Wednesday, August 30, 2017

U.S. Role in the Honduran Coup

Jake Johnston has an article that The Intercept entitled, "How Pentagon Officials May Have Encouraged a 2009 Coup in Honduras." I highly recommend checking it out. There's no smoking gun, really, and the main new thing we learn is that there were discussions of some sort between U.S. and Honduran military personnel immediately prior to the coup. The core conclusion, however, is really this part:

The new information paints a picture of an American government with no single policy, but rather, of bloated bureaucracies acting on competing interests. Hidden actors during the crisis tilted Honduras toward chaos, undermined official U.S. policy after the coup, and ushered in a new era of militarization that has left a trail of violence and repression in its wake.

At the time, I wrote about how then-Senator Jim DeMint clashed with John Kerry. As Johnston notes, along with Connie Mack, DeMint was working actively in favor of the Honduran military. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's own perceptions of the coup (specifically whether to call it a coup) diverged. Further, despite all the human rights talk, U.S. military aid starting flowing in not long after the 2009 presidential election, and abuses worsened.

Johnston's narrative shows how the Honduran coup plotters were looking for positive signals from the United States (an issue that Kathryn Sikkink discusses in her book Mixed Signals, which I am actually using right now in my U.S.-Latin American relations seminar). According to Johnston's account, they went looking in particular at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, where they got an informal positive sense. It's hard to believe they took that as official approval, but if it happened then they certainly would've been heartened. They also knew for sure that they would find strong congressional support in the U.S.

Overall, though, Johnston's main thesis as stated above is critical. As we all saw at the time, U.S. policy veered around and a multitude of voices said contradictory things. President Obama would sometimes make clear statements but they wouldn't be followed with action. Unfortunately, and I also noted this at the time, Latin America waited for the U.S. to take the lead, with even Hugo Chávez begging Obama to do something! In the midst of that mess, the coup government was able to wait things out and Honduran democracy, such as it was, suffered.


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