The relationship between the actions of the Obama Administration and the actions of the coup government in Honduras is starting to look like those children's games where you follow the order of the leader, but only if he says the special phrase. The Obama Administration says it wants to see President Zelaya restored. When the Administration appears to mean business, the coup regime appears to move towards compromise. When the Administration signals that its words are not to be heeded, the coup regime reasserts its intransigence.
Wednesday afternoon, it was reported that the leader installed by the coup had told Costa Rican mediators he personally accepted a compromise that would allow President Zelaya to return, but needed help in convincing the Honduran business elite to go along. This followed by one day the U.S. announcement that it had suspended the U.S. diplomatic visas of four leaders of the coup government. Initial press reports of the U.S. action indicated it was an escalation of U.S. pressure.
But subsequent statements by U.S. officials downplayed the idea that it was an escalation of U.S. pressure, asserting that it was just a continuation of the existing policy of not recognizing the coup government.
Predictably, then, the reports of movement in the coup government's position were followed by reassertions by the coup government that there was no change: President Zelaya could not return.
The State Department said it wants to restore democracy. But apparently the State Department didn't say "Simon Says."
When the mediation by Costa Rican President Arias was announced, there was much fanfare about what a clever diplomatic stroke it was by the State Department, taking the issue out of the hands of the South Americans.
A month after the coup in Honduras, there's now a clear sign of progress in bringing it to an end. The head of the coup government has indicated that he personally supports a compromise proposal put forward by Costa Rican mediator President Arias that would allow for President Zelaya's restoration. The New York Times reports:
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.
Previously, Micheletti had repeatedly said that the restoration of President Zelaya was off the table, causing the talks to break down. Now, he says he needs international help in getting the real powers behind the coup - the Honduran business elite - to stand down.
Can any doubt remain about the key role of the United States government in this situation? The Times notes
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
One day after the U.S. canceled four visas. One day.
Of course the U.S. is not just any country in this situation. As the Washington Post reported yesterday,
It's been a month since Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was deposed in a military coup. Negotiations on restoring democracy supported by the United States broke down when the coup regime refused to accept a compromise that would allow President Zelaya to return.
The Obama Administration still says it is working for President Zelaya's return, but so far it has not responded to the call from Hondurans for increased U.S. pressure on the coup regime.
Indeed, when President Zelaya tried to increase pressure on the coup regime by threatening to return to Honduras without an agreement, Secretary of State Clinton attacked President Zelaya as "reckless," instead of expressing any concern about repression by the coup regime against President Zelaya's supporters.
Now Rep. Raul Grijalva is leading a Congressional effort to urge the Obama Administration to increase U.S. pressure on the coup regime by canceling U.S. visas and freezing bank accounts of coup leaders. Representatives McGovern, Conyers, and Serrano have signed on to Rep. Grijalva's letter to President Obama.
This isn't just about one man. It's about whether the 60% of Hondurans who live in poverty have a path to reform and redress of their grievances. President Zelaya was exiled for seeking reform of Honduras' constitution - a longstanding demand of social movements in Honduras.
It seems too awful or too good to be true, depending on how you look at it. But according to the web site of "MIGApartners," which I gather is some flavor of Christian organization, General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, the military leader of the coup in Honduras, is going to be in Miami on Saturday morning July 25th, between 9:45am-10:45am, at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
I tried to confirm this by calling the numbers listed on the website but only got answering machines. The calendar of the Miami Beach Convention Center merely has "Christian Ministries" listed on its schedule for Saturday.
If it is true that General Vasquez is coming to Miami - is he already in the U.S.? - this raises a number of questions.
First: this guy is welcome in the United States? In an editorial on July 14, the Los Angeles Times called for the U.S. to consider canceling visas for coup leaders. Supporters of the democratically elected government in Honduras have made similar calls. If there is any coup leader who should be denied a visa to visit the United States, surely it is General Vasquez.
What a dark day for American democracy it was - February 5, 1937, the day they arrested President Roosevelt.
The pretext for this assault on democracy was President Roosevelt's proposal of the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937, which would have allowed President Roosevelt to appoint more members to the Supreme Court, which had blocked New Deal measures President Roosevelt had introduced to try to bring America out of the Great Depression. Supporters of the New Deal were particularly galled by the Supreme Court's decision the previous year throwing out New York's minimum wage law.
But some of President Roosevelt's opponents in Congress (including many conservative Democrats), the Supreme Court, and the military claimed the proposed bill was an assault on the Constitution - even though the Constitution doesn't say how many Supreme Court justices there should be, and Congress had changed the number of Supreme Court Justices many times in the past - and that Roosevelt's move was a dangerous power grab. So dangerous, in fact, that Roosevelt's proposal could not even be considered in Congress. Roosevelt's opponents claimed that he had violated the Constitution by even suggesting the idea, and had to be removed from office immediately; that Roosevelt and his supporters were such a threat to the established order that due process had to be dispensed with - if Roosevelt were put in prison, maybe there would be riots.
Therefore, on the morning of February 5, soldiers under the command of General Smedley Butler arrested President Roosevelt and deported him to Canada, still in his pajamas.
On Sunday, I wrote a piece here criticizing the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Reuters for inaccurately reporting a poll result to claim that a plurality of Hondurans supported the coup against President Zelaya.
The Wall Street Journal has now published a "Corrections & Amplifications" note attached to the original piece and the Christian Science Monitor has published a response to the criticism to which the original article is now linked. There has been no public response yet, as far as I am aware, from the Washington Post or Reuters.
Credit where credit is due: both the CSM and WSJ have now in some form publicly acknowledged the dispute and provided an explanation. (In hindsight, the inaccuracy of the original CSM and WSJ reports is arguably more clear-cut than that of the Post and Reuters reports - see below.)
But the responses leave some central questions unanswered: did these outlets rely on the Honduran newspaper La Prensa as a sole source? If so, why? Will they act differently in the future?
To recap: here are the original reports as they appeared in the four outlets.
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.