Some people may have hoped that the problem of the coup in Honduras would magically go away once talks began between President Zelaya and leaders of the coup regime under the mediation of Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias. But of course it wasn't so and it isn't so. For the mediation to succeed, a key ingredient is required: sustained and escalating US pressure on the coup regime, until it agrees to the restoration of President Zelaya.
As the Los Angeles Times explains in an editorial today:
The coup leaders
seem to believe that if they can shoulder the hardships until November elections, all will be forgiven. Not so. The Obama administration needs to make it clear now that elections held under those conditions will not be regarded as legitimate and that such a plan would only prolong Honduras' troubles. Meanwhile, the U.S. should consider imposing sanctions on individuals involved with the coup, such as canceling visas and freezing bank accounts.
Indeed, while everybody in the U.S. supposedly loves President Arias, a Nobel laureate with a track record of helping to resolve deep conflicts in the region under difficult conditions, few people in the U.S. (with perhaps the praiseworthy exception of the LAT editorial board) seem to be listening to what Arias is saying.
As the New York Times reported Sunday (perhaps you missed this in the 17th paragraph):
Did a CID-Gallup poll last week indicate that a plurality of Hondurans support the military coup against democratically elected President Zelaya? Yes, according to the Washington Post [July 9], the Wall Street Journal [July 10], the Christian Science Monitor [July 11], and Reuters [July 9], which all reported that the poll showed 41% in favor of the coup, with only 28% opposed.
But in fact the poll showed that 46% - a plurality - were *opposed* to the coup, according to the New York Times[July 10], the Associated Press [July 11] - and the president of CID-Gallup, in an interview with Voice of America on July 9.
As of this writing - Sunday evening, 5:30 pm Eastern time - none of the outlets which reported the poll incorrectly had corrected their earlier, inaccurate, reports. [UPDATE 7/15: The Journal and the Monitor have now responded to the criticism.]
According to press reports, so far the mediation of Costa Rican President Arias, encouraged by Secretary of State Clinton, has not produced any change in the refusal of the coup regime in Honduras to allow Honduras' democratically elected President Zelaya to resume his office. That's not surprising: the strategy of the de facto regime is seems to be to try to run out the clock on Zelaya's term, as long as they can.
That's why it makes sense for the U.S., working together with the governments in the region, to continue to ratchet up pressure on the coup regime. Indeed, as Reuters reported:
On the eve of Thursday's talks, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa said Washington had suspended $16.5 million in military assistance programs to Honduras, and added an additional $180 million in U.S. aid could also be at risk.
One lever that the U.S. government has not publicly discussed using is trade sanctions. Simply beginning the discussion would increase pressure on the coup regime to stand down.
Trade agreements to which the U.S. and Honduras are signatory are unlikely to present any obstacle, because the coup regime in Honduras has no standing to press any claims on behalf of Honduras in any international body. No government in the world, including the United States, recognizes the coup regime as the legitimate government of Honduras. If anyone in Honduras wanted to press a claim, they would need the approval of President Zelaya.
Indeed, there is a powerful and recent precedent for ignoring any attempt by the coup regime to represent Honduras in any international body: that's what the members of the Organization of American States - including the U.S. - did last Saturday, when coup regime tried to withdraw Honduras from the OAS.
Words matter - particularly the words used by major media to describe contested political events, words that can bias perceptions towards the interests of the powerful. Are those wielding power in Honduras today a "de facto" government, or are they an "interim" or "caretaker" government?
On Sunday, the following instructive exchange took place between senior U.S. officials and reporters in a State Department briefing on the Organization of American States' response to the coup in Honduras:
QUESTION: Sir, just a follow-up. Can you confirm that the caretaker government has reached out to the OAS and asked to open new negotiations? Does this mean that they're going to consider letting President Zelaya finish out his term? And what of the reports that Venezuelan troops are moving towards Honduras?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I have seen no reports indicating that Venezuelan troops are moving towards Honduras. In regard to the second, we understand that the caretaker government has - I wouldn't call it a caretaker government, I would refer to it as the de facto regime -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: De facto authorities.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: -- or authorities - has indicated to the OAS that it would like to begin a process of dialogue.
In today's press, I checked to see what characterization of the coup regime different outlets were using in their reporting.
Predictably, the Washington Post and New York Times the have given op-ed space in recent days to people seeking to justify the military coup in Honduras, and blaming the coup on President Zelaya (the same writer in the latter case. )
Meanwhile, the Honduran military's top legal adviser was talking to the Miami Herald. Army attorney Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza was, shall we say, a little off-message.
In the interview, Col. Inestroza made two admissions that were remarkable in light of the efforts by pundits and Republicans in the United States to justify the coup.
First: he admitted that the coup was initiated by the military, and that it broke the law:
"We know there was a crime there," said Inestroza, the top legal advisor for the Honduran armed forces. "In the moment that we took him out of the country, in the way that he was taken out, there is a crime."
This much, of course, was obvious. But much more remarkable was Inestroza's admission of what the core issue for the Honduran military was: taking orders from a leftist.
"We fought the subversive movements here and we were the only country that did not have a fratricidal war like the others," he said. "It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That's impossible."
So, this is democracy, according to the Honduran military: we won't take orders from a leftist, because of our "training."