Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Less than meets the eye, or a warning shot across the bow?: State Department acts

The New York Times is reporting that the US State Department has taken some added steps to sanction the de facto regime.

It seems churlish not to be appreciative. After all, "terminating" $22 million of aid is a big sanction, compared to what has gone on for more than two months. The fact that it is the same aid that was suspended already, and thus is not really added sanction (just a change in status of the sanction) doesn't deny that it will send a loud and clear message of repudiation to the de facto regime. This $22 million is the so-called "non-humanitarian aid", identified by the de facto regime as funding for the canal seco, the express roadway from Pacific to Atlantic Honduran ports.

The added message is being heard. In the pro-coup La Tribuna, Oscar Raúl Matute says "we're not scared; we'll pay any price". Rafael Pineda Ponce, minister to Micheletti, is quoted as saying "too bad the US has taken the decision to come down on the side of Hugo Chavez and condemn a country that is fighting against the Marxist expansion in Central America and America". (Again, Honduras is keeping the communists out of Iowa...). La Prensa couldn't even bear to mention any of the facts in its headline, which reads "US Admits of the crisis "its complicated"".

For more reasonable Honduran press coverage, we need to consult Tiempo, whose headline reads "US announces suspension of aid, revocation of visas, and that it will not recognize the elections".

It is that last sanction that is probably the real news here, since this economic aid already was suspended, and since there is no mention of the much larger amount of funding that is pending from the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Gabriela Nuñez, the de facto government's secretary of the treasury, sets that at $122 million. Maybe we can treat the conversion of $22 million from suspended to terminated as a warning shot across the bow about what more is at risk economically; the same US State Department sources said the MCC funding was "as much as $200 million".

But it is the promise not to recognize the upcoming election as legitimate that is critical. As the NYT describes it:
The State Department also announced that it was revoking the visas of several people who had been identified as members or supporters of the current Honduran government. And officials said that, as matters stand, the Obama administration would not recognize the upcoming Honduran presidential elections.
Now let's hope that someone in the de facto regime is less intemperate than the people speaking for it publicly today.

Update 4:29pm PDT: The Honduran congress has read the State Department press release and reacted. Ramón Velásquez Nazar, Vice President of Congress, said "We're proud, we have dignity, we won't let them run over us". He continued, "when the United States decides to take away my visa, I'm not going to hide, I'm going to wear it on the lapel of my suit coat with pride". About the elections he said "telling us that the elections need to be fair, just, and transparent is ridiculous, that's a decision to be made by us, not because it was recommended by the Department of State".

The comments on news articles in Honduran papers are interesting here. First let me note that they by and large do not publish comments at all critical of the de facto government in 3 of the 4 daily papers. Nearly all of the comments (over 400 so far in El Heraldo) put all of the blame on Zelaya for the sanctions. However I note they are publishing the same comments over and over, which leads me to believe someone is stuffing the comments there, perhaps even the paper itself.

Update 9:07 PDT: In updated reporting, the New York Times adjusted their estimate of the amount of aid terminated to $30 million, matching other reporting.

Even more interesting, Ginger Thompson writes that State Department officials said the failure to formally designate this a military coup
would not have obligated the United States to cut aid further.A legal determination would have required certification by Congress, where some Republicans support Honduras’s de facto government.

So do we now have an admission that the whole delay in formally determining this was a military coup was because the Obama administration doesn't want to risk the wrath of Connie Mack?


Jake said...

The aid that was effected by today's decision is around 30 million, 11 from the MCC (pending board decision), 9.4 from USAID and 8.96 from the State Department. Yes, the MCC contract is for 215 million (80 million already spent, 190 million under contract) but they are playing most of it off as humanitarian or democracy promotion, and hence it will not be touched.

John (Juan) Donaghy said...

"Honduras is keeping the communists out of Iowa." Some would say that Iowa already has loads of communists since it lead the way to having Obama, that "Communist," elected president. This ex-Iowan, currently in Honduras, doesn't think the coup folks have it right!
Hopefully Iowa will help let Honduras find a just solution to this injustice here.

Doug said...

Raj -

I was wondering how the "non-recognition" would work out in practice. Right now, not recognizing Micheletti's Gov't means that we are asking Zelaya up to DC and speaking to him as if he were in control. but in January that Charade won't be possible anymore. Do we just pretend that they are a country completely w/o an Executive?

RAJ said...

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) cites "State Department spokesman Fred Lash" for its numbers.

Lash told CEPR that total aid to Honduras is $100 million.

The $30 million figure, also cited by Reuters, supposedly includes $8.96 million from the State Department, $9.4 million from USAID, and the pending $11 million from the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

The State Department official release does not give precise numbers or programs. The New York Times article describes it as $22 million based on the State Department statement identifying this terminated aid as the aid that was suspended after the coup.

While the total of $9.4 million (US AID) and $8.96 million (State) does not add up to the original $22 million, it is probably the same aid, already suspended, now terminated.

While the amount being considered by MCC immediately is only $11 million, that is just one part of what is at risk from that direction, whether we accept Gabriela Nuñez' estimate or the State Department as cited in New York Times.

(As an aside, note that CEPR is still interpreting the IMF funding allocation as available to or made to the de facto regime; while IMF has not made a statement on this, it continues to recognize the Zelaya government officials and as their signatures would be necessary to access funds, CEPR analysis of this as support for the regime should be tempered.)

RAJ said...

Doug asks, "how would non-recognition work out in practice?"

What we are doing now in Honduras is a queasy in-between. We have not recalled our ambassador, and not recognized the executive branch that took power illegally, but we continue to treat the Congress and Supreme Court as legitimate (presumably because they took power under the constitutional system interrupted June 28).

That farce has to end. If we do not recognize the election in November, we will need to change our diplomatic relations with Honduras. We would not accept the credentials of a new ambassador; we would (in theory) not appoint an ambassador to the new government.

But who really knows?

RAJ said...

And hurray for Iowa communists...

Doug said...

"If we do not recognize the election in November, we will need to change our diplomatic relations with Honduras. We would not accept the credentials of a new ambassador; we would (in theory) not appoint an ambassador to the new government."

That all seems so surreal; to go from being probably the most US friendly Latin American country to not being recognized.. Woow

I can only imagine that both the Honduras desk hands at State and the Carlos Flores/Pineda Ponces of Honduras muttering to themselves, "What's with those guys...?"

phoenixwoman said...

It was not a promise not to recognize the elections. It was a promise not to recognize them at this moment, according to the State Dept. release. I haven't seen the Q&A yet, but I would be surprised if it said anything significantly different. They choose their words carefully and their words say that they are waiting for the heat to come off.

This is a very dirty game, RAJ.


rns said...

RAJ and I noticed that as well. Its a pretty lame announcement which indicates to me Hillary is at odds with the recommendations of the professional diplomats, so politics is clearly afoot. I fully expect her to turn around and recognize the elections when she thinks no one is watching. She's trying to run out the clock, like Micheletti.....

Doug said...

Did anybody see the Cadena Nacional this evening regarding the suspension of US aid?

From our point of view it doesn't seem much, but from Honduras', maybe it's quite different.

RAJ said...

The reporting of the Cadena Nacional broadcast in El Heraldo tonight certainly suggests this action was both unexpected and a real challenge to the regime.