The Coup That Wasn’t

Before you read any more, know this:

Everything is fine on Roatan. Please keep coming to our island!

“They arrested the President.”

I stop, nearly slipping on the wet tiles of the dive shop, and lower the scuba cylinders hoisted in each hand. My skin still glistens with sea salt and sweat, my mind lost in its mental menagerie of groupers, snappers, barracudas, and jacks encountered on the previous dive. The cacophony of banging tanks and bustling interns fades into the background.

“Army moved in this morning. Two-hundred guys surrounded his house and arrested him. Dragged him out in his pajamas.”

The Boss points to the computer monitor. I quickly scan the displayed website. My gut twists.

Fifteen minutes earlier, I was floating through a weightless silent world as a kaleidoscope of aquatic life frolicked about me. Rivers of blue creole wrasse rippled over the reef, carving living waterfalls around protruding barrel sponges. Parrotfish hovered at forty-five degree angles as translucent cleaning shrimp crawled through their nostrils and gills. A hawksbill turtle glided beside me, heads mere feet apart, our eyes sharing mutual expressions that, down here, everything is right with the world.

Surface side, everything seems wrong.

As word of the President’s arrest circulated the world, I avidly tracked the news reports flowing across the web. The facts don’t match up; each report seems biased towards its originating country. I have been following the progression of events in Tegucigalpa as the crisis neared its boiling point; though I do not claim knowledge of (nor wish to be involved in) Honduran politics, this is the series of events as I best understand:

  • Honduran President Manuel Zelaya proposed that a non-binding public referendum be held to vote whether to call a National Assembly to rewrite the Honduran Constitution— specifically, to remove the one-term, four-year limit imposed on the Honduran Presidency.
  • The proposed referendum was rejected by Congress and the attorney general. The Supreme Court ruled the referendum illegal on two points:
    • Article 239 of the Honduran Constitution, which forbids former chief executives from being re-elected President and requires any citizen proposing such changes to cease carrying out public office.
    • Article 42, Section 5 of the Honduran Constitution, which states that citizenship is lost for inciting, promoting, or supporting the continuation or reelection of the President.
  • Impeachment proceedings began against Zelaya; however, the Honduran Constitution, which was ratified in only 1982, lacks a clear constitutional process for impeaching and/or removing a sitting President.
  • President Zelaya ordered General Romeo Vásquez to use the Honduran Military to distribute the referendum on Sunday, 28 June 2009. Vásquez refused on grounds that the referendum was illegal and to distribute it would violate the Constitution. Consequently, Zelaya fired Vásquez, but the Supreme Court ordered he be reinstated.
  • The morning of the referendum, 200 military personnel, acting on Supreme Court orders, surrounded Zelaya’s house, arrested him in his pajamas, hauled him off to an airport near San Pedro Sula, and flew him to Costa Rica.
  • Congress voted unanimously to accept a purported letter of resignation from Zelaya, who has personally denied composing any such letter.
  • Acting President Roberto Micheletti ordered a 48-hour curfew to stem potential violence and began assembling a new Presidential Cabinet.
  • Many foreign leaders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and United States President Barack Obama, have condemned the arrest as a coup and refused to work with the interim government. The UN has called for Zelaya’s reinstatement.

Personally, I laud the defense of the national Constitution and condemn the methods with which it was defended.

This is Honduras— therefore, the mishandling of the situation does not surprise me. In a country robbed of its culture by centuries of exploitation, foreign manipulation, and self-destructive corruption, this fledgling republic has scare experience upon which to base a peaceful balance of power. For many Hondurans— deprived for decades of true independence by many of the nations currently criticizing the coup— there exist no conceivable means of impeachment other than the democracy of a loaded gun.

Despite the international outcry, nearly every Honduran I’ve spoken with has been in support of Zelaya’s removal. The President was largely unpopular throughout the last year, enough that his own party led the call for his impeachment. Cheers when out around the island when the news broke. But now, feeling the sting of the international criticism, the most oft-repeated Honduran mantra seems to be “respect our sovereignty.”

Funny the way it is: foreign troops invading another country and disposing of its leader against the will of its people is considered promoting democracy, whereas a national military removing its own leader with the support of the people is undemocratic.

Politics truly is mankind at its lowest.

On Roatan, all is fine so far. The sea is still calm, the water clear, the fish vibrant, the scenery incredible, the drinks flowing, and the laughs rich and heartfelt. We laugh about how this “terrible coup” has wreaked havoc on our lives: there’s tanks rolling down the street, the locals are loaded, and there’s a submarine in the bay. Just a few hundred miles from the epicenter of a swelling international sore, Roatan truly feels a world away. It’s just another crappy day in paradise.

But on the horizon looms the mounting cumulus nimbus of uncertainty. Transportation around mainland Honduras has been interrupted, stranding coworkers and visitors across various parts of Central America. Travelers have already canceled their plans out of misguided fears planted by US travel advisories. And the rumblings of international condemnations indicate the storm is far from over.

Any setback to tourism is a clot in Roatan’s economic arteries— and our island’s heart, still shaken from the recent earthquake, now trembles with the adrenaline of apprehension. The memories of three agonizing days of black outs, blockades, and disrupted business from last year’s RECO protests linger in the minds of the island residents. But supposed coup or not, life goes on as usual— businesses are open, the bars are full, and the scuba diving is phenomenal.

Yes, life goes on; and on Roatan a good life it is.

4 Responses to “The Coup That Wasn’t”

  • #1

    Phew, so glad to find this! We’ve been trying to get some more info on how/if this has affected Roatan and there just isn’t much out there. Been there for 2 magical weeks May/June (Yes. The quakes. Interesting experience.), and I’m already making plans to go back in October. More diving. Dive master? What can I say – it’s addictive. Your article has not only been the most detailed Roatan-specific info, but also brought some additional clarity to the puzzling question of why the idea of a referendum engendered so much animosity. Hey, we’d be glad if someone asked us what we think now and then! So I feel a little bit safer and better-informed now – hope the peace holds till October :). Good to hear all is well in paradise! I will continue to check here for updates – and hey, I love your writing! Rest assured I’ll at least stop by to bring chocolates or curry paste :).

  • #2

    […] The Coup That Wasn’t […]

  • #3

    Planning a trip down in Sept. will coup be a problem? Flying straight to Roatan from Atlanta won’t need to go through mainland.

  • #4

    There shouldn’t be any problems related to the coup. All is normal in Roatan: the curfew has been lifted and life goes on in its usual, fun-filled fashion (though there’s noticeably fewer tourists, meaning you’ll have more space to relax!).

    Personally, I don’t expect any more disruptions from the coup. The ousted President and the current administration are locked up in negotiations in Costa Rica while Honduras continues to operate peacefully. By the November elections this entire ordeal should be a thing of the past.

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