Aug 28, 2009
After two months, the State Department is poised to formally declare
what was obvious to most of the world: on June 28, Honduras
experienced a military coup.
State Department staff have recommended to Secretary of State Clinton
that the ouster of Honduran President Zelaya be formally declared a
"military coup," which could cut off as much as $150 million in U.S.
funding, Reuters reports.
The semi-official story has been that State Department lawyers were
studying the events in Honduras to see if they met the "technical
definition" of a "military coup." But all along the State Department
made clear that it was purposely delaying its formal determination to
give "diplomacy" -- the talks in Costa Rica between representatives of
President Zelaya and representatives of the coup regime -- a chance to
It was never explained why making this determination -- which, under
U.S. law, requires a cutoff of aid to the coup government -- would
have interfered with "diplomacy." On the contrary: it was immediately
obvious that the obstacle to a negotiated solution was the
intransigence of the coup regime, which refused to accept a compromise
proposal that would allow President Zelaya to return. So, as many
Latin American governments argued -- including the Costa Rican
government -- if the U.S. wanted a negotiated solution, it needed to
ramp up pressure on the coup regime.
But the State Department is now, at last, conceding that its previous
efforts were insufficient. Better late than never -- much better.
No doubt Republicans in Congress who have supported the coup regime in
Honduras will now complain loudly when Secretary Clinton makes her
formal determination -- assuming that she follows the recommendation
of her staff.
In anticipation of right-wing Republican complaints, it is important
to note two key facts.
First, in making this determination, the State Department is simply
following the law. The Foreign Assistance Act requires a cutoff of
U.S. aid "to the government of any country whose duly elected head of
government is deposed by military coup or decree." That's what
happened on June 28 -- about that central fact there has been no
serious dispute. Even the top legal advisor of the Honduran military
that the Honduran military broke Honduran law when it removed
President Zelaya from office -- and from Honduras.
Second, in making this determination -- and cutting off aid -- the
State Department is simply following past practice. As the Center for
Economic and Policy Research documented
in a recent report, when there were coups in Mauritania and
Madagascar, Millennium Challenge Corporation money was cut off within
So complain away, right-wing coup-lovers. If we want Latin America to
take seriously the claim of a new U.S. approach to Latin America in
the Obama administration -- or maintain a credible commitment to the
rule of law in the region -- this is the minimum.
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