Honduras: beat the clock
Finally, the State Department ends its six-week charade of "legal review":
U.S. State Department staff have recommended that the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya be declared a "military coup," a U.S. official said on Thursday, a step that could cut off as much as $150 million in U.S. funding to the impoverished Central American nation.
This move was heavily foreshadowed in the press backgrounder by two State Dept. officials on Tuesday that accompanied the baby step of suspending non-emergency travel visas:
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We have said from the very beginning, what we do know is that the legitimate government, the legitimate president, was taken out of office in a way that was not prescribed, in a way that was unexpected and forced. And we call that a coup, a coup to the head of the government.
There are specific ... laws ... that deals with ... the way we can handle assistance and the way we can handle our relationship with a country if there is a military coup, if the person in charge of, leading, and then taking over the government after the coup are the military. And we are examining to determine whether or not that’s the case here.
QUESTION: Thank you. One last question. Just when would you expect to finish that inquiry?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Immediately.
Stories appeared as soon as Tuesday afternoon reporting that the U.S. government was considering the formal coup declaration, and the backgrounder was released yesterday afternoon. On Tuesday the military and police high command huddled with coup backer Jorge Canahuati. Yesterday Cardinal Rodgriguez met with the officials of COHEP, the business council. Micheletti increased the guard around his house. Yet the oligarchs did not seem to have been willing to take the broad hint the U.S. was dropping: to push Micheletti aside. So today, a day before the two-month mark of the coup regime, the other shoe drops. Monday the election campaigns formally begin.
We await news of further meetings in Tegucigalpa and will update.
Update: 4:00pm, 28 August - Twenty-four hours later, and two months into the coup, no action by Sec. Clinton. I've expressed the idea that yesterday's leak was a big signal to the coup backers to act so the U.S. wouldn't have to take this step. Clinton is clearly reluctant to take it, and apparently even a laughable "new" proposal from Micheletti is enough to stay her hand. Don't let her get away with it:
Call* and write the State Department. Urge Sec. Clinton to:
- immediately formally declare the coup a military coup.
- denounce the continuing human rights violations by the coup regime.
- announce U.S. support for an Organization of American States resolution declaring that the November elections will not be recognized unless the Zelaya government is restored by September 1.
*202-647-4000; wait through recordings for operator, ask to leave message. The calls and messages can go on all weekend, so take action and pass this on to friends. Two months is appalling; this shouldn't have lasted two days.
Update 2: 8:00pm, 4 September - Scorecard a week later: 0 for 3, with a lot of gestures and spinning. The glass-half-full perspective, that the government "formally cut off millions of dollars in assistance to Honduras because of the coup that occurred two months ago, and threatened to withhold recognition of the new president who emerges from elections scheduled in November" can only be maintained by ignoring the unpleasant details:
This is the same money that was suspended two months ago, not the much more substantial cutoff that a formal coup designation would require. The non-recognition threat was couched like this: That election must be undertaken in a free, fair and transparent manner. It must also be free of taint and open to all Hondurans to exercise their democratic franchise. At this moment, we would not be able to support the outcome of the scheduled elections.. Charles of Mercury Rising correctly translates this as: "Put enough lipstick on the pig and we'll kiss it."
Sec. Clinton is demonstrating her formidable capacity for "going deaf." President Zelaya said on Wednesday he intended to focus his talks with her on the severe and continuing human rights abuses of the coup regime. Presumably he did so, but she still hasn't said a single word on the subject. Rep. Howard Berman, chair of the House Foreign Relations committee and one of the most powerful figures in the Democratic party, forthrightly urged her in an LA Times op ed to formally designate the military coup and invoke the sanctions that go with it. She ignored him.
Berman's op ed is unusually good. He invokes the multiple credible reports of human rights abuses, the impact on the rest of the elected governments in the hemisphere, and decency and common sense against letting the coup stand. Use it and its arguments to get your member of Congress to put pressure on Sec. Clinton, to write letters to the editor, and to continue to needle the State Department.