Lawyers, Guns, and Money: A Coup Tests Obama's Will

special interests - energy, coal, utilities, financial, pharmaceutical
and insurance lobbies - have flexed their muscles and confronted
President Obama on the most important legislative priorities of his
domestic agenda. But this kind of politics-by-influence-peddling
doesn't stop at the water's edge. And in foreign policy, the
consequences can be more immediately violent and deadly.

Meet Lanny Davis, Washington lawyer and lobbyist, former legal counsel
to President Bill Clinton and avid campaigner for Hillary Clinton's
presidential bid. He has been hired by a coalition of business
interests to represent the dictatorship that ousted elected President
Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in a military coup three weeks ago. President
Zelaya was taken by soldiers at gunpoint from his home and removed to
Costa Rica.

Davis is working with Bennett Ratcliff, another lobbyist with a close
relationship to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a former senior
executive for one of the most influential political and public relations firms in Washington's history. According to the New York Times, in current mediation efforts, the coup government did not make a move without first consulting Ratcliff.

Davis and Ratcliff have done an amazing public relations job so far.
The average American believes that President Zelaya was ousted because
he tried to use a referendum to extend his term of office. This is not
only false but impossible. Zelaya's proposed referendum on the day of
the coup was a non-binding poll of the electorate. It only asked voters
if they wanted to have a real referendum on reforming the country's
constitution, on the November ballot. Even if Zelaya had gotten
everything he was looking for, a new president would have been elected
on the same November ballot. So Zelaya would be out of office in
January, no matter what steps were taken toward constitutional

If we add together the high power lobbyists from the Clinton camp,
Republican Senators and members of Congress, and conservatives within
the State Department - the coup government has an awful lot of support
from the U.S.

So it's up to President Obama to do the right thing.
He can have the U.S. Treasury freeze the coup leaders' bank accounts
and deny them visas to the U.S. He could also impose trade sanctions
for any part of the 70 percent of Honduran trade that is with the
United States. He would have worldwide support: both the Organization
of American States and the UN General Assembly voted unanimously to
demand the "immediate and unconditional" reinstatement of President

Almost all of the
Latin American governments - which are mostly left of center -- also
sympathize with Zelaya because he is a reform president fighting
against a corrupt oligarchy. In one of the poorest countries in the
hemisphere, he raised the minimum wage by 60 percent, increased
teachers' salaries and public pensions, as well as access to education.
This is a classic Latin American coup in another sense: General Romeo
Vazquez, who led it, is an alumnus of the United States' School of the
Americas (renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security
Co-operation). The school is best known for producing Latin American
officers who have committed major human rights abuses, including
military coups.

The coup government has shot and killed peaceful demonstrators, closed
TV and radio stations, and arrested journalists. Two political
activists have been murdered.

During the 1980s, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency trained a
military death squad - the infamous battalion 316 -- that tortured and
murdered hundreds of Honduran political activists. The U.S. embassy
looked the other way, and the State Department doctored its annual
human rights reports to omit these crimes.

President Obama has so far been silent about the coup government's violence and censorship.
This silence is very unfortunate and difficult to explain. The
repression may worsen if - as expected - current mediation efforts fail
and Zelaya returns to Honduras.

Obama needs to show that the United States is different than in the
past, by supporting Zelaya's return not just with words but action.
Anything less will look like complicity in the eyes of the world,
especially given the coup government's friends in high places.

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