Thursday, July 2, 2009

Church in Honduras rejects coup, but asks Zelaya to respect the Constitution

We have been waiting for an accurate statement of the Catholic Church's position since the coup in Honduras when democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya was forced into exile on June 28th by the Honduran military, who were supposedly serving a supreme court order, and Roberto Micheletti took the reins as interim president. The world has been in an uproar over the coup and many of the countries have either withdrawn their ambassadors or pulled them back for consultation. Both the United Nations and the Organization of American States have insisted that Zelaya should be restored to his position.

In that environment, the silence of Honduras' Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga was surprising and some even interpreted it as a sign that the Catholic Church might be supporting the coup. This interview with Maradiaga's close associate Father Germán Calix may help put those rumors to rest.

Also, in a separate interview with Vatican Radio, Mons. Rómulo Emiliani, auxilliary bishop of San Pedro Sula, emphasized that the Church is exhorting the Honduran people to peace and dialogue lest the country fall into violence. Said Emiliani: "No queremos que esto (la situación actual) sea el detonante que active una guerra civil. No queremos eso nunca. Queremos que Honduras siga viviendo en paz, en armonía; pero en justicia social y que todos aprendamos la lección". ("We do not want this (the current situation) to be the detonator that activates a civil war. We do not want this, ever. We want Honduras to continue to live in peace, in harmony; but in social justice, and that we might all learn the lesson [from the bloody civil wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala].").

For the record too, many of the populist social movements immediately opposed the coup d'etat. A good summary of their positions can be found in this
article on Adital. They are skeptical of the Catholic Church's call for dialogue -- probably because Micheletti acted swiftly to order the arrest of a number of their leaders, including: Rafael Alegrón (a peasant leader of Honduras and member of the Comisión Coordinadora Internacional de Vía Campesina); Juan Barahona and Carlos H. Reyes (leaders of the Bloque Popular); Andrés Padrón (Movimiento por los Derechos Humanos); Luther Castillos (labor leader); César Han, Andrés Pavón, Marvin Ponce, Salvador Zúñiga, and Berta Cáceres (all from Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras - COPINH, the main group that has protested the coup).

By Patricio Downes
Religión Digital
30.06.09 14:25

Buenos Aires - The executive secretary of Caritas in Honduras, Father Germán Calix, said that the Catholic Church rejects the coup against the constitutional government of his country, while demanding that the deposed president Manuel Zelaya comply with the constitutional requirements for the plebiscite and referendum, required for constitutional reform. This is an issue that had created friction between the bishops and the Honduran president.

Speaking to Religión Digital by telephone from Tegucigalpa, Calix, a close associate of Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, rejected the accusation against the Catholic Church in Honduras of complicity in the coup. "Neither one nor the other", he said,"because ten days before the coup, it [the Catholic Church] called for dialogue and supported that the people be consulted." Father Calix added that the bishops are willing to join a commission for dialogue, convened by the de facto government, but felt that the arrival of Zelaya, scheduled for this Thursday [Trans. note: since this interview appeared, Zelaya’s return has been postponed], could be "catastrophic" before any agreement is reached.

While Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga has been holding constant meetings to prevent the coup from ending in a blood bath, Calix said that the Church holds the same position as that expressed in its document of last June 19. The cardinal, president of Caritas worldwide, was unlocatable even for his staff, fully occupied with facilitating.

In that document, the Honduran bishops said: "The participatory democracy that we want will only be possible if certain conditions occur. Therefore, we urge the authorities that have been chosen to safeguard the rule of law to find, through dialogue, solutions to the current conflict, and guarantee to the people of Honduras the regulation of constitutional means of recourse, such as the plebiscite and the referendum that, along with other instruments, such as the Citizen Participation Law, allow the people to be consulted on major issues."

Would the Church now participate in the dialogue, despite the de facto government?

If it were called now, the Church would be willing to participate even though it has been quite criticized -- especially the hierarchy -- because people don’t think it stood up for the deposed government and because it didn’t speak out in favor of the fourth ballot-box –- the process that Zelaya had inititated, they accuse it of being a participant in the coup, which has no sound basis.

The priest is referring to the possibility of a dialogue commission, as the de facto president Roberto Micheletti has called it. The latter belongs to the Liberal Party, the same one through which Manuel Zelaya came to power. But as of last night that dialogue to which the Catholic and Evangelical churches would be invited, in addition to the business, worker and peasant sectors, had not been established. Calix said that the coup leaders did not take into account the international front and the strong rejection by the European Union, as well as ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), the OAS and the Rio Group.

What does the Church think about the coup?

Even before the coup, on the 29th of this month, it issued a statement saying that one cannot create democracy against democracy. And at the moment the Church has done nothing more than to repeat that. And before the coup it had suggested, and even called for all sectors of society to sit down in dialogue and find valid and rational ways out of this situation. That there would not be an arrangement among politicians but a consensus among different sectors of the population and that it was necessary to take into account that the political crisis had been dragging along because the democratic system had not been able to make the move towards social justice for the whole country.

Did you tell Zelaya that you opposed his proposed re-election?

Yes. About 10 days before the coup the bishops met with President Zelaya to tell him that the Church agreed with his wish for people’s participation and that people's participation in public functions and setting public policy should not be limited. But that it should be done within the existing legal framework of the country, as there are mechanisms such as the plebiscite and the referendum with which there has been extensive experience in South America. And the president was asked to set aside any personal desire for continuation or re-election, a message he had already received from the Church and he had given his word that he would hand over power in January, which could be true as the word of a president, but the movement that he was generating around a national assembly called into doubt his claims, because the assembly would have the legitimate right to choose him as president and, in that case, he would have the option to remain in power or change the constitution to be re-elected president.

The slogan was “neither one nor the other, neither re-election nor coup”?

Neither one, since the Church believes that the coup is not a way out for life in a democracy. The coup does not solve the political problem that has dragged on for more than a decade in a weakening of the party system in Honduras, where there has been a traditional two-party system since the last century, since 1920 or so, even in some cases and still remembering the ideals of that era. These parties need to reform but the reforms can not come from the caudillo, from authoritarianism, much less from a coup, but rather it is necessary to make room for the renewal of the parties, open more opportunities for participation and seek political solutions to domestic problems. The peculiarity is that the parties who were supposedly in this coup – of which the military are only the visible and fleeting hand, just a moment, because they then handed over power to civilians…is that it has taken place between members of the Liberal Party.

How do you view the return of Zelaya scheduled for Thursday [sic]?

There is already commotion, because yesterday and today have been days of clashes between the social sectors, especially the working-class ones, and they say there have been 70 injured, though no fatalities so far, thank God. A return of President Zelaya would be disastrous because it would mobilize all these people to receive him, cheer him on and escort him and there would be a clash with police and government forces. It would not be a solution unless, because of international pressure, the current (de facto) government also decided to negotiate with Zelaya. But, definitely, the position in which he was is hardly going to be accepted by most of population.


  1. I urge you to read the recent statement of the Diocesan Pastoral Council of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán which was released July 2 by Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, SDB. It is very strong.

  2. Thanks, hno Juancito! For everyone else, John (Juan) Donaghy is an American lay missionary who is working in Santa Rosa de Copan. He has posted a translation of the statements he mentions as well as an ongoing eyewitness account of life in post-coup Honduras on his blog at God's blessing on your work at this difficult time, John.

  3. Por favor, sean honestos y apegados a la verdad. El Cardenal Rodriguez claramente apoyó y sigue apoyando el golpe de estado teórica y prácticamente. Es lamentable que la cúpula de la iglesia, salvo contadas excepciones, guarde un silencio cobarde que le hace cómplice de los golpistas. Uno puede estar o no de acuerdo con el Presidente Zelaya, pero eso no justifica un golpe de estado y hacer el juego a la oligarquía y a las pretensiones del imperio.