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.
The OAS had given the coup regime a Saturday deadline for allowing the reinstatement of President Zelaya, or the OAS would suspend Honduras from membership. The coup regime tried to pre-empt the suspension by announcing Honduras’ withdrawal from the OAS. The coup regime’s announcement was ignored, and the OAS suspended Honduras.
So, if the U.S. imposed trade sanctions on the coup regime, and the coup regime tried to complain, the U.S. could simply ignore it, as it ignored the coup regime’s complaint on Saturday. No government in the world, or international body, would take the coup regime’s side; there is no government in the world that recognizes the coup regime as the legitimate government of Honduras.
Of course, the actual use of trade sanctions would raise justified concerns about who they will hurt, and the Obama Administration can – and I’m sure they would – take this into account when deploying this lever. The choices aren’t "no trade sanctions" or "embargo." The Obama Administration could target imports or exports that would send a strong signal to the coup regime and its supporters in Honduras’ economic elite that they will pay an increasing price for intransigence, while avoiding imports and exports that would significantly affect poor Hondurans.
Merely starting the discussion will increase the pressure on the coup regime – so let the discussion begin. If the Obama Administration would simply announce that they are studying the possibility of trade sanctions, that would be a big step forward.