Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Calling Honduras A Coup

Boz has a post criticizing Hillary Clinton on the 2009 Honduran coup, and how in fact she says it was not a coup, though at the time President Obama openly did. I also recently read a post by Marie Berry (at Political Violence @ A Glance) about the real implications of naming something "genocide" or not. Naming is a major issue in Latin America for coups. But who is doing the naming, how is the naming being done, and what are the differing impacts of different ways of naming?

For years I've been grappling with this naming of coups. As I wrote several years ago with regard to Egypt, I used to talk about it in my Intro to Comparative Politics course, asserting that it mattered. In large part because of the Honduras case, I am no longer convinced. Oddly enough, the Obama administration seemed to believe it mattered because it danced around the issue for quite a while. Then Obama himself said it was a coup, and not much changed as a result.

But a key here is that the Obama administration did not make a formal ruling that it was a coup. As Hillary Clinton remarks:

If the United States government declares a coup, you immediately have to shut off all aid including humanitarian aid, the Agency for International Development aid, the support that we were providing at that time for a lot of very poor people, and that triggers a legal necessity. There's no way to get around it. So our assessment was, we will just make the situation worse by punishing the Honduran people if we declare a coup and we immediately have to stop all aid for the people, but we should slow walk and try to stop anything that the government could take advantage of without calling it a coup.

Here is Hillary Clinton right after Obama said in June 2009 that there was an illegal coup in Honduras:

Despite Obama's comments, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the administration was not formally designating the ouster as a military coup for now, a step that would force a cut-off of most U.S. aid to Honduras.
Under U.S. law, no aid -- other than for the promotion of democracy -- may be provided to a country whose elected head of government has been toppled in a military coup."We do think that this has evolved into a coup," Clinton told reporters, adding the administration was withholding that determination for now. 
Asked if the United States was currently considering cutting off aid, Clinton shook her head no.

So it's not about just naming, it's about how you name. The president himself said it was a coup, but that's not legally saying it was a coup. Not long ago, he made a statement that Venezuela was a national security threat. That was a formal declaration that triggered sanctions. In Honduras that did not happen.


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