Washington on Honduras: The Tight Rope Walker
By Arnold August *
Part I of II
Almost immediately after the coup d’etat 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.” a
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.”b
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.”c
“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.”d
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.” e
Washington’s dilemma was foreseen by one of the most hardened media supporters of the current coup d’etat 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.f
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....”g
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 US STATE DEPARTMENT’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.”h
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.i
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. 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...”j
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 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’etat or not. This legal classification of the coup as a military coup d’etat would imply cutting off all military and other assistance to their allies in Honduras.
“QUESTION: So Ian, I’m sorry, just to confirm – so you’re not calling it a coup, is that correct? Legally, you’re not considering it a coup?
MR. KELLY: Well, I think you all saw the OAS statement last night, which called it a coup d’etat, and you heard what the Secretary just said. Having said that, we’re also very cognizant of the particulars of U.S. law on this. So let us get back to you on the legal definition issue. I don’t want to necessarily make policy up here.
QUESTION: And can I follow up? I mean, it’s unclear what you’re really looking for, because you’re not calling for the restoration – you’re calling for the restoration that’s in the democratic order in the constitution, but you’re not calling for the President, who you say is a legitimately elected president of the country, to go back. So do you –
MR. KELLY: Yes, we are.
QUESTION: – Secretary Clinton just said – no, Secretary Clinton just said that she doesn’t know what the U.S. is calling –
MR. KELLY: We – I mean, we signed up to that very strong statement from the OAS Permanent Council that demanded that President Zelaya be reinstated as a legitimate president.”k
The next day, June 30, Kelly had to face reporters on the same issue as to whether or not the US has legally ruled that a military coup d’etat took place in Honduras.
MR. KELLY: Elise. Yes.
QUESTION: Can you talk about the review of U.S. aid to Honduras in the wake of the coup –President Zelaya?
MR. KELLY: Yeah. As we talked about yesterday, there is a provision in section – I think it’s 7008 of the foreign operation act that obliges us to make a legal assessment of the facts on the ground and whether or not the funds cut-off provision applies to these circumstances. And so there is this process that’s going on right now in our Office of the Legal Adviser.
QUESTION: -- without being simplistic, and I understand there are legalities, but if you’ve got a president who’s been ousted, and you’ve got troops in charge, not constitutionally elected, I’m
MR. KELLY: Well, yeah.
QUESTION: -- not quite sure what the complication is.
MR. KELLY: Well, okay. You heard what the Secretary said yesterday. She said that there is a coup.
QUESTION: Well --
MR. KELLY: The President said there’s a coup.
MR. KELLY: We do have some facts, of course, and the facts are that the constitutional order in Honduras has been overturned. But there’s also a – there’s a process that we need to follow, and that we are following now. And it’s a legal matter. And as you all know, when you – when a legal issue is involved, it’s good to consult your lawyers, so that’s what we’re doing.
MR. KELLY: Well, I think our message is going to be the same message that we’ve said publicly, that Secretary Clinton said yesterday and President Obama has said – that we think that President Zelaya is the democratically elected constitutional president of Honduras and should be allowed to serve out the rest of his term. And we’re working very closely through the mechanism of the Organization of American States, and we think that what happened in Honduras was inconsistent with the principles of the Inter-American charter, and that we need to work this multilaterally. At the same time, there are fast-moving events up at the UN, too. And so I think this is an opportunity to show our support for the presidentially – I mean, democratically elected president of Honduras, and also talk to him about how we’ve been coordinating with our allies, and part of that is in the OAS.
QUESTION: Do you think it’s a good idea for him to return on Thursday like he wants to?
MR. KELLY: I’m not going to – I’m just – I think it’s a good idea for him to be reinstated as the president of Honduras.
QUESTION: Will the U.S. be willing to provide any security for him if he returns to Honduras on Thursday?
MR. KELLY: That’s just not a question I’m prepared to answer, actually.
QUESTION: Yeah, Ian, just getting back – I hate to be kind of asking another legal question.
MR. KELLY: Yeah.
QUESTION: But just – you say constitutional – you do have the facts. The constitutional order has been overturned.
MR. KELLY: Right.
QUESTION: Okay. So is that the trigger? Is that enough to cut aid? Because then you said there’s a legal process to follow.
MR. KELLY: Yeah.
QUESTION: In other words, have you defined – is that the trigger we have – you know, overthrow the constitutional order, therefore we have the right to cut the aid?
MR. KELLY: Well, we – like I say, there’s a process. We want to make sure that the newly confirmed Legal Adviser of the State Department Harold Koh and his team has a chance to make a determination on this.
QUESTION: Okay. So --
MR. KELLY: So that’s what’s happening right now.
QUESTION: Okay. So that’s not enough to stop the aid? The overturning of the constitutional order is not legally enough for you to stop that aid?
MR. KELLY: We need to have our legal experts look at the law, look at the facts on the ground, and make a determination.
QUESTION: And how long is that going to take?
MR. KELLY: Oh, it won’t take long. I can’t tell you exactly how long it’ll take, but I would expect it wouldn’t take very long.”l
Once again we see above that Kelly delays any commitment on the classification of the coup from the US perspective and laws. This means more time and a daily dose of fresh oxygen for the military that was (and still is) on a daily basis repressing the growing resistance in Honduras and hindering its movements. The army and police also were, and are, attempting everything to hide and severely hinder the international and local press coverage of what is really happening in the country. Kelly also tries to divert US responsibility by quickly emphasizing the need for diplomacy and mediation by the OAS. Notice above that Kelly says that “we’ve been coordinating with our allies, and part of that is in the OAS.” This raises the question as to who are Washington’s allies? Costa Rica, Columbia, Canada? On the one hand, the US praises the OAS but at the same time reserves the right to bilaterally deal with certain governments of their own choosing. Washington needs time to organize with their allies; while simultaneously giving the green light to the putschists to do the same with the right-wing oligarchy in South America and Miami. This represents a thinly veiled attempt to divide the forces in the OAS. The just and correct OAS resolution becomes merely a cover-up for anything except the restoration of President Zelaya. Kelly also refused to answer the question as to whether or not the US would provide security to President Zelaya if he attempted to return to his country. This high-wire act is very telling; this is so because when Zelaya publicly stated that he will attempt to return on July 24 via land from the Nicaraguan border, the US as we will see below, tried to strongly persuade Zelaya to refrain from going to Honduras. This was done in such a way that any resulting incidents would be considered by the US to be the fault of Zelaya. This is the same position taken by the coup perpetrators.
At the next briefing held on July 1, Kelly, answering the same question as to when the US legal classification of the coup would be made, stated that he would disagree with any “time-related adverb.” He also said, what seems to be an excuse for further delay, that the US takes “our obligations under the law very seriously.” However, the law in the form of Resolutions adopted by the OAS and the UN does not seem to fall into the category of taking “our obligations under the law very seriously.”
“QUESTION: To start with Honduras, yesterday, you told us that the Legal Adviser’s Office has begun its formal review of whether the U.S. Government regards this as a military coup.
MR. KELLY: Right.
QUESTION: And therefore triggers the aid cutoff.
MR. KELLY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is that review complete? You had also said you didn’t think it would take that long.
MR. KELLY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is it complete, and have you made a determination?
MR. KELLY: Yeah. It’s always dangerous when you put any kind of time-related adverb on any statement. In point of fact, we have not completed our legal determination. As I said yesterday, though, our legal advisers are actively assessing the facts and the law in question, which we take very seriously. We take our obligations under that law very seriously. And of course, I’ll let you know as soon as this determination is made.” m
On July 2 the portion of the briefing dealing with Honduras reads as follows, in response to the same reporters’ questions:
“MR. KELLY: Well, of course, our goal is the restoration of constitutional – of the constitutional order in Tegucigalpa, which means the restoration of President Zelaya. There is a process led by the OAS which is in place. We think that this process should be allowed to play out, and we would discourage any actions that would prove to be an obstacle to this process reaching its desired outcome, which, of course, is the restoration of Mel Zelaya to power.
QUESTION: So just so I’m clear, are you suggesting that possibly his return at too early a stage might be an obstacle?
MR. KELLY: It could be. I think that what everybody needs to focus on now is this OAS mission that was mandated by the OAS Special General Assembly. Of course, I can’t speak for President Zelaya, but it’s my understanding that he has delayed any plans to return.
QUESTION: Do you have any news on the review of possible aid cutoff to Honduras?
MR. KELLY: Yeah, I do have an update for you on that if you’ll just hold on a second.
The legal review is ongoing. We’re trying to determine if Section 7008 of the Foreign Assistance Act must be applied. In the meantime, we’ve taken some actions to hit the pause button, let’s say, on assistance programs that we would be legally required to terminate if it is determined – if the events of June 28 are determined to have been, as defined – I’m sounding more and more like a lawyer here – as defined, under the Section 7008 of the Foreign Assistance Act, as defined as a military coup.”n
While this is going on in Washington, the repression against the heroic resistance of the people of Honduras carries on without let-up.
A MILITARY COUP OR NOT? HAS THE STATE DEPARTMENT TAKEN A DECISION?
Not yet! On July 6, the high wire act continues:
“QUESTION: Okay. And then have you guys made a decision yet on – a determination on whether a military coup has indeed transpired, and therefore whether U.S. aid would have to be cut off?
MR. KELLY: Well, as I said on Thursday, we decided that no aid that would be subject to termination under this law – that none of this kind of aid is now flowing to the de facto regime. We are still in the ongoing process of determining whether the law applies. But we’re not inclined to make a statutory decision while diplomatic initiatives are ongoing.
MR. KELLY: Well, just a couple of points. One is that there are – most of our activities are excluded under this particular section of the law, and that’s the humanitarian aid and aid to support democracy-building programs. What we’ve decided to not continue our funding of are those programs that could be construed as having – directly aiding the government or the – what we’re calling the de facto regime of Honduras. And it’s a complicated process, but we recognize that we may make this determination to terminate, and that’s why any programs that could be construed as aiding the government have – none of this aid is flowing through the pipeline now.”o
One may want to notice that Kelly is concerned about any aid to the de facto regime is “construed” as aiding the government, using this term twice in the same paragraph. This makes me think back to Mrs. Clintons’ important July 15 policy statement quoted above when she referred “to 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....” What the State Department seems to be concerned about first and foremost is rebuilding the image or credibility of the US as it tries to “lead” in a new effective manner. By providing time and aid to the de facto regime this contributes to the principle enunciated above regarding the objective: the US imperialist goal to dominate or what Washington calls “leading”. This intent is meant to blend with pragmatism: in the case of Honduras to refrain from brazenly supporting the military-backed regime as the disastrous Bush-policy would have done and which had only contributed to encourage the massive peoples’ movements in South America against US imperialism and neo-liberal politics. The rapid defeat of the US-organized coup against President Chavez is one example of the futility of this policy which Washington is now trying to avoid. This pragmatism is carried out by covering-up the real US target with notions of dialogue and diplomacy.
The scope of this article does not allow me to go into subtle legal notions and levels regarding different forms of US aid and support, such as military, economic, humanitarian and political “democracy promotion”. Instead I am now limiting myself to dealing with the current US politics of stalling on the legal classification of a military coup d’etat. What implications would a legal classification of the coup as a military coup d’etat mean for US policy on Honduras? For a full disclosure and analysis regarding different forms of US aid and support, see Eva Golinger’s two most recent articles:p
In the July 7 briefing, Kelly responded to a question regarding the return of Zelaya as president:
“MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, I think – if you look at President Obama’s speech in Moscow today, what he said was that we saw a situation where a democratically elected president was overthrown and exiled out of the country. And we want this principle that you can’t deal with these kinds of conflicts extra-constitutionally, and that’s the principle that we want to see upheld. We want to see the – this democratic and constitutional order restored.
QUESTION: It seems that you opened the window for a different solution in probably early elections or --
MR. KELLY: Now, we’ll see. I mean, now – I mean, we’ve said all along that (a) we want these conflicts to be resolved through dialogue and (b) we saw this as a problem for the Organization of American States and for the – for this forum of this Inter-American Forum. We now have a very good process where you have the president of Costa Rica who’s agreed to be a mediator. Of course, this is the beginning of a process. And as the Secretary said, we don’t want to prejudge how the process will play out, but we now have a dialogue in place.”q
Mr. Kelly wants Costa Rican President Arias’ mediation and dialogue to “play out” while the struggle in Honduras continues between the regime and the resistance. It seems that the State Department is hoping and praying that the resistance of the people in Honduras will wear itself out over time. However, at the time of writing, this demoralization is not happening despite the repression and extremely difficult conditions.
On July 10 in response to questions, Assistant Secretary of the US State Department Philip J. Crowley said that the Arias “...negotiation is the best route to solve this peacefully....” Only when a reporter insisted if this means the return of Zelaya to his position, did Crowley confirm this, ...in words, in any case.r
IS THE ARIAS MEDIATION AN AMERICAN PROCESS?
As the answer to this question was becoming more and more under public scrutiny on July 13, Kelly was asked whether the Arias mediation is an American process or not.
“MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, this is not an American process. It’s a process that we are putting all of – it’s a process led by Costa Rican President Arias that we are giving our full support to. And --
QUESTION: That sounds like an American process to me. (Laughter.)
MR. KELLY: We are supporting this process led by President Arias. It is not an American --
QUESTION: Whose country is in what part of the world?
MR. KELLY: It’s not a process that’s being led by the United States of America. (Laughter.) And we just have to give – we have to give time for this process to work. And I’ll just – we – we’re – as I say, we’re standing firmly behind President Arias. He said late last week that he expects to sit down again within a week with the two parties, and these would be the kinds of proposals I hope that both sides can discuss.”s
And on July 14:
“QUESTION: President Zelaya has laid down a – what people say is an ultimatum. He says that if the talks that President Arias is mediating don’t restore him or return him to power in their next session, that they will have failed and other measures may have to – other measures will have to be taken.
MR. KELLY: Yes
QUESTION: What – is that the same as the U.S. position?
MR. KELLY: Well, I think you know what our position is – is that we think that all parties in the talks should give this process some time, don’t set any artificial deadlines, don’t make any – don’t say if X doesn’t happen by a certain time, then the talks are dead. We have to give the process a chance and support what President Arias is doing.
QUESTION: Well, will you regard them as having failed if they do not at their next session result in Zelaya returning?
MR. KELLY: Well, look, again, we don’t want to set an artificial deadline.
QUESTION: Well, that’s – are you saying the answer is no, you do not agree with Zelaya that they will have failed if they --
MR. KELLY: I think that we should give President Arias a chance....”t
CHANGE OF TIGHT ROPE WALKER BUT SAME SHAKY POSITION
Another State Department spokesman, Robert Woods responded to reporters on July 17 in this way:
“MR WOOD. And look, the Arias peace talks haven’t been – I mean, this is recent. We need to give it some time. As I said, he’s committed to this process, we are, others in the hemisphere are. We need to allow it to work. We need to allow it to go forward. And so we’re going to continue to encourage the parties to support this process, because we think it’s the best way to get back to where we want to get to.
QUESTION: Following on that, has the U.S. Government specifically asked or urged President Zelaya not to try to make another contested attempt to enter Honduras?
MR. WOOD: I don’t want to get into discussions we may or may not have had with President Zelaya on a host of issues. Let us just say that we don’t – as I had said earlier, we don’t want people to take steps that in any way conflict or don’t contribute positively to the Arias mediation efforts.
QUESTION: So then would his return not contribute positively to it? Is that what you’re saying?
MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything more to add to it than I’ve given you....”u
WHAT DID CLINTON SAY TO MICHELETTI?
On July 20, back to Crowley:
“MR. CROWLEY: And yesterday from New Delhi, the Secretary had a phone conversation with the leader of the de facto regime, Mr. Micheletti. And she laid out during that call – encouraged him to continue focus on these negotiations and also helped him understand the potential consequences of the failure to take advantage of this mediation.
QUESTION: Now, that’s the first time that she – that anyone, I think, has talked to Micheletti?
MR. CROWLEY: That’s a fair question. I don’t – we have been touch with representatives from both sides, but that clearly is her first contact with him.
QUESTION: So not on –
QUESTION: Do you have any readout on how firm she was in her conversation with Micheletti?
MR. CROWLEY: I think she –
QUESTION: -- was she very clear to Mr. Micheletti that the U.S. does not recognize the de facto government, and that whatever its objections during this weekend’s talks, it needs to make preparations to step aside and let the elected president come back?
MR. CROWLEY: I think it was a very tough phone call. However, I think it was – she made clear if the de facto regime needed to be reminded that we seek a restoration of democratic and constitutional order, a peaceful resolution. We do not think that anybody should take any kind of steps that would add to the risk of violence in Honduras, and that we completely support the ongoing Arias mediation.
QUESTION: So are you cautioning Mr. Zelaya to stay in Nicaragua, or whichever country gives him shelter, for the time being if that does lead to a lessening of tension?
MR. CROWLEY: I think we’ve also made clear to President Zelaya that we think that mediation is the way to go.
QUESTION: Can you – any tougher actions, any declarations that you’re planning to do if they – the de facto regime keep doing the same --
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we have options if not – also legal requirements if these negotiations fail.
QUESTION: Just to clarify that. You said that you told Zelaya that mediation is the way. But have you told him specifically, “Do not go back because it’s dangerous and it could create tension and violence”.
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: Directly, you’ve said that?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
This Clinton-Micheletti telephone conversation has not been made public. However, I believe that Clinton did indeed make a “tough” phone call to Micheletti as her secretary spokesman indicated above. Why is this? The coup perpetrators cannot even agree to a mediation proposal which is heavily in their favor, while the resistance in the streets of Honduras continues: how does this look for the new foreign policy image that Washington would like to portray to the world? How does this appear to the US population itself who have shown that it is increasingly against confrontation politics on the international scale?
Zelaya, on the other hand, did not have the privilege of any private warnings. As indicated above by the State Department: “Do not go back because it’s dangerous and it could create tension and violence”. By publicly saying this, does it not indicate in an open manner to the putschists that Zelaya is fair game and that he will not enjoy the support of Washington? Compare this to the secret phone call to Micheletti: perhaps not as tough as the words directed toward Zelaya?
Washington’s decision on the legal classification of the coup according to US norms had not yet been decided. This eventual ruling would probably decide whether the US will or will not fully and permanently, as long as the coup plotters stay in power, cut off all military, economic and political aid as well as withdraw diplomatic recognition. The regime fully depends on US aid of all kinds for its very existence. At the time of the briefing cited above (July 20) the State Department has said that they have only hit the pause button on certain programs, that is placed them on temporarily hold. On so later on during this briefing, in response to the following question: “Have you ruled this as a coup d’etat there legally...” Mr. Crowley said: “No”. w
Ambiguity within ambiguity! Does this mean that the US had finally classified that the coup is not legal, or does this mean that they have not yet ruled on the issue? This will be clarified later on over a week later, on July 29.
At the next briefing on July 21, Deputy Department spokesman Woods said in response to a question that “We’re in constant contact with a number of countries in the hemisphere regarding the situation in Honduras. And we believe that the Arias mediation is the right way to go...” In reaction to another question as to what Woods meant by “acting now”, he responded that “what I meant by acting now is we have a process that’s in place that’s being headed by President Arias.”x
It seems clear that the Arias mediation goes hand in hand with providing time for the US to attempt to form alliances in South America. These alliances are directed not only against Zelaya but also in opposition to all South American governments including those in the Caribbean and Central America who persist in supporting his unconditional return as required by the OAS and UN resolutions. It must be very frustrating for the thousands of people in the streets of many cities in Honduras who are defying the US-trained and sponsored military. The people persist in putting forward their demand in the face of fierce repression; the US defines “acting now” as being applicable only against the social forces that oppose the coup plotters and not pertinent to the putschist regime On the list of US priorities, the olive branch is all the way on the bottom, after all the military components.
Montreal, author/journalist/lecturer Cuba specialist. First book Democracy in Cuba and the 1997-98 Elections (English, 1999). Chapter entitled “Socialism and Elections”, in Cuban Socialism in a New Century: Adversity, Survival and Renewal, edited by professors Max Azicri and Elsie Deal (University Press of Florida, 2004). Upcoming (English, Spanish, French, fall 2010) Cuba: Participatory Democracy and Elections in the 21st Century. Member of LASA (Latin American Studies Association), the International Committee for the Freedom of the Five and the Comité Fabio Di Celmo pour les Cinq of the Table de concertation de solidarité Québec-Cuba.
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