Honduran President Fears Coup, Four Supreme Court Judges Fired

PHOTO: Honduras army soldiers secure the area outside of the National Congress in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Tuesday Dec. 11, 2012.

The Honduran Congress approved a measure to immediately dismiss four of the country's Supreme Court judges, with a 91-37 vote that occurred at 4 a.m. on Wednesday. The vote was inspired by members of the country's conservative National Party and is being called an illegal "technical coup" by local partisan newspapers.

The dismissal of the judges was prompted by their votes on a law proposed by the National Party in late November. At the time, the four now-dismissed court members (José Antonio Gutiérrez Navas, Gustavo Enrique Bustillo Palma, Rosalinda Cruz Sequeira and José Francisco Ruiz Gaekel) voted that a police reform law was unconstitutional because they said it violated police officers' due-process rights. After their ruling, which was denounced by President Porfirio Lobo of the National Party, the Congress formed a commission to investigate the four Supreme Court judges. Lobo accused the judges of being puppets of the business elites in the country, and the commission, formed on Monday evening, took less than 24 hours to release a report which ordered their removal.

"The conduct of judges endangers public safety and is contrary to the interests of the state," Rep. Jeffrey Flores, who sponsored the motion to dismiss the four judges, told the Associated Press in Spanish.

On Wednesday morning, approximately 50 policemen and 25 soldiers surrounded the capital building, reportedly to ensure the safety of the members of congress. But, the Vice President of the national congress told the Associated Press that they had not order the troops.

Two of Honduras' largest newspapers, La Prensa and El Heraldo, maintain that Wednesday morning's vote a "technical coup" because it took power away from the country's judiciary body. But, last week, President Lobo warned that the two newspapers were plotting a coup of their own against him. The owner of both papers, Jorge Canahuati denied these claims, and said that Lobo was "endangering freedom of expression."

In 2009, a coup-d'etat occurred when the democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya, a member of the Liberal Party, was deposed, The event took place shortly after he rejected a ruling by the Supreme Court to cancel a referendum on his plan to rewrite the constitution which he promised would give a voice the country's poor. Zelaya, who expressed support for President Lobo on Friday, was taken from his house by the military during the coup-d'etat three years ago and left in his pajamas on a tarmac in Costa Rica.

"They took off, and there I was. The democratically elected president of Honduras, standing in my pajamas in the middle of a runway in Costa Rica," Zelaya said to NPR earlier this year. "I said to myself, 'So this is that great new future everyone is talking about for Latin America?'"

While Honduras' leaders squabble, its citizenry continues to suffer. About the size of the state of Louisiana, Honduras is categorized by the U.N. as the most dangerous place on earth due in large to violence associated with the drug trade. Corruption is rampant in the nation's police force and political bodies, and about 60 percent of the nation's populace lives below the poverty line.

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