The Collective
Thursday, July 2, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

There is no doubt that the Honduran situation, both pre- and post-coup was a complex one and that the entire situation has been a serious constitutional crisis that was precipitated in large measure by President Zelaya.

However, those who have argued that the coup was a simple, obvious and easy blow against tyranny and that it was a case of all of Honduras v. Zelaya have to face up to the fact that the situation is a tad more complicated and that whenever force is deployed against elected officials that the outcome tends not to be democratizing.

To wit, via the AP/El Nuevo Herald:Congreso hondureño suspende garantías constitucionales

El Congreso hondureño aprobó el miércoles la suspensión de algunas garantías individuales


El acuerdo del Congreso fue avalado por aclamación y suspende la libertad de asociación y de circulación, entre otras…

Translation: “Honduran Congress Suspends Constitutional Guarantees”:

On Wednesday the Honduran congress approved suspension of certain individual rights


The congressional accord was agreed upon by acclamation and suspends freedom of association and circulation, among others…

Also via El Nuevo Herald: Gobierno de Honduras mantiene férreo control sobre la prensa. Translation: “Honduran Government Maintains Strict Control over the Press.”

The story notes the closing of a television news station, the “closing of various press outlets” and the “periodic interruption of the signal of CNN in Spanish” (quotes translated by me from the article).


Las estaciones que se mantienen en el aire sólo emiten noticias favorables al nuevo gobierno. Varios periódicos locales no han publicado información alguna sobre el apoyo internacional a Zelaya en los países vecinos.


The stations that remain on the air only broadcast news favorable to the new government. Various local periodicals have not published information about international support for Zelaya in neighboring countries.

The story reports the “militarization” of one private TV station.

This all started in coordination the coup:

La censura a los medios de prensa comenzó el domingo antes del amanecer. Los medios hondureños quedaron fuera del aire mientras Zelaya era expulsado del país en avión.


The censoring of the press began on Sunday before dawn. Honduran media remained off the air while Zelaya was expelled from the country in an airplane.

This doesn’t sound like a legal, constitutionally defensible action. Rather, it sounds like a typical coup d’etat (or golpe del estado, if one prefers).

Beyond that, if one’s fundamental argument is that one is combating tyranny, this doesn’t stike me as a good start. It also, by the way, gives Hugo Chávez quite a bit of rhetorical fuel. Moreover it may yet have the aeffect of empowering Zelaya and his possibly less-than-democratic goals.

h/t: Fausta for the first linked piece.

Update: Here’s an english-language version of the second story noted above: Honduras new government is censoring journalists.

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8 Responses to “Defending Democracy against Tyranny?”

  1. Vladimir Says:

    Read the constitution, Professor, before you make your judgements:

    The temporary suspension of some individual rights is possible under Honduras constitution.

    See article 187:

    ARTICULO 187.- El ejercicio de los derechos establecidos en los artículos 69, 71, 72, 78, 81, 84, 93, 99 y 103, podrán suspenderse en vaso de invasión del territorio nacional, perturbación grave de la paz, de epidemia o de cualquier otra calamidad general, por el Presidente de la República (…).

    Article 72 is
    ARTICULO 72.- Es libre la emisión del pensamiento por cualquier medio de difusión, sin previa censura. Son responsables ante la ley los que abusen de este derecho y aquellos que por medios directos o indirectos restrinjan o impidan la comunicación y circulación de ideas y opiniones.

  2. Steven L. Taylor Says:

    As I noted in another comment thread:

    I have made no claims about the legality of those acts. They are, however, blatantly anti-democratic. Again, you find yourself in the position of defending anti-democratic acts in the midst of arguing that the Zelaya ouster was done for the purpose of fighting tyranny. That is a difficult circle to square.

  3. Vladimir Says:

    Let´s keep the conversation in this new thread then…I am reposting.

    So, you regard the very constitution undemocratic.
    That is a valid point of view (although I´ll say that Hondureans should have the last say about that too). But then we have to stop arguing about how to keep the constitutional order, right? Either the constitution is valid or not. If you regard it invalid, why keep arguing about legality? Are you calling for a revolution or not, professor?

  4. Vladimir Says:

    “This doesn’t sound like a legal, constitutionally defensible action”.

    At least this part of your post is patently incorrect in face of article 187. I humbly suggest that you fix it.

    I do conceed the point that it is a regretfull act and one that will play well on the hands of those who are opposing the new government.

  5. Steven L. Taylor Says:

    I was referring specifically the way that the president was ousted–if the application of the Court’s order was legal and wholly defensible, why silence the airwaves and keep them black to stop any news coverage of the event?

    Again: your argument that the ouster was necessary for Honduran democracy is undercut by the fact that we see the Micheletti government curtailing basic rights.

  6. Vladimir Says:

    These actions are temporary, aparently legal and frankly, understandable giving the fact that the new government is probably feeling under seige at this point.

    But what should be the way forward now, Professor? Reinstate Zelaya? Can you see how that is going to be very problematic? How is this supposed to do more good than bad? What is the problem with pressing just for fair elections in November (and, maybe, the restoration of all individual rights imediately)?

  7. PD Shaw Says:

    I don’t want to get into (another) terminology dispute with the Professor, but my personal preference would be to refer to the manipulation of the press as illiberal. Fareed Zakaria had a nice book several years ago about the problems of illiberal democracies — governments that use democratic insitutions to despotic ends.

    It may have been democratic to force Socrates to drink the hemlock for his unpopular views, it wasn’t right and it wasn’t liberal. Hondurans deserve to be treated with the human dignity to hear about the events in the world.

    My personal preference would have been for Obama not to take sides in this dispute, but stick to speaking about American values in the abstract or at least criticizing both sides (which is his Middle East modus operandi). I think the evidence indicates that the military feels it is protecting the constitutional order and will most likely increase its activities in response to outside pressure.

  8. Vladimir Says:


    I believe I have taken enough of your time and patience, so let us finish this discussion ,at least for now.
    As I said before, sometimes I tend to argue with too much passion and I have a taste for irony and humor that some people may regard as ofensive. If at any point that was your impression, please, accept my apologies.
    I believe that, in the end, we have more points of agreement then it appears. We both prize the rule of law and representative democracy. We both recognize the need for stronger institutions in Latin American, even while disagreeing in how that end would be better served in the current situation. I believe we both abhor the grotesque caricature of democracy presented by the “Bolivarians”. And we both agree that the actions of Zelaya were out of law and that they indicate that he was up to no good. We also agree that the suspension of individual rights by the new government is deplorable, even though we disagree about its legality and ultimate intentions.
    Thank you for not resorting to the annoying and undemocratic habit of the Bolivarians of assuming that, since I can read English and have access to the internet, I´m certainly part of the “elite” and, somehow, that disqualify my opinions.
    Finally, I would appreciate if you devote sometime to post your opinion about the conduct of the international community in this whole mess. Do you think that the though line adopted up until now is the best way to foster democracy in Honduras (since you appear to believe that the new government is totally illegitimate) or do you share my concern about the damage that a prolonged impasse between the three branches of government may cause?

    Best regards.

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