Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Obama and Honduras

Here is Obama's statement about Honduras:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me first of all speak about the coup in Honduras, because this was a topic of conversation between myself and President Uribe.

All of us have great concerns about what's taken place there. President Zelaya was democratically elected. He had not yet completed his term. We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the President of Honduras, the democratically elected President there. In that we have joined all the countries in the region, including Colombia and the Organization of American States.

I think it's -- it would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections. The region has made enormous progress over the last 20 years in establishing democratic traditions in Central America and Latin America. We don't want to go back to a dark past. The United States has not always stood as it should with some of these fledgling democracies, but over the last several years, I think both Republicans and Democrats in the United States have recognized that we always want to stand with democracy, even if the results don't always mean that the leaders of those countries are favorable towards the United States. And that is a tradition that we want to continue.

So we are very clear about the fact that President Zelaya is the democratically elected President, and we will work with the regional organizations like OAS and with other international institutions to see if we can resolve this in a peaceful way.

It is nice at least that he openly calls it a coup, and is clear about not recognizing any other government.

The U.S. has been careful not to call for Zelaya's return, however, which keeps the options open for some sort of negotiated solution that does not involve him remaining president. It is very hard to see how that work in practice. Update--see comments, as this is not accurate.


boz 8:52 AM  

The US has called for Zelaya's return and signed on to the OAS statement from Monday night which specifically calls for the reinstatement of President Zelaya. Reports that the US hasn't called for Zelaya's return are wrong.

Greg Weeks 8:59 AM  

Good point--I was thinking about public statements I had seen (though I can be corrected if I missed something.

Gabriel 9:06 AM  

The US has called for Zelaya's return but has not formally called his ouster a coup, avoiding automatic legal actions against Honduras.

Also Hillary made a point of saying that Zelaya's return is not a precondition.

I suspect Obama wants to have it both ways, keep the Latin nations happy but avoid helping create a new Chavez in the region.

boz 9:29 AM  

The US government (including both Clinton and Obama) have called the event a coup, but said it is still ongoing and we don't know how it will end. Basically, we're going to allow events to play out over the coming week or two before we start taking formal and more permanent actions.

The Obama administration is treating the coup as a long event spanning over a week or two rather than a single moment in time on Sunday morning. For them, it's not over yet. If the interim Micheletti government consolidates control and seems set to remain in charge for the next six months, the US will go through the formal process and all the sanctions it will entail. However, in the short term, the US is more focused on immediate actions that will help to restore democracy.

I don't think people realize the amount of time, work and energy that goes into moving the bureaucracy. Starting a formal legal process to cut MCC funds, for example, could take weeks or months (as it did in Nicaragua, where we just cut the funds for an election that happened last November). If Zelaya is back by Friday, as seems possible, it would be a wasted effort to start that process. From a bureaucratic standpoint, treating it as an ongoing event that may still fail makes a whole lot of sense. It also helps Zelaya's case as we still recognize him as the official president.

boz 9:38 AM  

I think Hillary's statement comes from an overabundance of caution over all the potential scenarios, however remote. What if the OAS brokers a power sharing agreement between Zelaya and the opposition in which he's no longer president and neither is Micheletti? Would the US oppose that if Zelaya and the OAS agreed to it? There remain some unlikely yet still plausible scenarios that would restore democracy to Honduras without Zelaya returning to the presidency.

I think the US recognizes the most likely democratic scenario is Zelaya's return and that's the one the US has advocated. However, it has left its diplomatic options open in case some unlikely democratic power sharing agreement among the sides takes place.

Gabriel 9:42 AM  


You know much more about this than I do, but I suspect that if the US wanted to stop payments ASAP they'd find a way to do so. With Nicaragua the US wanted to see if they could reach some agreement, as did the EU with its funds. Clearly that's what they are trying to do here, as you point out.

At the same time though, Hillary not saying that Zelaya's return is a precondition is revealing. I have to think that Obama does not want to find a couple of years from now that he helped create a new Chavez in the region.

Greg Weeks 11:58 AM  

I also think that calling it a coup is important more in symbolic terms than practical. In the case of Darfur, there was much talk about not calling it genocide because that would require intervention. Then Pres. Bush called it genocide, and nothing happened.

boz 3:00 PM  

...if the US wanted to stop payments ASAP they'd find a way to do so.

Somehow, I don't think the checks are exactly flowing today. Just because we haven't formally paused our aid doesn't mean there are ongoing bank transactions giving money to the interim government. People look at aid announcements (and announcements of cuts) as important symbolism, but few people look at the actual individual wire transfers, giant checks or suitcases of cash that go into delivering the aid. (How and when is a million dollars in aid in 2009 delivered? In one big wire transfer? In multiple small transfers? As an open account the recipient government can draw from?) The physical or electronic action that moves money from point A to point B is important and my guess is it isn't moving right this second, even if we haven't officially announced a pause.

MSS,  3:14 PM  

I don't know if this is accurate, but a news item I heard this morning said that US officials had avoided using the term, military coup, because that would require legal sanctions (suspension of military aid, etc.).

And, yes, the bureaucracy can move slowly, which is all the more reason why those at the very top need to be forthright and on top of things, starting with calling events what they are.

When the military abducts and exiles the elected president, that is a military coup, not a mere coup (as though other kinds of unconstitutional replacements somehow better), and it is an immediate act, and not one that plays out over a week or more.

boz 3:36 PM  

Just to clarify, US officials have used the term coup since day 1 (they signed on to the OAS resolution calling it a coup and two senior officials used the term during a State Dept. briefing), but they've avoided going through the bureaucratic process of legally sanctioning the coup because they're still waiting to see how everything plays out. Events are moving quickly and Zelaya could potentially be back in power by Thursday or Friday.

The focus right now is on restoring democracy by pushing for Zelaya's peaceful return as the legitimate president. If democracy isn't restored in the next few days and it looks like the interim government has consolidated power and will be in charge for a while, then we'll start going through all the fun legal and administrative steps that the coup entails.

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