Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Malevolence or Incompetence? Trump in Honduras

With reason, much as been made of the State Department certifying that Honduras was complying with the U.S. requirement of fighting corruption and protecting human rights precisely as election fraud was occurring.

Several times now, I've argued that Trump administration responses to Latin America have appeared either to be malevolent or incompetent--it's like a game show where you hear a scenario and have to choose one. The malevolent option is that the administration wanted to signal its desire for Juan Orlando Hernández to win. But there is always the incompetent option. From the Houston Chronicle:

But two days after the election and in the midst of the protests, the U.S. State Department stunned just about everyone. It sent a document certifying that Honduras had complied with its rule of law and human rights requirements to obtain millions of dollars in U.S. aid.
 Democrats in Congress immediately assumed that President Donald Trump was showing support for Hernández, a conservative who has gained favor with the White House for cracking down on street gangs that have made the country one of the world's most violent.
 But a State Department spokeswoman told reporters the certification was simply sent when it had been completed, saying "This was just something that it was done when it was done. Okay?"
 Okay, we get it. If it wasn't sent to help Hernandez, then it was sent with no thought or knowledge about the delicate situation in Honduras and the effect it could have, which among other things was to add to the confusion.

I actually lean toward incompetence here. The State Department is stripped to the bone and managed by someone who is hostile to its operation. A deadline was coming up so a lower level official generated the statement. This just would not surprise me.

I can't rule out malevolence, and certainly the Honduran opposition is reading Trump administration actions closely and finding them in favor of JOH. Either way, the Trump administration is sending the wrong signals and the region is paying attention.


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