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.
The coup in Honduras - and the at best grudging and vacillating support in Washington for the restoration of President Zelaya - has thrown into stark relief a fundamental fault line in Latin America and a moral black hole in U.S. policy toward the region.
What is the minimum wage which a worker shall be paid for a day's labor?
Supporters of the coup have tried to trick Americans into believing that President Zelaya was ousted by the Honduran military because he broke the law. But this is nonsense. A Honduran bishop told Catholic News Service,
"Some say Manuel Zelaya threatened democracy by proposing a constitutional assembly. But the poor of Honduras know that Zelaya raised the minimum salary. That's what they understand. They know he defended the poor by sharing money with mayors and small towns. That's why they are out in the streets closing highways and protesting (to demand Zelaya's return)"
This is why the greedy, self-absorbed Honduran elite turned against President Zelaya: because he was pursuing policies in the interests of the majority. The Washington Post noted in mid-July,
To many poor Hondurans, deposed president Manuel "Mel" Zelaya was a trailblazing ally who scrapped school tuitions, raised the minimum wage and took on big business.
In a statement condemning support for the coup by U.S. business groups, the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation expressed its concern that under the coup regime, there are
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.
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.
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.