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, November 12, 2009

Vapid US Policy Statement

The Voice of America website, under a byline "The following is an editorial reflecting the views of the US government", has just published one of the oddest texts I think I have ever read.

Here for the record is a professional deconstruction of this text, from my perspective as an avowed post-structuralist:

Efforts to return deposed President Manuel Zelaya to office and end the crippling political crisis in Honduras have hit another roadblock.

This form of statement, leaving out any agent (actor), is typical of rhetoric that attempts to avoid responsibility. Efforts have hit a roadblock: not because the US State Department made pronouncements that encouraged parties to misbehave, just because roadblocks are there...

The United States is disappointed that both parties haven't been able to reach agreement on the creation of a government of national unity under the Tegucigalpa-San Jose accord, and it urges leaders there to stay focused on it. While the U.S. and other hemispheric nations worked hard to bring the parties together, the stalemate is a Honduran problem that must have a Honduran solution.

"The stalemate is a Honduran problem". Well, not exactly. The stalemate is a problem exacerbated by the aforementioned US State Department pronouncements. But what is most interesting here is that the "disappointment" of the US is the topic of this paragraph. Not the consequences for the Honduran people. And who precisely are the "leaders" urged to stay focused on "it"-- and is that "it" the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord, or the "government of national unity"?

Under the terms of the agreement, signed late last month, President Zelaya and Honduras's de facto regime agreed to let Congress decide on the president's return. A presidential election set for November 29 will determine who succeeds President Zelaya and a government of national unity will operate until the new president takes office, among other provisions.

More or less accurate. But notice the very revealing slide: "A presidential election set for November 29 will determine who succeeds President Zelaya": or, to put it another way: President Zelaya is still and will be the legally elected president, presumably no matter what the Congress decides about his "return".

Both sides need to return to the table and fulfill their commitment to forming a government of national unity, and all parties should avoid provocative statements and actions that could upset the process.

Ah, how much the US State Department wishes other people would "avoid provocative statements"; like, perhaps, publicly stating that the US would recognize the election no matter whether the legally elected President was allowed to return to his constitutional position or not?

Before voting on the president's return, congressional leaders have asked for input from the Supreme Court, attorney general and human rights ombudsman. This is consistent with the accord and was agreed to by both parties during the negotiation of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord.

Well, no. The Accord did say that the Congress would vote after previously receiving a report from the Supreme Court. But there is nothing in it (go, read it for yourself!) about asking the attorney general to pronounce (and remember, Edmundo Orellana's legal opinion is that this would be against the law); and no one actually asked Ramon Custodio to provide a report; he just got enthusiastic. What the Accord-- and remember, I think it is a lousy piece of writing-- called for was for the Supreme Court to provide Congress a report (on what has never been clear to anyone: they cannot simply issue a verdict on charges against him, and without some constitutional issue in front of them, they cannot judge whether it would be legal or illegal for congress to revoke its own decreto of June 28). Period.

Isn't revisionist history fun?

The United States’ commitment is to the accord and its implementation and to the restoration of democratic constitutional order in Honduras. It provides a pathway to free and fair elections, the outcome of which will be widely accepted both within Honduras and abroad.

"It" is ambiguous (again). What provides a "pathway to free and fair elections"? One presumes the intended reference is "the accord", but it could as easily be "the United States commitment" or even, unlikely as it may seem, "democratic constitutional order".

In any event, this entire paragraph is a fantasy. The outcome of these purported "free and fair elections", which will not be observed by any official third-party outsiders, are already being repudiated by every member of the OAS from Latin America; by UNASUR; by the Central American and Caribbean nations; and there is a debate pending in the EU but Spain has already said there cannot be any legitimacy in the elections scheduled for just 16 days from now.

And as for "widely accepted within Honduras": well, yes. But that is not something to be happy about; the wide acceptance of elections that fail to live up to the standards of democracy is a symptom of the corrosion of Honduran popular belief in democracy itself.

The United States will respect any decision by the Honduran Congress, and is working to create an environment in which Hondurans themselves can address and resolve the issues that precipitated the crisis. With this behind them, the nation may move forward to address the many other challenges facing it.

Ah me: "the nation may move forward"-- precisely how? how does a country so polarized "move forward" when the one thing that is now certain is that any outcome-- "any decision by the Honduran Congress"-- will be accepted by the hemispheric power that has been most influential on the modern politics of Honduras? Does that "any decision" include, say, an assertion that Roberto Micheletti was inserted into power legally because the Congress says so?

And finally: "the issues that precipitated the crisis". No longer even able to clearly label a coup d'etat what it is, and giving in at the end to what has always been lurking below the surface: this whole incident would not have happened if there were not prior "precipitating" events.

No wonder the President of Paraguay is nervous. God help us when this is the best the US State Department can come up with.


Robert said...

Love the blog, been following for a few months now. The only problem is that you don't give enough respect to the power of Honduran bishops--power not only among the people but also in the halls of government.

There is no way that they will let Zelaya back in. I said that weeks ago when the so-called "agreement" was reached. Micheletti is their man, and hence Micheletti will stay where he is. The U.S., I think, recognizes this fact (whether they realize that the opposition is coming from the bishops or not, I don't know), and has essentially given up on imposing an outside solution.

In Latin America, one cannot simply watch secular politics and expect to offer full explanations of events. The Vatican lobby is extremely powerful, and without the approval of the bishops very little gets done.

RAJ said...

We have commented on the role of the Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga in the coup. Not only did he induce the Honduran Conference of Bishops to release a pro-coup statement after June 28, but he also was a key actor in whipping up public concerns about President Zelaya's supposed plans. A topic that deserves more attention is the role of secular members of Opus Dei in the cabal that carried through the coup; for example, Marta Lorena Alvarado's anti-contraception campaign makes more sense if her extreme religious views are taken into account. It is entirely credible that one of the bases of the fanaticism of some of the other intransigent coup participants comes from similar conservative religious views.

But the Roman Catholic church in Honduras is not hegemonic in its views. Bishop Luis Santos of Santa Rosa de Copan has courageously spoken against the coup; and Padre Tamayo, who just lost his Honduran citizenship in retaliation for his ministry against the coup.

Another problem with taking religion, and as framed here, "the bishops" (implying Roman Catholic hierarchy) as a single force in Honduras is that, like much of Latin America, religious diversity is actually quite high. The 2008 US State Department report on religious freedom cited CID Gallup poll numbers from 2007 says

47 percent of respondents identify themselves as Roman Catholics, 36 percent as evangelical Protestants, and 17 percent either provide no answer or consider themselves "other."

That matches our own experience over the past 30 years. If we use medically-recognized contraception, for example-- frowned on by the Roman Catholic church-- as a measure of secularism, we would note that UNICEF reports prevalence rates of 65% as of October 2008.

So we don't think, as social scientists, that it is possible to simplify the impact of the religious community in this crisis, and it is possible to over-state the influence specifically of the leadership of the Roman Catholic church. While conservative and absolutely implicated in the coup-- and thus likely to further weaken institutional Roman Catholicism in the country-- it is not some sort of shadow leadership.

Robert said...

I acquiesce to your caveat about seeing the bishops as some monolithic entity. And you are certainly correct that several priests and bishops have spoken out against the coup. However, the case of Padre Tomayo is perfect example of what I am talking about. As you noted in your post from 9/7, only the Vatican hierarchy had the power to remove him from his parish. To me, this indicates a real awareness on the part of the church of what's going on. It is also a clear endorsement of Micheletti's regime.

Perhaps there is a danger of being over-suspicious of Vatican meddling. However, I have watched Catholic policy in Latin America (and elsewhere) enough to know that very little can be accomplished without the most powerful bishops in a given country assenting to it.

At any rate, the blog is still great and you guys are managing it very professionally. Thanks for the articulate response.

Anonymous said...

BoRev commented on the VOA editorial.

RAJ said...

BoRev continues to provide some of the sharpest comic underlining of the black humor in these events. I laughed out loud at the creative retitling of the noxious original, and hope every reader here goes to the source. I kind of think that is precisely the sentiment being expressed. "We tried to help you annoying Hondurans, now go away and be more appreciative of us".

And the tragedy is, of course, the "us" whose Voice this is speaks for you and me whether we like it or not.

John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

You can find translations of documents from Catholic Church sources - from many different poitns of views - at

There are strong statements against the coup from the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, as well as a statement from the conference of religious men and women of Honduras - which, unfortunately, the cardinal did not allow them to publicly announce it. (But it had already gotten out on the internet.)

Unknown said...

I see that Panama and Columbia have already said that they will recognize the results of the elections. I expect to see more of this as the elections get closer and especially afterward is they are peaceful.

RAJ said...

Panama's conservative President Ricardo Martinelli has been quoted as recently as November 16 as saying he "anticipates" his country will recognize the Honduran elections. However, the reports I have found are in conservative news sources, and the direct quotes stop short of saying Panama will absolutely do so; they are all hedged.

I have seen no recent reports that the nation of Colombia-- as opposed to the city of Columbia, Missouri-- has said it will recognize the elections.

I will be happy to check out any source for this report that you can provide. But the issue of legitimacy cannot be papered over by isolated recognition, especially if it breaks along predictable ideological lines-- or, in the case of Colombia, a state that peers in Latin America are viewing as so closely tied to the US as to not be independent.