01 July 2009

If only I could say I love you

Mark Wesbrot wonders how sincere Washington's opposition to the Honduran coup really is.

The coup leaders have no international support, but they could still succeed by running out the clock – Zelaya has less than six months left in his term. Will the Obama administration support sanctions against the coup government in order to prevent this? The neighbouring governments of Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador have already fired a warning shot by announcing a 48-hour cut-off of trade.

By contrast, one reason for Clinton's reluctance to call the coup a coup is because the US Foreign Assistance Act prohibits funds going to governments where the head of state has been deposed by a military coup.

Unconditional is also a key word here: the Obama administration may want to extract concessions from Zelaya as part of a deal for his return to office. But this is not how democracy works. If Zelaya wants to negotiate a settlement with his political opponents after he returns, that is another story. But nobody has the right to extract political concession from him in exile, over the barrel of a gun.

Indeed, rumors have been circulating that a deal may be in the works for Zelaya to return to power if he gives up his calls for constitutional reform.
In the Honduran coup, the Obama administration claims that it tried to discourage the Honduran military from taking this action. It would be interesting to know what these discussions were like. Did administration officials say, "You know that we will have to say that we are against such a move if you do it, because everyone else will?" Or was it more like, "Don't do it, because we will do everything in our power to reverse any such coup"? The administration's actions since the coup indicate something more like the former, if not worse.
There are always pretty good reasons to suspect U.S. complicity in any coup in Latin America; we have a long history of such things (even preceding the Cold War) and, in Honduras particularly, the military has been heavily subsidized for years by Washington. It is difficult to believe--though theoretically not impossible--that it would have taken such a drastic action without first getting American approval. Because of this, the administration won't be able to credibly claim ambivalence; it will have to come out against the coup to avoid looking guilty.