Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Honduras continued

According to the Miami Herald,
[Ousted Honduran President Manuel] Zelaya started distributing the ballots nationwide on Saturday. 'There were cars, buses and planes getting those ballots all over the country,'' said [National Human Rights Commissioner Ramón] Custodio, [who "defends the replacement of Mr. Zelaya as constitutional"]. 'I don't know where he got the cash to do all that.'
At 9 that night, [armed forces head Romeo] Vásquez said he was called to another meeting with the members of the Supreme Court and the attorney general, where he was shown a court order to arrest Zelaya.... 'We felt that if he stayed here, worse things were going to happen and there would be bloodshed.'

From the latest Wall Street Journal:
... populist intimidation has worked elsewhere in the region, and Hondurans are understandably afraid that, backed by Chávez agents and money, it could lead to similar antidemocratic subversion there. In Tegucigalpa yesterday, thousands demonstrated against Mr. Zelaya, and new deputy foreign minister Marta Lorena Casco told the crowd that 'Chávez consumed Venezuela, then Bolivia, after that Ecuador and Nicaragua, but in Honduras that didn't happen.'

On this Canada Day, the WSJ's suggestion that "Maybe it's time to sort the real from the phony Latin American democrats" leads one to ask just how "real" Canada's democracy is. Post-Zelaya Honduras may be democratic in substance, but is being attacked by everyone from Chavez to Castro to Obama on reasons of form, specifically, the absence of impeachment formalities (the mere formality of which should be obvious from the fact both the legislature and the judiciary want Zelaya out of office). Many people believe that Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms stands as a substantive guarantor. In fact, section 1 of the Charter allows Charter rights to be abridged if justifiable in a "free and democratic society". And even if such abridgements are not justifiable, a government can simply cite Section 33, the notwithstanding clause! Ultimately, Canada's democracy is protected by its prevailing culture, not the form of its institutions. The particular form of a democratic constitution is highly arbitrary. What if one of Canada's 308 MPs "crossed the floor" to the Green Party? The Green Party's representation would rise from zero percent of the seats to 0.3%. Given that the party won 6.8% of the vote in the 2008 federal election, this would not strike me as undemocratic. Yet some people would swear that it was highly undemocratic because the electorate in that floor crosser's particular riding cast more votes for another party (just look at the rage when David Emerson crossed the floor following his election in Vancouver Kingsway as a Liberal).

The bottom line is that the amount of moral weight that most people place on constitutional formalities is disproportionate: the particular incarnation of whatever the ideals are is typically far too contingent to support the absolutistic moralizing that occurs. Take the case of Abousfian Abdelrazik. Apparently, the moral reponsibility of the federal government for this man would change enormously were his historical residence status slightly different. That residency qualified him for Canadian citizenship documents, yet this man's concrete ties (non-abstract, non-institutional) to Canada are negligible (e.g. birth, dominant ethnicity, dominant religion, dominant culture, etc). If it would be inhumane to leave him to his own devices (since when is government inaction a coercive denial of one's right to liberty?) in his country of origin, how would it be more humane to take the same inaction should he not happen to have Canadian citizenship along with his Sudanese citizenship?

Being Canadian is, or ought to be, more than just having a piece of paper saying "Canadian citizen". Whether the new head of government in Honduras ought to be supported ought to be a substantive as opposed to a technical question.

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