would like to return home and was a combo vacation invite and Trumpian “you’re fired.”

The piece notes that despite having three arrest warrants cancelled, he still faces corruption charges.

All my posts on Honduras can be found here, which includes the many adventures of Mel Zelaya and a discussion of the fact that, yes, is was a coup.

FILED UNDER: Latin America, World Politics, ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Michael says:

    He was sent on his way because he illegally tried to circumvent the Honduran constitution. You conveniently left out that little factoid.

  2. @Michael:

    I wrote rather extensively on the event at the link provided (and some at OTB as well IIRC).

    Without getting into the complexities of the situation, I will stipulate that he wanted a plebiscite of dubious legality. Indeed, for the sake of argument I will agree with your basic description.

    Even if true, that does not justify A military coup-which is what one calls taking the legally elected president ouT of his residence, depositing him in a foreign county’s and telling him he’s fired.

  3. A military coup-which is what one calls taking the legally elected president ouT of his residence, depositing him in a foreign county’s and telling him he’s fired.

    Ecept it wasn’t the military, it was the judiciary and the parliament. The military was just obeying their orders. With the exception of one man, the entire government remained in place through the entire affair. It can only be considered a coup if you confuse that one man with the government.

  4. @SD:

    There is no constitutional provision in the Honduran constitution allowing the events in question. Extra-legal action (even if that power is claimed by a par at of the government) is still extra-legal. The extra-legal removal and exile of a duly elected president is a coup. There is no way around this fact, even if Zelaya was going to attempt to go through with the plebiscite.

    The problem with the “it’s not a coup” argument is that it is predicated on the notion that there were only two choices: exiling Zelaya or letting him do whatever he wanted to do. That is a false dichotomy.

    Further: the Honduran constitution forbids forced exile.

  5. There is no constitutional provision in the Honduran constitution allowing the events in question.

    This isn’t entirely true. There is a provision stating that any president who advocates extending their term be removed from office. You are correct that it never specifies who is responsible for executing that removal. But by that argument, all federal law enforcement is extra-legal since nothing in our constitution specifically mentions who is responsible for arresting people who violate federal laws.

    Further, even if we accept your argument that the removal was extra-legal, that still doesn’t make it a coup. If anyone can be described as attempting a coup, it was Zelaya himself, who was attempting to eliminate the rest of the government and place himself as the head of a new government through unlawful means.

    You again conflate Zelaya with the entirety of the Honduran government and argue that the removal of one is the removal of the other.

  6. even if we accept your argument that the removal was extra-legal, that still doesn’t make it a coup.

    The definition of an extra-legal removal from power is “coup.”

    A coup does not require, as you are suggesting, a complete removal of the entire government. Indeed, coups never take out the entire government.

    If anyone can be described as attempting a coup, it was Zelaya himself, who was attempting to eliminate the rest of the government and place himself as the head of a new government through unlawful means.

    And yet, this is nowhere near an accurate description. The text of the plebiscite can be found here.

  7. BTW, please note the list of issue I note in that post under the photo. It will help explain my position.

  8. Please read Artcles 373 through 375 of the Honduran constitution.

    The constitution provides precisely one method for altering the constitution: a two thirds vote in the legislature. There is no such body as a “national constituent assembly” or any procedure for calling one into being. The president was attempting to create a fake legislature to ratify measures he could not get passed at the actual legislature. The nature of those measures is irrelevant, the plan was inherently extra-legal.

    Again, I assert the word coup applies far more what Zelaya was doing than what the military was doing. Especially since I’d would argue that article 375 REQUIRED the military to do exactly what they did.

  9. @SD:

    And this is why I understand the problem with Zelaya’s plebiscite.

    However, that the plebiscite was unconstitutional does not justify what happened next. nor does it changed the established definition of “coup.” You may assert all you like what you think the word should mean, and you are entitled to your own private definition. I am using the definition as deployed in reams upon reams of political science literature.

  10. To try and make this as simple as I can: one wrong (Zelaya’s) does not justify the second wrong (his ouster and exile). There were other ways to deal with the first wrong.

    Pointing out that the second wrong was wrong is not a defense of the first wrong.

    I would note, btw, that your description of what you think Zelaya was attempting changed from one comment to the next once you had more information. This indicates that your basic conception of the situation may be based on assumptions and incomplete information.

  11. What is the established definition, in your mind?

  12. The extra-legal removal of the head of government or other key element of the government (although it is usually the executive) is a coup. It is the setting aside of the normal procedures for determining the transfer of power.

    This is true whether it is done by the courts or the military and it is true whether other parts of the government remain in place or not. It can be violent (as in Chile 1973) or it can be bloodless (as in Pakistan 1999 or Egypt 2011).

    It need not result in any other change than the removal of the given elected official. There have been examples (Peru and Argentina come to mind) in which the military did not like the result of a given election and a redo was ordered. That’s a coup because there is no legal authority for the military to remove elected officials in that matter.

    Another example that may help explain the issue: in 1992 when Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori dismissed the Congress and order a constitutional rewrite and eventually new elections this was called in Peru (and in the literature) an “autogolpe” or “self-coup”–his constitutional basis for dismissing congress was dubious at best, but the military backed the action.

    Things that are not coups

    -Impeachment and removal of a president.
    -Criminal charges
    -Votes of no confidence

    (Assuming, of course, that such things are possible under a specific legal/constitutional order).

    Something that could have been done in Honduras:

    -Court orders to stop and illegal plebiscite (or the seizure, by the military, of the ballots).

    In short: if you can get the military to roust the president from bed on a Sunday morning and toss him on plane, then perhaps you can get the military to simply take the ballots and solve that problem in a legal, non-coup, fashion.

  13. Another example:

    Let’s say it is determined that Obama acted unconstitutionally in the Libya situation.

    We could do one of the following (or other things):

    1) Pass legislation requiring a reversal of the policy (not a coup).
    2) If need be, impeach and remove him from office (not a coup).
    3) Mount an effective campaign to elect someone in 2012 (not a coup).

    or we could:

    4) Send the military into his room and put him on a plane to Canada as the result of a court order (a coup).

  14. Suppose we chose option 2, and he went, “Well, I’m not leaving, I don’t care what the senate says”. Would any attempt to remove him by force at that point still constitute a coup?

  15. If the president was legally impeached and removed from office and he would leave, then he would need to be physically removed from the building. Just like if I was fired from my job and would not vacate my office.

    However, this would be at the end of a clearly constitutional process and would not result in exile.

    One of the many problems with what happened in Honduras is that it is wholly unclear (to be kind) that the Supreme Court and the Congress had the power to remove Zelaya. Indeed, one of the deficiencies of their constitution is the lack of a clear impeachment process.

    Still ask yourself two questions:

    1) If what happened was a wholly above-board event (like forcibly escorting an impeached and removed president from the Oval Office) why do it at dawn on a Sunday while Zelaya was still in his night clothes? Why deny him a chance to even make a phone call?

    2) Why exile? (which, again, is forbidden under the constitution).

  16. And to directly answer your question: not a coup because once removed by the Senate, he is no longer president. He would have been stripped of office by a constitutional process.

  17. Answer to both is that he had already demonstrated access to personal forces that were prepared to fight the army on his behalf. These forces had already attacked an air force base, removing the impounded ballots that were stored there.

    It was done to avoid the possibility of a pitched battle that could have resulted in significant casualties.

  18. I will say that the military should have taken Zelaya for detention and questioning as specified in the Supreme Court’s order, but I also recognize this would have likely led to significant fighting as Zelaya’s forces attempted to free him.

    Would you have preferred a more “letter of the law” approach even if it had resulted in a significant number of deaths?

  19. I would prefer to settle, if possible, the discussion at hand before moving into a discussion of hypotheticals.

    I thought the issue under discussion was whether what happened was a coup or not.

  20. Indeed, upon re-reading your last comment, it would seem that you are at least semi-accepting that it was coup (or, at least, not “letter of the law”), but are now shifting your position to it was necessary anyway.

  21. My position is that the army’s decision to send Zelaya out of the country was extra legal, although not the decision to detain him. However, I still don’t think it was a coup.

  22. Ok, so you are willing to call it an extra-legal exile of a duly elected president, but not a coup.


  23. Because he was being legally removed from power, just not legally moved out of the country.

  24. Except, you haven’t established that.

  25. Article 239 of the Honduran Constitution (translated to english):

    No citizen who has already served as head of the Executive Branch can be President or a designated person. 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

    He was no longer the duly elected president of Honduras, so removing him from office cannot be a coup, even if some other crime was done to him.

  26. Except that there was no trial, no proceeding, nothing.

    It is like saying, to go back to the previous example, that there is evidence to impeach and remove the president, but we don’t actually have to go through the process.

    Further, there is no direct evidence of an attempt to reform the no re-election clause.

    It is nice to have trials in democracies. Lack of trials, lack of process gets us back to coup.

    Again: if this is all so slam-dunk, why the dawn raid on the presidential residence?

    And, I don’t buy the “zeal” argument in terms of overreach.

  27. 1. There was a proceeding. The Honduran attourney general brought charges againt Zelaya, which the Supreme Court approved and his detention was ordered.

    2. There was going to be a trial, which again I said the military was behaving extra legally by sending him out of the country, although not in detaining him, which was pursuant to a lawful court order. But I don’t see how a trial is necessary for it to be a lawful transfer of power. In your example, the president is impeached via a hearing before a Senate, not a true trial.

    3. Police arrest people in pre-dawn raids all the time. While it can certainly be argued whether it’s a good idea to do so under a given set of circumstances, it’s generally not considered prima facia evidence that the officers performing the arrest believe the warrant to be invalid.

    Could you clarify your position a bit: are you arguing it was a coup only do to the exile, or are you arguing any sort of detention would have constituted a coup? e.g. Had he been detained and tried, and still voted impeached the following day by the national assembly, would that have satisfied you as a lawful transfer of power?

  28. SD:

    Proceeding held in secret where the defendant was not allowed to defend himself in any way.

    Further, you are confusing the notion of an indictment and a conviction.

    I find the assertion that military simply got “over-zealous” and flew the man to Costa Rica (who does that on a whim?) to be absurd on its face. Yes, I know some in Honduras have claimed that is what happened, but I don’t buy it. It all sounds like CYA to me.

    And even if the military did do that, then it was a military coup plan and simple and we can stop talking about the courts and the constitution, because it would mean that the military decided, without authority, to settle the messy matter by exiling him and being done with the process and in the absence of any legal authority.

    I appreciate your interest in having this conversation, but I think at this point it is time to agree to disagree. I am highly unlikely to change my position on this and it seems that you are in a similar position.

    I will ask: why so passionate on this topic? I find it interesting because of a similar argument i had with another commenter about whether what happened in Egypt was coup. Why does the word “coup” that gets people so upset?