Briefing: Was Zelaya's ouster a coup?
Hondurans debate the legality of the forced exile of President Manuel Zelaya.
In the early hours of June 28, military forces entered the home of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, put him under arrest, and sent him on a plane to Costa Rica. Leaders from around the world condemned the action as a coup – a "violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group," according to Merriam-Webster. But the interim leaders in Honduras claim that their president vacated his office by acting against the Constitution and that a legal succession of power took place. Neither side has backed down, though talks are under way in Costa Rica .Skip to next paragraph
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What's the legal argument that this was a coup?
The fact that the military arrested Mr. Zelaya at gunpoint and, most important, exiled him, are the key points raised by world leaders who call the events a coup. The Organization of American States (OAS) voted unanimously to suspend Honduras from the regional body, citing Article 21 of its Inter-American Democratic Charter, which states that if there is "an unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order of a member state, and that diplomatic initiatives have failed, the special session shall take the decision to suspend said member state." The OAS decision is in line with much of the global reaction, as nations have recalled ambassadors and suspended trade and aid. The US government has declared the ouster "not legal."
Jennifer McCoy, director of the Americas Program at the Atlanta-based Carter Center, explains: "The reason why the international community considers it a coup is that the military captured [Zelaya] and removed him from the country without due process."
What's the argument that it was not a coup?
The interim government, led by Roberto Micheletti, claims that a "coup" never occurred in Honduras because the military was operating under court order, never assumed power, and had the support of nearly all institutions in Honduras.
Octavio Sanchez, a lawyer and constitutional expert in Honduras who agrees with Mr. Micheletti, explains the legal reasoning. Zelaya was pushing forward with an attempt to hold a nonbinding vote to consider a constituent assembly, which the Supreme Court declared illegal. Article 239 of the Constitution is the key. It prohibits presidents from running for reelection, and it states that whoever does so, or proposes to do so, must immediately vacate the office.
Zelaya published his intentions to hold a national poll on convening a constituent assembly in the official gazette days before his ouster. The Honduran courts and other sectors viewed this as a way to open the door to scrapping term limits for presidents, says Mr. Sanchez. Zelaya has denied this. The Supreme Court issued an order for the military to arrest him for breaking court orders requiring him to act within the constitutional framework.
Under Article 306 of the Constitution, the courts have a right to send law enforcement to execute an arrest warrant. But under Article 102 of the Constitution, no Honduran citizen can be exiled.