Monday :: Jun 29, 2009

Honduras: US-Trained Coup Leader? (UPDATED)

by Turkana

With the Secretary General of the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the Obama Administration, and the European Union all condemning the coup in Honduras, it's worth drawing attention to a couple of serious issues of which all should be aware. The first important point is that while, as LithiumCola has pointed out, President Obama's condemnation of the Honduran coup represents a paradigmatic change in U.S. policy towards the overthrow of a left wing Latin American government, the U.S. does appear to bear responsibility for having trained the leader of the coup. According to School of The Americas Watch:

General Romeo Vasquez, the head of the armed forces who led the military coup against the democratically elected president Zelaya, is a graduate of the notorious School of the Americas (SOA).

What is the SOA?

As explained by this site, jointly operated by the Center for International Policy, the Latin American Working Group, and the Washington Office on Latin America:

The School of the Americas had been questioned for years, as it trained many military personnel before and during the years of the "national security doctrine" -- the dirty war years in the Southern Cone and the civil war years in Central America -- in which Latin American militaries ruled or had disproportionate government influence and committed serious human rights violations. Training manuals used at the SOA and elsewhere from the early 1980s through 1991 promoted techniques that violated human rights and democratic standards. SOA graduates continue to surface in news reports regarding both current human rights cases and new reports on past cases.

And according to Global Security:

Critics have labeled the School of the Americas a "school for dictators." The ten former Latin American heads of state who attended the School of the Americas include General Manuel Antonio Noriega of Panama, military ruler from 1983 until his ouster from power by U.S. forces in December 1989. In 1992, Noriega was convicted and sentenced in a U.S. Federal court to 40 years in prison on drug trafficking charges, while subsequently he was sentenced in Panama for the 1985 murder of a Panamanian opposition leader and for the October 1989 murder of a Panamanian military officer who led an unsuccessful coup against him. Another Panamanian leader who attended the School of the Americas is General Omar Torrijos who emerged as Panama's de facto political leader after the National Guard overthrew the elected civilian government of Arnulfo Arias in 1968, and ruled either as official head of government or de facto political leader until his death in a plane crash in 1981. While many observers would label Torrijos a populist leader, others criticize the general for his repression of opposition sectors.

Two additional School alumni who overthrew elected civilian governments are Major General Guillermo Rodriguez (1972-76), who overthrew Ecuadorian President Jose Maria Velasco Ibarra, and Major General Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968-1975), who overthrew Peruvian President Fernando Belaunde Terry. Breaking with the pattern of previous military leaders in these two countries, Rodriguez and Alvarado initiated extensive periods of direct military rule, seven years in Ecuador and twelve years in Peru.

The six remaining Latin American military rulers who attended the School of the Americas consist of two each from Argentina, Bolivia, and Honduras, all of whom succeeded military rulers.

The second point is that, although the coup leaders claim to be defending their national constitution against a purported attempt by ousted President Manuel Zelaya to undermine it, they themselves have undermined it, and not only by overthrowing their elected president. For it appears that the new "president" installed by the coup leaders may not meet the constitutional requirements to hold that office.

According to the New York Times:

The military offered no public explanation for its actions, but the Supreme Court issued a statement saying that the military had acted to defend the law against “those who had publicly spoken out and acted against the Constitution’s provisions.”

But there seems to be a little problem. Beyond even the whole idea of a coup against an elected president. From the Honduran Constitution:

ARTICULO 238.- Para ser Presidente de la República o Designado a la Presidencia, se requiere:

1. Ser hondureño por nacimiento;

2. Ser mayor de treinta años;

3. Estar en el goce de los derechos del ciudadano; y,

4. Ser del estado seglar.

In English, that first requirement is that the president be someone who was born in Honduras. But according to this website, the man installed by the coup, Roberto Micheletti, was born in Lombardy! If true, not only can Micheletti not be installed as president, he can't even be elected to be president!

Update: The English Wiki is wrong, and Micheletti appears to be native born, of Italian descent. The US/SOA link stands. (h/t Geekesque)

[UPDATE] Betson08 links the OAS statement, condemning the coup.

Turkana :: 5:22 AM :: Comments (8) :: Digg It!