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Military coup or not military coup? Washington on Honduras: The Tight Rope Walker

 
Anonymous Coward
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08/17/2009 04:36 AM
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Military coup or not military coup? Washington on Honduras: The Tight Rope Walker
Military coup or not military coup?
Washington on Honduras: The Tight Rope Walker

by Arnold August*
15 AUGUST 2009

What is Washington’s position on the events in Honduras? At first, in the name of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the United States vigorously denounced the ousting of President Zelaya. But a closer look shows that they condemned the coup d’état while at the same time supporting their putschist friends. Arnold August analyses the pageant of awkward hypocrisy emanating from the Department of State and the White House.

Almost immediately after the coup d’État on June 28, the major media could not help but notice a problem facing Washington. On June 30, USA Today headlined: “Obama’s day: The presidential tight rope.” It went on to write: “Good morning from The Oval [White House]. On this day in 1859, a French acrobat named Charles Blondin walked above the rushing waters of Niagara Falls on a tightrope - exactly 150 years later, President Barack Obama probably knows the feeling….[On] Latin America, Obama tries to deal with the military coup in Honduras against a Latin legacy of distrust toward the United States.” [1]

On the same day, the Washington Post introduced their article with the banner: “On Foreign Policy, Obama Treads Carefully”. It continued: “President Obama came to office promising bold change on a variety of fronts, but he has often conducted his foreign policy in shades of gray. Whether in Iran or China or North Korea, when is the Obama administration not ‘moving cautiously’ or ‘treading carefully’ abroad? The latest example is Honduras, where the White House yesterday criticized the coup that toppled Manuel Zelaya yet didn’t signal complete disapproval. ‘But while condemning the overthrow, U.S. officials did not demand the reinstatement of Zelaya,’ the Los Angeles Times writes.” [2]

Real or apparent differences between President Obama and the State Department headed by Hillary Clinton will be dealt with below. For the moment let us continue with the initial theme. The Associated Press story reproduced in many major US and international media on July 6 carried the following title written by their correspondent Nestor Ikeda: “Obama is playing the role of a tight rope walker in the Honduran Drama”. Mr Ikeda hit the nail on the head as he writes: “Seeing as that Obama had promised the South American governments that we will follow an orientation of dialogue in conditions of diplomatic solutions, it seems that he is demonstrating a new role for the first time in the face of the military coup in Honduras: a high-wire artist.” [3]

“Clinton’s high-wire act on Honduras” was the banner of the July 7 issue of the Christian Science Monitor for the article highlighting that “the Obama administration waded deeper into the political crisis in Honduras Tuesday, anxious to see the hemisphere’s latest conflict resolved – but wary of appearing like the hegemonic power of old that imposed its will on smaller neighbours.” [4]

In the same direction, Time Magazine wrote on July 8 that “Since the coup, the White House has had to walk a fine line between cultivating a new, less interventionist image for the U.S. - which has too often aided military coups in Latin America - and ‘responding to the hemisphere’s desire that it take a strong lead in defending democratic norms,’ says Vicki Gass, senior associate for rights and development at the independent Washington Office on Latin America.” [5]

Washington’s dilemma was foreseen by one of the most hardened media supporters of the current coup d’État regime when the El Heraldo of Honduras noted on January 19 right after Obama’s inauguration that “he knows that he has no right to disappoint his followers....It was reported that in his inaugural address “Obama will be as if walking on a tightrope”. (My translation from original Spanish) This was in reference mainly to the economic crisis, but it can also be applied to the international situation. [6]

The Honduran El Heraldo newspaper knew that the Honduran oligarchy had to tilt the balance in favour of itself.

What are the two sides below the tight rope?

In Hillary Clinton’s recent important July 15 address to the Council on Foreign Relations, she stated:

“....The question is not whether our nation can or should lead, but how it will lead in the 21st century. Rigid ideologies and old formulas don’t apply. We need a new mindset….And to these foes and would-be foes, let me say our focus on diplomacy and development is not an alternative to our national security arsenal. Our willingness to talk is not a sign of weakness to be exploited. We will not hesitate to defend our friends, our interests, and above all, our people vigorously and when necessary with the world’s strongest military. This is not an option we seek nor is it a threat; it is a promise to all Americans….On the question of increased funding for USAID. Just as we would never deny ammunition to American troops headed into battle, we cannot send our civilian personnel into the field underequipped....Building the architecture of global cooperation requires us to devise the right policies and use the right tools. I speak often of smart power because it is so central to our thinking and our decision-making. It means the intelligent use of all means at our disposal, including our ability to convene and connect. It means our economic and military strength; our capacity for entrepreneurship and innovation; and the ability and credibility of our new President and his team. It also means the application of old-fashioned common sense in policymaking. It’s a blend of principle and pragmatism....” [7]

Let us take note of some conceptions to be taken into account for a successful tight rope walker:

1. Washington is going to lead the world, which are the same words employed by President Bush. The problem is that his foreign policy orientation proved to be a failure and thus threatened the objective of US domination and control. So how to lead without appearing that it is more of the same Bush-era politics? Thus Clinton says that there is a need for a new mindset.

2. Washington intends to use diplomacy, that is, emphasis on talks and engaging other countries in dialogue. At the same time the other side of the tight rope into which Washington has to avoid falling also includes the use of force and the military. But how new is this mindset? She warns that their willingness to talk does not exclude action: “vigorously and when necessary [with] the world’s strongest military”. Taking into account the current situation in Honduras, what place and importance does the olive branch really hold in relationship to using the military?

3. “A blend of principle and pragmatism.” One can assume that the main principle is that the US must “continue to lead” (but successfully, that is, without inciting the worlds’ peoples and governments against the US). Pragmatism must mean the need to avoid one-sided reliance on the military to the expense of the olive branch as was characterized by the Bush and other administrations before him. This is proving to be a real challenge in the face of on the one hand the continued peaceful opposition of the Honduran people and its legitimate President Zelaya, and on the other hand the military coup perpetrators and its brutal repression backed by the US military base in Honduras. The unrelenting and courageous struggle of the people of Honduras to put an end to the coup regime can upset a balancing act performed even by the most experienced tight rope walkers to be found in Washington.

Let us examine how the State Department attempts to deal with the situation as this holds many lessons for the peoples of South America.

The State departement’s balancing act

On June 28, the day of the coup, Clinton stated: “The action taken against Honduran President Mel Zelaya violates the precepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and thus should be condemned by all. We call on all parties in Honduras to respect the constitutional order and the rule of law, to reaffirm their democratic vocation, and to commit themselves to resolve political disputes peacefully and through dialogue. Honduras must embrace the very principles of democracy we reaffirmed at the OAS meeting it hosted less than one month ago.” [8]

The State Department refused to call it a coup and makes no reference to the manner in which President Zelaya was violently kidnapped and forcefully sent out of the country, reducing this to the term “action.” The delicate balancing act goes further by placing the putschists and the constitutionally elected Zelaya government on the same footing: “All parties in Honduras... should resolve political disputes peacefully and through dialogue”. When the US was aware, before the actual coup on June 28, that something was to take place, whatever happened to the peace and love pragmatism of Clinton? Or was the US actually involved in the coup? Clinton’s principle of using military force as indicated above in her speech to the Council on Foreign Relations might very well translate itself in the following manner: use of military to stop the ever-growing trend of governments and peoples of South America to build their own anti-neo liberal future and opposing US domination in the area. [9]

On June 29, the next day, Clinton said: “...The United States has been working with our partners in the OAS to fashion a strong consensus condemning the detention and expulsion of President Zelaya and calling for the full restoration of democratic order in Honduras. Our immediate priority is to restore full democratic and constitutional order in that country. The United States has been working with our partners in the OAS to fashion a strong consensus condemning the detention and expulsion of President Zelaya and calling for the full restoration of democratic order in Honduras. Our immediate priority is to restore full democratic and constitutional order in that country. Now, the wisdom of our approach, I think, was evident yesterday when the OAS and the Inter-American Democratic Charter were used as a basis for our response to the coup that occurred...” [10]

Was Clinton moving more to the side of diplomacy and distancing the State Department from the military-backed coup perpetuators? She after all mentions “condemning the detention and expulsion of President Zelaya” However, in order to be part of the OAS strong resolution [11] against the coup and the restoration of Zelaya in his rightful position as president, the US had to make some concessions. One must take note of the fact that Clinton does not mention the return of Zelaya, but rather makes general reference to the “full restoration of democratic order in Honduras.”

And so the State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, had to mount the tight rope. Right after the above-quoted Clinton statement, on June 29, US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly responded to reporters’ questions on Honduras during one of the regular and almost daily press briefings on any topic. It seems obvious from the excerpts of the transcript below that the US, in order to save face and combine pragmatism with principle (to use Clinton’s words), had to join with the OAS orientation. This seemed to have been done in a half-hearted manner as reflected in the responses by Kelly to be seen below (the US “signed-up” to the OAS resolution). The exchange below also exposes another theme, the first of a long series of reporters’ questions and ambiguous State Department answers, extending for a period of close to six weeks. What was at stake for six weeks? The answer is: whether the US legally classifies the coup as a military coup d’État or not. This legal classification of the coup as a military coup d’État would imply cutting off all military and other assistance to their allies in Honduras.

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Anonymous Coward
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08/17/2009 05:08 AM
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Re: Military coup or not military coup? Washington on Honduras: The Tight Rope Walker
On June 29, the next day, Clinton said: “...The United States has been working with our partners in the OAS to fashion a strong consensus condemning the detention and expulsion of President Zelaya and calling for the full restoration of democratic order in Honduras. Our immediate priority is to restore full democratic and constitutional order in that country. The United States has been working with our partners in the OAS to fashion a strong consensus condemning the detention and expulsion of President Zelaya and calling for the full restoration of democratic order in Honduras. Our immediate priority is to restore full democratic and constitutional order in that country. Now, the wisdom of our approach, I think, was evident yesterday when the OAS and the Inter-American Democratic Charter were used as a basis for our response to the coup that occurred...” [10]

Was Clinton moving more to the side of diplomacy and distancing the State Department from the military-backed coup perpetuators? She after all mentions “condemning the detention and expulsion of President Zelaya” However, in order to be part of the OAS strong resolution [11] against the coup and the restoration of Zelaya in his rightful position as president, the US had to make some concessions. One must take note of the fact that Clinton does not mention the return of Zelaya, but rather makes general reference to the “full restoration of democratic order in Honduras.”

I believe the first reports out did quote Clinton calling for the return of Zelaya to power. One has to wonder who actually runs Honduras, or all of the Americas for that matter.

(It was about this time Hillary suffered a broken arm)





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