Honduras Coup Poses Challenges, Questions for Obama, Congress

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a reasonably muscular condemnation of the military coup in Honduras,
where elected President Manuel (Mel) Zelaya was kidnapped and flown out
of the country by soldiers bent on blocking an advisory vote on
constitutional reform in the country.

The action taken against Honduran President Mel Zelaya
violates the precepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and
thus should be condemned by all. We call on all parties in Honduras to
respect the constitutional order and the rule of law, to reaffirm their
democratic vocation, and to commit themselves to resolve political
disputes peacefully and through dialogue. Honduras must embrace the
very principles of democracy we reaffirmed at the OAS meeting it hosted
less than one month ago.

President Obama's statement was softer and in tone:

I am deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras
regarding the detention and expulsion of President Mel Zelaya. As the
Organization of American States did on Friday, I call on all political
and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of
law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Any
existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through
dialogue free from any outside interference.

Senior aides to the Obama administration tell reporters that U.S. diplomats were working to ensure Zelaya's safe return. And the Wall Street Journal suggests that the administration may have worked behind the scenes to try and avert the coup.

But Roberto Lovato argues that the U.S. response at this point is insufficient. The savvy expert on U.S. relations with Latin America writes:

President Obama and the U.S. can actually do something
about a military crackdown that our tax dollars are helping pay for.
That Vasquez and other coup leaders were trained at the WHINSEC, which
also trained Augusto Pinochet and other military dictators responsible
for the deaths, disappearances, tortures of hundreds of thousands in
Latin America, sends profound chills throughout a region still trying
to overcome decades U.S.-backed militarism.

Hemispheric concerns about the coup were expressed in the rapid,
historic and almost universal condemnation of the plot by almost all
Latin American governments. Such concerns in the region represent an
opportunity for the United States. But, while the Honduran coup
represents a major opportunity for Obama to make real his recent and
repeated calls for a "new" relationship to the Americas, failure to
take actions that send a rapid and unequivocal denunciation of the coup
will be devastating to the Honduran people -- and to the still-fragile
U.S. image in the region.

Recent declarations by the Administration -- expressions of
"concern" by the President and statements by Secretary of State Clinton
recognizing Zelaya as the only legitimate, elected leader of Honduras
-- appear to indicate preliminary disapproval of the putsch. Yet, the
even more unequivocal statements of condemnation from U.N. President
Miguel D'Escoto, the Organization of American States, the European
Union, and the Presidents of Argentina, Costa Rica and many other
governments raise greatly the bar of expectation before the Obama

Obama should be more outspoken. This is a time when clarity is essential, and potentially influential.

There is also a role for members of Congress, who need to examine the
timing and character of this coup -- which was carried out by military
officers trained in the U.S. at the School of the Americans/Western
Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), in a country
with a substantial U.S. military base (home to roughly 500 troops and
air force combat planes and helicopters) in Soto Cano. It is difficult
to imagine that the Honduran military would have moved against Zelaya
without notifying U.S. military officials -- a prospect that,
considering the sordid history of Washington's entanglements in the
region, ought to be reviewed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Honest players on that committee, such as Wisconsin Democrat Russ
Feingold, have a right and a responsibility to ask tough questions
about the removal of a democratically-elected leader whose most serious
"crime" appears to have been a determination to challenge the corrupt
status quo in his country.

Zelaya, a businessman with a record of activism on behalf of
decentralization of power and respect for indigenous peoples, was
elected in 2005 as the relatively moderate candidate of the country's
historically powerful Liberal Party.

Photographed in genial conversation with former President George Bush,
he was not viewed as a particularly radical player when he took office.
But Zelaya's left-leaning economic and social policies earned praise
from labor unions and civil society groups, and he had forged regional
alliances with the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, which
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other elected leaders in Latin
America established as a counter to the neoliberal trade and security
policies pushed by the U.S. under Bush.

That made relations with the U.S. somewhat more tense, especially as
Zelaya wrangled with conservative forces over media, presidential
succession and constitional issues.

Chavez has suggested that U.S. meddling -- and a Central Intelligence Agency tie -- enabled the coup.

School of the Americas Watch is following developments closely, and well -- lots of fresh photos and blogging on its site.

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