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

"Make it Official-- It's a Coup"...

So says Howard L. Berman, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives, in an op-ed published in the LA Times.

Berman is among the group of US congress members who were sponsors of a resolution condemning the coup, which has definitely benefitted from the long summer recess of the US Congress.

One can only hope that with the return of the congress to Washington, we will begin to see some pressure exerted on the State Department to use the lever it has, which is the economic one: declare this a military coup (not just a "coup" as a meaningless word). The State Department has been sending relatively clear signals of a consensus about this all the way to just below the top. Secretary of State Clinton has to take that final step, and cannot keep waiting for illusory "progress" in non-existent talks.

The question is, what follows now, even if the US does this?

The Honduran de facto regime has been behaving as if it has private reassurances that the US really approves of its actions. Assuming that it has indeed been reassured, this is corrosive to democracy in Honduras, and will push progressive forces away from engagement with the US.

And if the regime is either misreading the signals, or misrepresenting the messages it has been receiving, that is a sign that the power elite there has read the Obama administration as ineffective and unimportant to its actions. Many commentators have noted that liberal US governments can inadvertently provide greater scope for repressive regimes that assess them as unlikely to act; the Obama administration has exemplified this in its posture of talking the talk but not walking the walk.

Meanwhile, Honduras, already before the coup characterized by the most troubling degrees of dissatisfaction in Latin America, has been polarized and seen a large segment of the population further discouraged about the possibility of democratic institutions succeeding. The campaign for the November election has begun with the resistance calling for non-participation and the de facto regime implying threats against those who encourage non-voting. The coup has shattered the already fractured Liberal party and probably ensured an electoral win for the National party candidate, Pepe Lobo, whose previous run for the presidency was based in large part on advocating introduction of the death penalty. Major cultural institutions have been purged of intellectuals, artists, and scholars, and the next generation of university-educated Hondurans have good reason to consider permanently remaining in the countries where they are students rather than returning to contribute to building their native land out of poverty.

To quote political scientist Greg Weeks, "the current U.S. response in Honduras may well be squandering the small reserves of goodwill President Obama had generated. Soft power cannot be created quickly, but it can be negated easily. In Latin America, the U.S. government tends not to understand (or care much about) that." So hard won, so easily lost.


Nell said...

This op ed is keeping me from sinking more deeply into despair and outrage at the administration's tacit support for the coup government's run-out-the-clock effort.

Howard Berman isn't just anyone. And his article is very clear and direct on the crucial points.

RAJ said...

The roll call of members of Congress who actually took a principled stand against the coup is something that we have not seen the press cover, even as they have given publicity to a few fringe Republicans who are supporting the coup.

With Congress now back in session, we need more sponsors for House Resolution 630, sponsored by Representative William Delahunt and 44 others. If your representative is already a sponsor, write him or her expressing the need for action on this resolution.

We should also commend Congressman Raúl Grijalva and his 15 co-signatories of a letter released August 11 to President Obama calling for increased sanctions on Honduras, specifically citing the human rights abuses on which the US has been so distressingly silent. The signatories of this letter need to know they have support.