Saturday, July 04, 2009

Reflections on the Declaration of Independence: From a Crisis of U.K. Constitutionalism in the Americas to a Global Constitutional Crisis in Honduras

The 4th of July is traditionally used as a day to celebrate the first formal acknowledgment of a rupture within a nation state, one that led to violent separation and the recognition of the autonomy of one territorial unit from out of what had been an integrated territorial kingdom, formed in a manner that was conventional for the time. But those who celebrate have always been cautious in the way in which the focus of the event is directed. And that, in part, is because unconstrained by a vigilant elite serving as mediators and interpreters of the document, the Declaration of Independence can easily spill its banks and serve as a basis for unruliness of all kinds. It has as easily served to justify the secession of the short lived Confederate States of America as it has for the revolutionary change in the constitutional settlement of 1789. See Larry Catá Backer, Some Thoughts on the American Declaration of Independence and the Irish Easter Proclamation, 8 Tulsa Journal of Comparative & International Law 1 (2000). It has been used to advance the cause of constructing plural societies where different communities live in equal dignity as well as the cause of separation of communities living side by side based on these very differences. See Larry Catá Backer, Kosovo: A Threat to China and Russia; a Great Benefit to Israel, Law at the End of the Day, March 14, 2008. And it has been a source of reflections on rule of law.

The Declaration of Independence is, in fact, a protean document, whose thrust can serve those with the will and the fortitude to see things through. And it has come to serve as a proxy for all sorts of endeavors. It quickly lost its historical ties to the context in which it was fashioned. And within several generations it even lost its necessary connection with political revolution. No longer merely a justification for wars of separation of territorially discrete areas, it had come to serve as a foundation for internal revolutions--from the abolition of slavery in the United States, to the emancipation of women to the construction of pluralist societies--or their tearing asunder.
Frederick Douglas famously put the utility of the Declaration of Independence within its modern framework in 1852:
Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? That he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to understand? How should I look today in the presence of Americans, dividing and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom, speaking of it relatively and positively, negatively and affirmatively? . . . .
What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy - a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. Frederick Douglas, Speech on the 4th of July, 1852 Sponsored by the Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester, New York.
The Declaration of Independence thus has become more than a mere pronouncement with no legal effect. It has been transformed, much like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights centuries later, into a legitimating framework for political action and the constitution of its communities. It is now the revolutionary smelter within which constitutional orders are tested, as well as the normative foundation for reordering political settlements.

It's methodological and legitimating essence, however, is not moral or ethical. It is not found in its normative manifesto, the ambiguous but nicely worded and often quoted sentence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Declaration of Independence para. 2.
Rather, it is better understood in its closing:
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor. Declaration of Independence para. 32.
It is with this in mind that it might be useful to consider the Honduran Revolutions. I say two revolutions because the expulsion of former President Zelaya masked the complexity of the revolutionary situation in Honduras immediately before his translation outside the country. Both revolutionary movements are transnational in character. Both, though steeped in local desires, are also to a great extent a creature of and captive to the desires and impositions of the community of nations aligned in various camps. On the one hand there is the revolution slyly instigated by the recently removed and now former president of Honduras, Mr. Manuel Zelaya. As representative of the executive power of the state, and of the people, he sought, through use of the extra constitutional tactics of increasingly popular mass democratic politics to insinuate himself in power by reforming the state to suit his purposes. The Zelaya Revolution would subvert the Honduran constitutional order by rejecting the constitutional order's fundamental norms and replacing them with a system that would dramatically increase his power in a new constitutional order. But like many new Latin American leaders, he has suggested the traditional constitutional order is not worth keeping, and that irrespective of its language and its embrace of fundamental norms deemed irrevocable, neither can stand in the way of the popular will exercised whenever it can be mobilized for the purpose. See, e.g., Latin America: Coups and Constitutions, BBC News On Line , June 30, 2009.

Mr Zelaya planned to hold a non-binding public consultation on 28 June to ask people whether they supported moves to change the constitution. . . . Mr Zelaya's critics said the move was aimed at removing the current one-term limit on serving as president, and paving the way for his possible re-election. The consultation was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court and Congress, and was opposed by the army. . . . Mr Zelaya sacked the head of the armed forces, who refused to give logistical support for the 28 June vote. The Supreme Court overruled him, saying the army chief should be reinstated. When Mr Zelaya insisted the referendum would go ahead, Congress voted to remove him for what it called "repeated violations of the constitution and the law", and the Supreme Court said it had ordered the president to be removed from office to protect law and order. Q&A: Crisis in Honduras, BBC News On Line, July 5, 2009.
But what appears benign on it surface acquires a more complex dimension when considered in context. First, the political context was ambiguous. "Despite his centre-right credentials, the former businessman moved Honduras away from its traditional ally the US, winning the support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other leftist leaders. . . . Publicly backed by such leftists as Mr Chavez, Bolivian President Evo Morales and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Mr Zelaya began to lose the support of his own party."Profile: Hondura's Manuel Zelaya, BBC News Online, July 2, 2009. He began imitating his mentors, raising the spectre of authoritarianism in the face of the difficult problem of drug trafficking and poverty in Honduras. "In May 2007, Mr Zelaya ordered all of the country's TV and radio stations to carry government propaganda for two hours a day, accusing them of giving his government unfair coverage. In August 2008, he took Honduras into the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (Alba)." Id. On ALBA, see, Larry Catá Backer and Augusto Molina, Cuba and the Construction of Alternative Global Trade Systems: ALBA and Free Trade in the Americas, University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Economic Law, Vol. 31, No. 3, 2010 (forthcoming).

Second, the constitutional issues were serious and Mr. Zelaya's actions subject to varying characterizations, not all of them benign. While it appeared unproblematic for Mr. Zelaya to seek to test the will of the people by public consultation or other means, under Honduran constitutional law, that effort, when ordered by the President in his official capacity, raised potentially serious constitutional issues. Whatever one thinks of its value in a constitutional order, the people of Honduras had bound themselves to a specific provision that appeared to cover Mr. Zelaya's conduct:

ARTICULO 239.- El ciudadano que haya desempeñado la titularidad del Poder Ejecutivo no podrá ser Presidente o Vicepresidente de la República.

El que quebrante esta disposición o proponga su reforma, así como aquellos que lo apoyen directa o indirectamente, cesarán de inmediato en el desempeño de sus respectivos cargos y quedarán inhabilitados por diez (10) años para el ejercicio de toda función pública. (""No citizen who has already served as titular head of the Executive Power can be President or Vice-President of the Republic. Whoever violates this law or proposes its reform, as well as those that support such violation directly or indirectly, will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years."")

It is possible to suggest that the Honduran Constitution has provided that where a person seeks to change the provision of the Constitution dealing with the term of the President, that action itself results in an immiate and self executing removal from office--not at the instance of the legislative or judicial branches, but by operation of law. The only task for whether the legislative or judicial branch would be to determine that in fact, Mr. Zelaya had proposed such a reform. And that is precisely what the legislature did on the basis of the findings of a special commission constituted for the purpose of investigating such violation. Congreso destituye a Zelaya y Roberto Micheletti asume como nuevo Presidente, Noticias 24, June 28, 2009. Moreover, the Honduran Constitution provided for a particular method of constitutional amendment, and made certain constitutional provisions inviolate--that is not subject to ordinary constitutional amendment.

ARTICULO 373.- La reforma de esta Constitución podrá decretarse por el Congreso Nacional, en sesiones ordinarias, con dos tercios de votos de la totalidad de sus miembros. El decreto señalará al efecto el artículo o artículos que hayan de reformarse, debiendo ratificarse por la subsiguiente legislatura ordinaria, por igual número de votos, para que entre en vigencia. Artículo interpretado por Decreto 169/1986

ARTICULO 374.- No podrán reformarse, en ningún caso, el artículo anterior, el presente artículo, los artículos constitucionales que se refieren a la forma de gobierno, al territorio nacional, al período presidencial, a la prohibición para ser nuevamente Presidente de la República, el ciudadano que lo haya desempeñado bajo cualquier título y el referente a quienes no pueden ser Presidentes de la República por el período subsiguiente.

Taken together, it might have been possible to construe Mr. Zelaya's acton as a movement to the effectuation of an unconstitutional reform of the constitutional order. Such a move, in the context of the political actions taken before June 28, 2009 and potentially sanctioned by something that appeared to manifest the will of the people in a pseudo-plebiscite might appear as a subversion of the constitution and actions sufficiently serious to warrant the invocation of procedures in the legislative and judicial branches for the equivalent of impeachment and removal. Mr. Zelaya was not just an ordinary president going about his ordinary business. He was working diligently to undo the Honduran constitution in a way that was at best provocative and at worst illegitimate. Left to his own devices, Mr. Zelaya appears to have been playing fast and loose with the Honduran political system. He would undo the constitution because he finds it inconvenient. And for that purpose he would mobilize the sovereign will, but would do so precisely in the manner forbidden him as the President of the Republic, though not as a privatre individual. That is an irony--Mr. Zelaya was free to do as he pleased as a private citizen; he knew that he was disabled from seekin the changes he sought as a sitting President. He could have resibned and sought a constitutional convention, but his chances of mobilizing the popular will as a private citizen was substantially smaller than as a sitting President controlling the machinery of executive power. And that, perhaps, is precisely why the constitution disabled a sitting President from using his authority to upend the constitutional order. The consequences ought to be a matter of Honduran law, determined by those democratically elected or appointed for the purpose. And those determinations would have to be made by the Honduran legislature and judiciary in accordance with Honduran law.

On the other hand there is the revolution of the Congress and the Courts, also representing the people of Honduras, in their legislative and judicial authority. The proponents of the Juridico-Legislative Revolution would subvert the Honduran constitutional order by the methods chosen to "save" it. They removed Mr. Zelaya and ordered the military, acting as the domestic police force, to physically effect that removal, on the grounds that Mr. Zelaya had betrayed his oath to uphold the constitution and maintain the integrity of the constitutional system on which the state was founded. Congreso destituye a Zelaya y Roberto Micheletti asume como nuevo Presidente, Noticias 24, June 28, 2009 ("el Congreso Nacional aprobó primero el informe de una comisión especial nombrada el pasado jueves para investigar las actuaciones del gobernante y luego la resolución de su separación. La comisión estableció que Zelaya incurrió en dichas violaciones durante el proceso que pretendía culminar precisamente hoy con una consulta promovida por él para instalar una Asamblea Constituyente que reformara la actual Constitución, vigente desde 1982 o emitir una nueva." Id.). The impeachment and remova were effected in summary fashion--the Congreso de Diputados met in session to consider a hastily put together report of a special commission, which deteremined that the President had violated his duties. They then immediately voted to remove the President. "Tras la lectura del informe, el secretario del Parlamento presentó el decreto de separación de Zelaya, que fue aprobado de inmediato por los diputados, que luego abrieron un debate sobre la decisión recién asumida." (Id.).

The Honduran Constitution provides, among the powers of the legislature, the following:

ARTICULO 205.- Corresponde al Congreso Nacional, las atribuciones siguientes:

10. Interpretar la Constitución de la República en sesiones ordinarias, en una sola legislatura, con dos tercios de votos de la totalidad de sus miembros. Por este procedimiento no podrán interpretarse los Artículos 373 y 374 Constitucionales.

12. Recibir la promesa constitucional al Presidente y Vicepresidente de la República, declarados elegidos, y a los demás funcionarios que elija; concederles licencias y admitirles o no su renuncia y llenar las vacantes en caso de falta absoluta de alguno de ellos;

21. Nombrar comisiones especiales para la investigación de asuntos de interés nacional. La comparecencia a requerimiento de dichas comisiones, será obligatorio bajo los mismos apremios que se observan en el procedimiento judicial;

In addition, the Honduran Constitution includes self protective provisions against its illegitimate modification.

ARTICULO 375.- Esta Constitución no pierde su vigencia ni deja de cumplirse por acto de fuerza o cuando fuere supuestamente derogada o modificada por cualquier otro medio y procedimiento distintos del que ella mismo dispone. En estos casos, todo ciudadano investido o no de autoridad, tiene el deber de colaborar en el mantenimiento o restablecimiento de su afectiva vigencia.

Serán juzgados, según esta misma constitución y las leyes expedidas en conformidad con ella, los responsables de los hechos señalados en la primera parte del párrafo anterior, lo mismo que los principales funcionarios de los gobiernos que se organicen subsecuentemente, si no han contribuido a restablecer inmediatamente el imperio de esta Constitución y a las autoridades constituidas conforme a ella. El Congreso puede decretar con el voto de la mayoría absoluta de sus miembros, la incautación de todo o parte de los bienes de esas mismas personas y de quienes se hayan enriquecido al amparo de la suplantación.

But these provisions do not suggest either removal or expulsion from the nation. And, indeed, the Constitutional oversight of this function has disappeared. See Honduras Constitution of 1982, Art. 205:15 (which vested impeachment powers in the Congreso de Diputados and was abrogated in 2003).

On the other hand, the extensive provisions treating the responsibility of the state and its servants, Honduras, Constitution of 1982, arts. 321-327, might provide abasis both for the removal of President Zelaya and for the positive obligation of the Congreso de Diputados do actively remove him from office on a finding of violation of Mr. Zelaya's "constitutional promise" (Honduras Constitution art. 322).


ARTICULO 321.- Los servidores del Estado no tiene más facultades que las que expresamente les confiere la ley. Todo acto que ejecuten fuera de la ley es nulo e implica responsabilidad.

ARTICULO 322.- Todo funcionario público al tomar posesión de su cargo prestará la siguiente promesa de ley: "Prometo ser fiel a la República, cumplir y hacer cumplir la Constitución y las leyes".

ARTICULO 323.- Los funcionarios son depositarios de la autoridad, responsables legalmente por su conducta oficial, sujetos a la ley y jamás superiores a ella. Ningún funcionario o empleado, civil o militar, está obligado a cumplir órdenes ilegales o que impliquen la comisión de delito.

ARTICULO 324.- Si el servidor público en el ejercicio de su cargo, infringe la ley en perjuicio de particulares, será civil y solidariamente responsable junto con el Estado o con la institución estatal a cuyo servicio se encuentre, sin perjuicio de la acción de repetición que éstos pueden ejercitar contra el servidor responsable, en los casos de culpa o dolo. La responsabilidad civil no excluye la deducción de las responsabilidades administrativa y penal contra el infractor.

ARTICULO 325.- Las acciones para deducir responsabilidad civil a los servidores del Estado, prescriben en el término de diez años; y para deducir responsabilidad penal en el doble del tiempo señalado por la ley penal. En ambos casos, el término de prescripción comenzará a contarse desde la fecha en que el servidor público haya cesado en el cargo en el cual incurrió en responsabilidad. No hay prescripción en los casos en que por acción u omisión dolosa y por motivos políticos se causare la muerte de una o más personas.

ARTICULO 326.- Es pública la acción para perseguir a los infractores de los derechos y garantías establecidas en esta Constitución, y se ejercitará sin caución ni formalidad alguna y por simple denuncia.

ARTICULO 327.- La Ley regulará la responsabilidad civil del Estado, así como la responsabilidad civil solidaria, penal y administrativa de los servidores del Estado.
But this is a stretch as well, since the thrust of the provisions are meant to protect against administrative overreaching and damages resulting therefrom. t also appears to contemplate judicial rather than legislative action. (see id., art. 326). But there are relevant provisions--For example, Article 323 prohibits any state functionary, civil or military, from carrying out illegal or criminal orders. It is possible that the removal was the way in which the legislature, in its wisdom, determined to avoid complicity with Mr. Zelaya's illegal acts (and determined to be illegal by the legislature and Judiciary). On the other hand, the provision cuts both ways, and it might have serve to inhibit the military from putting Mr. Zelaya on a plane, though not from refusing to obey orders that the other branches of government have determined to be illegitimate. Critical to a discussion of legitimacy, of course, are those statutes and legislative decrees that may be applicable, but there has been little discussion about these.

In the absence of a satisfacxtory internal resolution of these constitutional issues, the internal dispute has been removed to the court of internaitonal opinion. And it is here that things get interesting. Both camps have accused the other of institgating a "coup" and thus violating the core parameters of the constitutional order of Honduras. Both are right, to some extent,; Honduras is undergoing what might euphemistically be understood as a constitutional moment. But, these are not coups in the conventional sense. This is not a set of coups designed to overturn the rule of law. Instead, these are maneuverings to either replace or to retain the current constitutional order by means that either retain a fidelity to or betray the current constitutional order. In slinging about the term "coup", outsiders tend to forget that both sides of this conflict are made up of the democratically elected representatives of the people of Honduras. Both represent the people within the constitutional order of Honduras. There's is a clash among the democratically elected representatives of the people. One of the the principals in this struggle, representing the combined legislative and judicual power of the state, was acting to avoidthe subversion of the current constitutional order, though its own methods may well have exceeded their collective asuthority. The other, representing the executive power of the state, was using his office to mobilize the popular will to replace the current constitutional system with something more to his liking--a task fiorbidden him, it seems, while in office. While that limitation might appear silly or worse, to outsiders, it is part of the rule fo law order in Honduras. To beocme complicit its its subversion, in the name of protecting rule fo law constitutionalism, is an awkward position to take, at best.

In that contest both sides have sought to manipulate legitimate constitutional process and meaning so much that they would, each in their own way, tear the Honduran system to pieces. Thus, I do not share the globally generated sympathy for Mr. Zelaya in his almost steretypical and pathetic role as an opportunitstic and underhanded manipultor of fundamental changes in the Honduran constittuional order for his own benefit, and the benefit of his masters abroad. There is a case to be made for the legitimacy of his removal within the Honduran constitutional framework. But neither do I find much that is sympathetic in the actions of the Congress and judiciary. Their own fidelity to the Honduran constitution, as they maneuvered to save it, evidences a singular lack of respect for its integrity. These branches of government did not invoke the processes for removal of a president acting lawlessly. Rather, they determined that this must be so and without more removed him from the country. An arrest and trial might have been more in accord with the rule fo law as set forth in the Honduran constitution. But that was not forthcoming. One cannot pick and chose what is worth saving in rescuing the constitutional order from attack, even from attack by the man holding the presidency.

In both cases, then, ironically enough, each actor relies on normative concepts of the Declaration of Independence for their extra constitutional excesses. The legislative and judicial organs rely on the first part of that normative framework--"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." To preserve the government and the rights preserved thereby, an individual had to be removed from office. The supporters of the legisltive and judicial branches aregue the conformity to meta-constitutional norms by analogizing the actions of those branches to the English Glorious Revolution of 1688, the constitutional use of extra constitutional powers to preserve the constitutional order. See Carlos Pineda Pinel, On a Path to Distatorship, Philadelphia Inquierer, July 5, 2009 (Commentary authored by a former justice vice minister of Honduras). Mr. Zelaya relies on the more revolutionary second part of the normative principles of the Declaration of Independence, "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." Mr. Zelaya invokes the power of mass democracy exercised directly by the people under the guidance of those who understand the direction of and can articulate these manifestaitons of the popular will. He looks to the Continental Congress of the 1770s and eventually to something like the work of the Constitutional Convention of the 1780s. It is in this form that key ouside actors understand the nature of Presidential power; for example, Fidel Castro. Speaking of Mr. Zelaya, Mr. Castro declared:
Fue impresionante verlo a través de Telesur, arengando al pueblo de Honduras. Denunciaba enérgicamente la burda negativa reaccionaria de impedir una importante consulta popular. Esa es la "democracia" que defiende el imperialismo. Zelaya no ha cometido la menor violación de la ley. No realizó un acto de fuerza. Es el Presidente y Comandante General de las Fuerzas Armadas de Honduras. Lo que allí ocurra será una prueba para la OEA y para la actual administración de Estados Unidos. Fidel Castro Ruz, Un gesto que no se olvidará, Reflexiones del Compañero Fidel, June 25, 2009 ("It was impressive to see him on Telesur, exhorting the people of Honduras. He was strongly denouncing the crude reactionary refusal to stop an important popular consultation. That is the sort of "democracy" that is protected by imperialism. Zelaya has not committed the slightest violation of the law. He has not undertaken an act of force. He is President and General Commander of the Armed Forces of Honduras. What happens there will be a test for the OAS and the current U.S. administration.").
This view of the relaitonship of the popular will to constitutionalism, and of the executive to the other branches of state power, is incompatible with the view underlying the actions of the legislative and judicial branches. But both have been legitimately invoked in the past to support action.

Mr. Zelaya has appeared to have won the propaganda war in the combat between Executive, legislature and the judicial branches. And, indeed, the theatricality of his position, as well as of those Latin American leaders who sought to exploit it for their own purposes, has delighted the press in the developed world. Honduras to Stop Zelaya Plane, BBC News On Line July 5, 2009.

Mr Zelaya says he will fly back to the country from Washington, arriving between 1300 and 1400 local time (1900 - 2000GMT). "I ask all farmers, residents, Indians, young people and all workers' groups, businessmen and friends... to accompany me on my return to Honduras," he said in a taped statement sent to media outlets. "Do not bring weapons. Practice what I have always preached, which is non-violence. Let them be the ones who use violence, weapons and repression." Mr Zelaya says he will be accompanied by the leaders of Ecuador and Argentina. It has also been suggested that officials from the Organization of American States could go with him.

Id. It is not clear, though, whether these dranatics are meant for the manipulaiton of opinion through media interventions or refer to actual plans to physically return ot Honduras. See, e.g., Manuel Zelaya asegura que regresará a Honduras el próximo jueves, el, June 30, 2009 (suggesting a return on Thursday in the company of the Secretary General of the OAS). Whatever the outcome of this "human shields" strategy or its legitimacy as something other than extra legal maneuvering, there are more remarkable events. Among the more significant has been the way in which a president, losing popular support at home, has, by the theatrics of simultaneous Revolutions also managed to mask complicated constitutional issues that deserve some exposition. "The BBC's Stephen Gibbs, in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, says Mr Zelaya, whose popularity in Honduras had been plummeting in recent months, has garnered impressive support since his exile. " UN Backs Honduran Leader's Return, BBC News Online, June 30, 2009.

More remarkable still has been the way the ignorant have marched fearlessly into judgment on the constitutional and statutory issues involved. And by pronouncing on the nature, character and issues involved within Honduras, lend legitimacy to determinations with respect to which they have neither competence (in all its senses nor jurisdiction), as well as to their actions outside that state. "Our correspondent notes that even US President Barack Obama and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez have found themselves in rare agreement over the issue - with both declaring that his expulsion was illegal. " UN Backs Honduran Leader's Return, BBC News Online, June 30, 2009. While Mr. Zelaya's exile is questionable, it is not clear that the judicial and legislative branches are disabled form performing their constitutional duties and removing Mr. Zelaya from office. Even in the United States, a Congress and judicial brach willing to bear the consequences of their decision, may impeach and remove a President for what they considers to be high crimes and misdemeanors, without a prior judicial determination of criminal conduct.

Yet the call to lofty ideal and emotion, to the emotive stance of the Declaration of Independence, seems to have prevailed. And more to the point, the critical understanding of that document has come into play. Both Mr. Zelaya and the rest of the constitutionally legitimate government of Honduras who stand in opposition to him, have decided to "pledge their lives, fortunes and sacred honor" to their respective causes. This is no longer a matter of constitutional law but one of international power. In this, the course of the Honduran Revolutions follows that of its American predessor, whose complection changed decisively when it was transformed from an internal issue of the nature of the constitutional order of the governmental system presided over by the King in Parliament in Westminster to an international dispute over the legitimacy of control over defined territorial units.

This time, it was not a matter of presuading the French monarch and wooing its aristocracy and intelligenstia, but of wooing the international political community, global civil society and its shills, and the global media that appears to have made all the difference. And indeed, without much of a glance at the complicated internal rule of law issues that brought the two Revolutions to a head, the international political community has quickly taken sides. "The United Nations General Assembly has approved a resolution calling for the reinstatement of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. Mr Zelaya's expulsion by the army on Sunday has been criticised in Europe, Washington and Latin America as a coup." UN Backs Honduran Leader's Return, BBC News Online, June 30, 2009. In addition, the Organization of American States has moved swiftly to seek the return of Mr. Zelaya and apparaently the continuation of his brand of revolutionary struggle. Americas Group Suspends Honduras, BBC News On Line, July 5, 2009. This last was effected without a nod to its irony. "The OAS approved suspending Honduras by 33 votes to zero, with Honduras itself not voting.It was the first time the organisation had taken such a measure since Cuba was suspended in 1962, when it allied itself with the USSR." Id. And, like France in the 1770s, the international community has done so for a variety of reasons few of which are related at all to the internal conflict that brought either the removal of Mr. Zelaya, or the undoing of the Honduran constitutional order (whichever prevails).

In the end, there is very little that may be Honduran about the ultimate result of those Revolutions. That quesiton will be decoded by forces outside of the state and serving the geo-political, ideological and strategic interests of others. Post modern sensitivity developing nations has produced a variety of post colonialisms form the left and the right and from the developing and developed centers of power. Hugo Chavez, the leader of Venezuela, in the days before the removal of Mr. Zelaya, suggested intervention in the defense of the Honduran President and his efforts ot mobilize popular will.

El mandatario venezolano advirtió de que los gobiernos “revolucionarios” de la región no se van a quedar de brazos cruzados ante el eventual intento de derrocar a Zelaya, al que calificó como un “líder que surge y asume su responsabilidad”. “Estamos dispuestos a hacer lo que haya que hacer para que se respete la soberanía de Honduras y la voluntad del pueblo de Honduras”, afirmó Chávez después de revelar que en las últimas horas ha hablado sobre la situación hondureña con sus colegas de Bolivia, Evo Morales, y de Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega. Hugo Chevez Amanaza a Honduras, La Prensa, June 26, 2009 ("The Venezuelan leader warned that "revolutionary" governments of the region will not remain passive in the face of any attempt to overthrow Zelaya, who he described as a "leader who emerges and assumes its responsibility." "We are willing to do all that is required so that the sovereignty of Honduras and the will of the people of Honduras are respected," Chavez said after revealing that he had recently talked about the Honduran situation with his colleagues in Bolivia, Evo Morales, and Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega.").
There is irony, of course. For it is less than clear that Venezuela and its allies, in this situation, have not been using their former master's tools as effectively as they once bitterly complained they had been used against them. And masking national interests behind international organizations, as the Americans are doing, does little to veil the continuing managerial aspirations of the developed world, now more appropriately clothed in the values of the day, and an abiding embrace of democratic formalism. "Mrs. Clinton has piled on as well. Yesterday she accused Honduras of violating "the precepts of the Interamerican Democratic Charter" and said it "should be condemned by all." Fidel Castro did just that. Mr. Chávez pledged to overthrow the new government." Honduras Defends Its Democracy, Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2009.

I do not mean to suggest support for one or the other version of the recent Honduran Revolutions. Neither do I mean to suggest that one or the other side is in the right. I do mean to suggest, however, that those issues no longer matter, at least as the Revolutionary movements have become internationalized, and that this is an old pattern, which reflection on the American Declaration of Independence reminds us with some force. It appears that the lessons of the American Declaration remain aspirational, supra national and ultimately grounded in power., though not necessarily in the power of the people directly involved (except perhaps as useful props). Whether there is much room for Honduras within it, either way, remains to be seen. But what appears clear is that, whatever its current form, there appears less change than one might imagine in the dynamic of aspirations and global relations that marked the world which gave us the American Declaration of Independence.

And that brings us to the most interesting transformation of the American Declaration of Independence--its renewed connection with constitutionalism, now in its manifestation as transnational constitutionalism. See, Larry Catá Backer, God(s) Over Constitutions: International and Religious Transnational Constitutionalism in the 21st Century, Mississippi Law Review, Vol. 27, 2008; Larry Catá Backer, From Constitution to Constitutionalism: A Global Framework for Legitimate Public Power Systems, Penn State Law Review, Vol. 113, No. 3, 2009. It appears that the American efforts to create a basis for restraining constitutional excesses, put in place after 1945 has borne fruit. Traditional nationalist constitutionalism looks inward for its ideology as well as its yardstick for measuring others. Transnational constitutionalism looks to the common constitutional traditions of the community of states buttressed by international norms and organizations. Constitutional Law is no longer a matter for the people of the state subject to its strictures. Instead, the international community now appears to have a say. That, at any rate seems to be the case with respect to small states, against which action may be undertaken without much risk of retribution. The constitutional crisis in Honduras reminds us both that the community of nations now has reached consensus on the substantive principles it can invoke when it seeks to intervene in managing the constitutional actions of any of its members,and that, as the Founders knew, constitutional legitimacy is, ultimately, a matter to which its adherents must "pledge their lives, fortunes and sacred honor."


Anonymous said...

Ek het onlangs in jou blog en het die lesing saam. Ek het gedink ek sou my eerste reaksie verlaat. Ek dont weet wat om te sê, behalwe dat ek geniet die lees. Nice blog.

Anonymous said...

Wat een leuke post. Ik hou echt van het lezen van deze soorten of artikelen. Ik kan niet wachten om te zien wat anderen te zeggen hebben.