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Mr. Obama, You Do Have a Button to Reverse the Coup in Honduras

The good news is that Latin American criticism of the Obama administration's failure to pressure the coup regime in Honduras has reached the level that Obama himself can no longer ignore it. The bad news is that Obama's response so far seems to be to stay the course: talk left, act right.

Reuters reports:

President Barack Obama said on Friday that he has no quick way to resolve the political crisis in Honduras, where supporters of a coup are refusing to let ousted President Manuel Zelaya return to power. ... "I can't press a button and suddenly reinstate Mr. Zelaya," Obama said.

Actually, Mr. Obama, you do have a button. You're probably right that it won't "suddenly" reinstate Mr. Zelaya. What's much more likely is that pressing your button would make the coup regime much more likely to accept the compromise proposal put forward by the Costa Ricans to allow President Zelaya's reinstatement. Since your Administration sponsored the Costa Rican process, it seems natural that you would do something to make it work. Why not press your button and see what it does?

Sixteen Democratic Members of Congress - Representatives Raul Grijalva, Jim McGovern, John Conyers, Jose Serrano, Chaka Fattah, Mike Honda, Barbara Lee, Jesse Jackson, Jim Oberstar, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Delahunt, Jan Schakowsky, Donna Christensen, Sheila Jackson Lee, Sam Farr, and Linda Sanchez - have urged you to freeze U.S. assets and suspend U.S. visas of coup leaders in Honduras. Why haven't you already done so, or even threatened to consider it?

Would it be a meaningful sanction to revoke the U.S. visas of coup leaders? There is considerable evidence that it would be. The last significant sign of apparent movement from coup leaders towards compromise followed one day after your administration took a similar action. The New York Times reported on July 29:

The head of Honduras's de facto government, Roberto Micheletti, has expressed support for a compromise that would allow the ousted president of his country to return to power, according to officials in the de facto government and diplomats from the region.


The call from Mr. Micheletti came one day after the United States increased pressure on the de facto Honduran government by withdrawing diplomatic visas from four high-level officials, and as members of the Honduran Congress began their own examination of Mr. Arias's proposal.

But this signal led nowhere, likely because your State Department undercut the impact of its sanction by downplaying it and indicating that there would be no follow-up. The four coup leaders can still travel to the U.S. - just not on diplomatic visas.

Your State Department clearly believes that visa bans can be a meaningful sanction. On August 6, the Washington Post reported:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton began a major trip to Africa on Wednesday by publicly urging Kenya, a strategic U.S. ally, to move faster to resolve tensions lingering from a disputed 2007 election that precipitated the country's worst crisis since it gained independence.

Clinton went further in a meeting with Kenyan leaders, urging them to fire the attorney general and the police chief, who have been accused of ignoring dozens of killings carried out by police death squads, according to a senior U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was private. Clinton also raised the possibility of banning some Kenyan officials from traveling to the United States if the government does not move more quickly to prosecute those responsible for post-election ethnic violence that left 1,300 people dead. The organizers are widely suspected to include senior officials and cabinet ministers, many of whom have family members in the United States.

"We are going to use whatever tools we need to use to ensure that there is justice," the official said. "We raised the possibility of visa bans and implied there could be more."

So, in Kenya, your State Department is willing to use the threat of visa bans to pressure the government to "move more quickly to prosecute those responsible for post-election ethnic violence" in 2007. Someone in the U.S. government clearly cares about this.

But your State Department is as yet unwilling, apparently, to use the threat of visa bans to pressure the coup regime in Honduras to accept the compromise proposal for President Zelaya's reinstatement put forward by the Costa Ricans - the process your Administration sponsored, to bring about the goal, President Zelaya's reinstatement, that you say you support.

Why is that?

Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.

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