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Mary Anastasia O'Grady
:
Hillary's Honduras Obsession

The Supreme Court of Honduras has constitutional and statutory authority to hear cases against the President of the Republic and many other high officers of the State, to adjudicate and enforce judgments, and to request the assistance of the public forces to enforce its rulings." Congressional Research Service, August 2009 *

Ever since Manuel Zelaya was removed from the Honduran presidency by that country's Supreme Court and Congress on June 28 for violations of the constitution, the Obama administration has insisted, without any legal basis, that the incident amounts to a "coup d'état" and must be reversed. President Obama has dealt harshly with Honduras, and Americans have been asked to trust their president's proclamations.

Now a report filed at the Library of Congress by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) provides what the administration has not offered, a serious legal review of the facts. "Available sources indicate that the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system," writes CRS senior foreign law specialist Norma C. Gutierrez in her report.

Do the facts matter? Fat chance. The administration is standing by its "coup" charge and 10 days ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went so far as to sanction the country's independent judiciary. The U.S. won't say why, but its clear the court's sin is rejecting a U.S.-backed proposal to restore Mr. Zelaya to power.

The upshot is that the U.S. is trying to force Honduras to violate its own constitution and is also using its international political heft to try to interfere with the country's independent judiciary.

Hondurans are worried about what this pressure is doing to their country. Mr. Zelaya's violent supporters are emboldened by the U.S. position. They deface some homes and shops with graffiti and throw stones and home-made bombs into others, and whenever the police try to stop them, they howl about their "human rights."

But it may be that Americans should be even more concerned about the heavy-handedness, without legal justification, emanating from the executive branch in Washington. What does it say about Mr. Obama's respect for the separation of powers that he would instruct Mrs. Clinton to punish an independent court because it did not issue the ruling he wanted?

Since June 28, the U.S. has been pressuring Honduras to put Mr. Zelaya back in the presidency. But neither Mrs. Clinton's spurious "rule of law" claims or the tire iron handed her by Mr. Obama to use against this little country have been effective in convincing the Honduran judiciary that it ought to abandon its constitution.

It seems that Mrs. Clinton is peeved with the court because it ruled that restoring Mr. Zelaya to power under a proposal drafted by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is unconstitutional. Thus, the State Department decided that in defense of the rule of law it would penalize the members of the Supreme Court for their interpretation of their constitution. Fourteen justices had their U.S. visas pulled.

Since the U.S. already had yanked the visa of the 15th member of the court, the one who signed the arrest warrant for Mr. Zelaya, this action completed Mrs. Clinton's assault on the independence of a foreign democracy's highest court. The lesson, presumably, is that judges in small foreign nations are required to accept America's interpretation of their own laws.

Thousands of readers have written to me asking how all this can happen in the U.S., where democratic principles have been recognized since the nation's founding. Many readers have written that they are "ashamed" of the U.S. and have asked, in effect, "How can I help Honduras?" A more pertinent question may turn out to be, how can they help their own country?

In its actions toward Honduras, the Obama administration is demonstrating contempt for the fundamentals of democracy. Legal scholars are clear on this. "Judicial independence is a central component of any democracy and is crucial to separation of powers, the rule of law and human rights," writes Ahron Barak, the former president of the Supreme Court of Israel and a prominent legal scholar, in his compelling 2006 book, "The Judge in a Democracy."

"The purpose of the separation of powers is to strengthen freedom and prevent the concentration of power in the hands of one government actor in a manner likely to harm the freedom of the individual," Mr. Barak explains—almost as if he is writing about Honduras.

He also warns prophetically about the Chávez style of democracy that has destroyed Venezuela and that Hondurans say they were trying to avoid in their own country. "Democracy is entitled to defend itself from those who seek to use it in order to destroy its very existence," he writes. Americans ought to ask themselves why the Obama administration doesn't seem to agree.

Since June 28, the U.S. has been pressuring Honduras to put Mr. Zelaya back in the presidency. But neither Mrs. Clinton's spurious "rule of law" claims or the tire iron handed her by Mr. Obama to use against this little country have been effective in convincing the Honduran judiciary that it ought to abandon its constitution.

It seems that Mrs. Clinton is peeved with the court because it ruled that restoring Mr. Zelaya to power under a proposal drafted by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is unconstitutional. Thus, the State Department decided that in defense of the rule of law it would penalize the members of the Supreme Court for their interpretation of their constitution. Fourteen justices had their U.S. visas pulled.

Since the U.S. already had yanked the visa of the 15th member of the court, the one who signed the arrest warrant for Mr. Zelaya, this action completed Mrs. Clinton's assault on the independence of a foreign democracy's highest court. The lesson, presumably, is that judges in small foreign nations are required to accept America's interpretation of their own laws.

Thousands of readers have written to me asking how all this can happen in the U.S., where democratic principles have been recognized since the nation's founding. Many readers have written that they are "ashamed" of the U.S. and have asked, in effect, "How can I help Honduras?" A more pertinent question may turn out to be, how can they help their own country?

In its actions toward Honduras, the Obama administration is demonstrating contempt for the fundamentals of democracy. Legal scholars are clear on this. "Judicial independence is a central component of any democracy and is crucial to separation of powers, the rule of law and human rights," writes Ahron Barak, the former president of the Supreme Court of Israel and a prominent legal scholar, in his compelling 2006 book, "The Judge in a Democracy."

"The purpose of the separation of powers is to strengthen freedom and prevent the concentration of power in the hands of one government actor in a manner likely to harm the freedom of the individual," Mr. Barak explains—almost as if he is writing about Honduras.

He also warns prophetically about the Chávez style of democracy that has destroyed Venezuela and that Hondurans say they were trying to avoid in their own country. "Democracy is entitled to defend itself from those who seek to use it in order to destroy its very existence," he writes. Americans ought to ask themselves why the Obama administration doesn't seem to agree.

* Corrections & Amplifications

A study on Honduras law and the recent removal of President Manuel Zelaya was done by the Law Library of Congress. This column attributed the study to the Congressional Research Service, based on information provided by the office of Congressman Aaron Schock (R., Ill.). A spokesman for Mr. Schock says the Congressman commissioned the study from CRS, which passed the request on to the Law Library, which also does research for Congress.

 

 

 

Mary Anastasia O'Grady is a a member of The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board and editor of the "Americas," a weekly column that appears every Monday in the WSJ.(O'Grady@wsj.com).Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.

Editor's Note: This commentary was originally published by Wall Street Journal 09/21/2009. Petroleumworld reprint this article in the interest of our readers.

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Petroleumworld News 10/12/09

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