South of the Border
By July 24, 2009, the U.S. government was totally clear about the basic facts of what took place in Honduras on June 28, 2009. The U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa sent a cable to Washington with subject: "Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup," asserting that "there is no doubt" that the events of June 28 "constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup." The Embassy listed arguments being made by supporters of the coup to claim its legality, and dismissed them thus: "none ... has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution." The Honduran military clearly had no legal authority to remove President Zelaya from office or from Honduras, the Embassy said, and their action - the Embassy described it as an "abduction" and "kidnapping" - was clearly unconstitutional.
It is inconceivable that any top U.S. official responsible for U.S. policy in Honduras was not familiar with the contents of the July 24 cable, which summarized the assessment of the U.S. Embassy in Honduras on key facts that were politically disputed by supporters of the coup regime. The cable was addressed to Tom Shannon, then Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs; Harold Koh, the State Department's Legal Adviser; and Dan Restrepo, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council. The cable was sent to the White House and to Secretary of State Clinton.
But despite the fact that the U.S. government was crystal clear on what had transpired, the U.S. did not immediately cut off all aid to Honduras except "democracy assistance," as required by U.S. law.
No reasonable person would have bet serious money that news editors at the New York Times would be huge fans of Oliver Stone's new documentary about South America, "South of the Border." A key point of the film is that mainstream US press coverage of South America in recent years has generally followed State Department priorities more than objective news standards. The New York Times comes in for specific criticism in the film, which notes that the paper editorially backed the short-lived US-backed coup against the democratically-elected government of Venezuela in 2002. (Key evidence on the U.S. role in the coup can be found here. After the coup collapsed, the Times half-apologized for its pro-coup editorial, as also noted in the film.)
But still, accepting that no-one likes to be criticized, there are supposed to be rules for newspapers like the Times. In an editorial, they can express any opinion they want. But news articles are supposed to be accurate, and if a reporter has a direct interest or bias in a situation, the paper should assign another reporter or at least disclose the interest or bias.
But on Friday, the New York Times ran an attack on Oliver Stone's documentary by Larry Rohter, an attack that claimed the film was full of inaccuracies. Not only was the New York Times attack itself inaccurate in its factual claims, as documented by Oliver Stone, Mark Weisbrot, and Tariq Ali in their response - do they have fact-checkers at the Times?
In the past few weeks, Turkey and Brazil have elbowed their way to the Big Table of international diplomacy: first by negotiating a nuclear fuel swap agreement to try to push the US back towards diplomatic efforts to resolve its conflict with Iran, and then - in the case of Turkey - by its support of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla's efforts to break the Israeli-Egyptian-US siege of Gaza's civilian population - efforts that continue today as the Irish-flagged Rachel Corrie proceeds towards Gaza, amid silence - not enough protest, apparently - from the Obama Administration.
But it appears that if Turkey and Brazil want to have effective input at the Big Table, they are going to have to play hardball effectively with the United States: they have to continue to show the U.S. that they have the power to obstruct the U.S. from getting what it wants if the US continues to ignore their concerns.