Honduran Coup & U.S. Change

I am at least a little encouraged that there’s been some change in U.S. response to coups overthrowing democratically elected, left leaning, leaders in Latin America when our President and Secretary of State are referring to the ouster by the military of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya as a coup. On the other hand, I have to agree with the assessment of some, including The Nation and the LA Times, that the Obama administration’s response is “tepid”.

As Benjamin Dangl describes it in Truthout:

Early Sunday morning, approximately 100 soldiers entered the home of the left-leaning Zelaya, forcefully removed him and, while he was still in his pajamas, ushered him onto a plane to Costa Rica.


After Zelaya had been taken to Costa Rica, a falsified resignation letter from Zelaya was presented to Congress, and former Parliament leader Roberto Micheletti was sworn in by Congress as the new president of the country. Micheletti immediately declared a curfew as protests and mobilizations continued nationwide.

    Since the coup took place, military planes and helicopters have been circling the city, the electricity and internet have been cut off, and only music is being played on the few radio stations that are still operating, according to IPS News.

    Telesur journalists, who have been reporting consistently throughout the conflict, were detained by the de facto government in Honduras. They were then released, thanks to international pressure.

    The ambassadors to Honduras from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua were arrested. Patricia Rodas, the foreign minister of Honduras under Zelaya has also been arrested. Rodas recently presided over an OAS meeting in which Cuba was finally admitted into the organization.

    The military-installed government has issued arrest warrants for Honduran social leaders for the Popular Bloc Coordinating Committee, Via Campesina and the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, according to the Weekly News Update on the Americas.

While as Truthout notes, initially on Sunday, President Obama said only that he was “deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras regarding the detention and expulsion of President Mel Zelaya,” and Secretary of State Clinton stated “We are withholding any formal legal determination,” they both were referring to it as a coup by Monday.

A quote from the New York Times:

“We do not want to go back to a dark past,” Mr. Obama said, in which military coups override elections. “We always want to stand with democracy,” he added.

This definitely is an improvement from the past.  However, as the LA Times notes:

But while condemning the overthrow, U.S. officials stopped short of declaring it a coup and would not demand the reinstatement of Zelaya. The administration left its ambassador to Honduras in place, while several left-wing governments in the region recalled theirs.

And despite control over millions of dollars in American aid and massive U.S. economic clout, the administration did not threaten sanctions or penalties against Honduran coup-backers for forming a new government the day after Zelaya was dragged from his bed and evicted from the country.
Wait, but President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton called the overthrow a coup, didn’t they?  What does the LA Times mean when it said they “stopped short of declaring it a coup”?
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the political crisis “has evolved into a coup.” But U.S. officials have not made a legal determination that the action actually constituted a coup, a finding that would trigger cutoffs of U.S. aid.
Oh, yes!  We have an administration full of lawyers, don’t we?  They do say they tried to avert a coup, to give them credit.  However, their response still seems a little cautious?  Is that the word?  No, maybe just not that enthusiastic.

Nonetheless, Obama offered a frank appraisal of U.S. history in the region, referring to its involvement in many of the region’s coups over the last century.

“The United States has not always stood as it should with some of these fledgling democracies,” he said at the White House. “But over the last several years I think both Republicans and Democrats in the United States have recognized that we always want to stand with democracy, even if the results don’t always mean that the leaders of those countries are favorable towards the United States.”

Now, why this lack of enthusiasm?  Could it be because President Zelaya aligned himself with the poor and against corporations exploiting workers? 

According to the Truthout article:

  When Manuel Zelaya was elected president on November 27, 2005, in a close victory, he became president of one of the poorest nations in the region, with approximately 70 percent of its population of 7.5 million living under the poverty line. Though siding himself with the region’s left in recent years as a new member of the leftist trade bloc, Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), Zelaya did sign the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2004.

    However, Zelaya has been criticizing and taking on the sweatshop and corporate media industry in his country, and he increased the minimum wage by 60 percent. He said the increase, which angered the country’s elite but expanded his support among unions, would “force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair.”

Now why are so many mainstream news agencies reporting the issue was Zelaya wanting to extend his term in office when it was actually re-writing the constitution that was going to be the issue on the ballot (to be voted on by the people)?

The key question leading up to the coup was whether or not to hold a referendum on Sunday, June 28 – as Zelaya wanted – on organizing an assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution.

    As one media analyst pointed out, while many major news outlets in the US, including the Miami Herald, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, said an impetus for the coup was specifically Zelaya’s plans for a vote to allow him to extend his term in office, the actual ballot question was to be: “Do you agree that, during the general elections of November 2009 there should be a fourth ballot to decide whether to hold a Constituent National Assembly that will approve a new political constitution?”

According to Truthout:

Leading up to the coup, on June 10, members of teacher, student, indigenous and union groups marched to demand that Congress back the referendum on the constitution, chanting, “The people, aware, defend the Constituent [Assembly].” The Honduran Front of Teachers Organizations [FOM], with some 48,000 members, also supported the referendum. FOM leader Eulogio Ch·vez asked teachers to organize the expected referendum this past Sunday in schools, according to the Weekly News Update on the Americas.

    The Supreme Court ruled that the referendum violated the constitution as it was taking place during an election year. When Honduran military Gen. Romeo Vasquez refused to distribute ballots to citizens and participate in the preparations for the Sunday referendum, Zelaya fired him on June 24. The Court called for the reinstatement of Vasquez, but Zelaya refused to recognize the reinstatement, and proceeded with the referendum, distributing the ballots and planning for the Sunday vote.

Oh, wait, I forgot to mention one thing, the elephant in the room.

Vasquez, a former student at the infamous School of the Americas, now known as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), went on to be a key leader in the June 28 coup.

Ah, yes, as President Obama alluded to, our bad past history, of training future dictators and military leaders who overthrow democratically elected governments, and imprison, torture, kill and disappear people to hold onto their power.

And the people are rising up once again:

Members of social, indigenous and labor organizations from around the country have concentrated in the city’s capital, organizing barricades around the presidential palace, demanding Zelaya’s return to power. “Thousands of Hondurans gathered outside the presidential palace singing the national hymn,” Telesur reported. “While the battalions mobilized against protesters at the Presidential House, the TV channels did not report on the tense events.” Bertha C·ceres, the leader of the Consejo CÌvico de Organizaciones Populares y IndÌgenas, said that the ethnic communities of the country are ready for resistance and do not recognize the Micheletti government.

I, for one, would like to see a stronger response from President Obama.

If the White House declares that what’s happening in Honduras is a coup, they would have to block aid to the rogue Honduran government. A provision of US law regarding funds directed by the US Congress says that, “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available … shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.”

    “The State Department has requested $68.2 million in aid for fiscal year 2010 [for Honduras], which begins on October 1, up from $43.2 million in the current fiscal year and $40.5 million a year earlier,” according to Reuters.

Now, to give the Obama administration credit, according to The Nation, Secretary of State Clinton did say:

“The United States has been working with our partners in the OAS (Organization of American States) to fashion a strong consensus condemning the detention and expulsion of President Zelaya, and calling for the full restoration of democratic order in Honduras,” she said Monday. “Our immediate priority is to restore full democratic and constitutional order in that country.”

That we’re fully engaged in these diplomatic efforts is a good thing, and let’s hope the regional strategy works.  There is more we could be doing, however, such as pulling our ambassador and bringing our aid to a halt as long as there’s an illegal regime in power.  All of which we would expect the U.S. to do, if they didn’t find the government that’s legitimately in power a little too far to the left.

Definitely some change, and considerable change to the last administration.  We’d no doubt be embracing the coup right now if Bush was in power. We still could do better, and we should be on the side of democracy and the Honduran people.





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