I agree that the removal of Zelaya was not a coup d’etat in the classic sense. There were significant differences between the de facto government and earlier right-wing military dictatorships on the continent, although many leftist observers rushed very quickly to impose the same descriptive frame. My instincts, having been formed in the period of Contragate, the American-backed dictatorship in El Salvador, and so on, were similar, but I held them in check, and tried to find out more about the Honduras situation before taking a view. I still cannot claim any specialist knowledge about Honduras, and still do not know which sources to trust, and everything I say here (and in previous comments) should be read as heaviliy caveated.
Nonetheless, it seems to me very clear that the Honduran constitution, like many Latin American constitutions, is a contradictory document, with lots of vague terminology and lots of scope for latitude, in dire need of reform. There is also no doubt that the changes to the constitution which Zelaya proposed might have spelled a drift towards the sort of electoral authoritarianism which we see in Venezuela. On the other hand, what was actually proposed was simply a constituent assembley, and any changes it might have legislated would have occured after Zelaya’s term was over. The present constitution has been amended some two dozen times, most of these in the last decade of democratic rule, so it is not in itself problematic to seek to further reform the constitution.
The removal of Zelaya had elements which were in line with the existing constitution and elements which contradicted it. For example, his forcible expatriation was straightforwardly unconstitutional. The subsequent suspension of constitutional rights for 45 days by the de facto government was technically constitutional, but both unnecessary and against the spirit of democracy.
A formalistic or legalistic interpretation of what counts as democracy or as constutional is, in my view, inadequate. It is inadequate for two reasons. First, the importance of interlocking forms of power and privilege – the role of oligarchy – in Honduras (as in elsewhere in Central America) undermine the integrity of the interpretations of law made by key state actors: the military, judiciary, legislature and media are in the hands of a tiny number of interrelated families. Second, it is perfectly possible to constrain genuine democracy while following the formal rule of law. The many “democratatorships” across the world, from Belorussia to Iran to Venezuela, make that clear. While the problem of Latin America in the 20th century was naked military dictatorship, its problem in the 21st is electoral authoritarianism.
For some of the more extreme claims I made, google Roger Iván Bados or Ramón García. I am not claiming that the de facto government directly assassinated these men, but as you know the oligarchy has not just the military and police at its disposal but also paramilitary and organised crime forces.
The lack of decent news makes knowing the turnout problematic – but so does the utter lack of transparency from those in power, who have still, I believe, not released a detailed breakdown of polling station results. When this sort of fudge comes from the Iranian authorities we are suspicious, and we should be here too.
Here are some of the accounts of turnout:
the nonprofit group that the TSE [Honduras' Supreme Electoral Tribunal] contracted to do exit polls, Fundación Hagamos Democracia (FHD), also disagreed with the official turnout projection of 61.3%. The FHD’s projection for turnout was about 47.6%, significantly lower than the 2005 turnout. At the Nov. 29 press conference, TSE magistrate Ortez Sequeira noted that the FHD’s exit polls were close to the TSE’s projections—except on the question of turnout. Skeptics also noted TSE president Saúl Escobar’s admission at the press conference that the electoral results were being delayed because of a technical problem in verifying the digitalized data. (El Tiempo, Nov. 30; Honduras Coup 2009 blog, Nov. 30) http://www.ww4report.com/node/8026
Election officials in Honduras on Friday revised down the participation rate in controversial weekend elections from more than 60 percent to 49 percent. http://www.france24.com/en/node/4940819
An independent group of observers estimated that the turnout number was 48 percent. “Because of a lack of serious election observation, it’s difficult to know exactly what the exact numbers are,” Daniel Altschuler, an independent political analyst in Honduras told CNN. However, a CNN calculation based on official figures provided by Supreme Electoral Tribunal spokesman Roberto Reyes Pineda shows that the actual voter turnout is 56.6 percent. http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/12/05/honduras.election.turnout/index.html
Therefore, it seems that the Frente Nacional’s claims for large-scale abstention have turned out to be false, but the rulers’ claims for increased turnout and therefore secure legitimacy for the results is also false. (The Frente Nacional claim something like 60% turnout in 2005, which appears to be false, as most sources put it at around half, i.e. similar to this election.)