Is American Foreign Policy to blame for the Caravan?
So its late at night, almost midnight. And as I always do, I check all my Social Media before going to bed. In doing so I stumble across a viral post on r/Facepalm which cites Wikileaks who blames the current Caravan on alleged US Support for a coup in Honduras in 2009.
Well, how accurate is the post? With the best of intentions, the Obama administration put enormous pressure on the de facto Honduran government headed by the former head of the Congress, Roberto Micheletti. The United States insisted on restoring to power the former strongman, Manuel Zelaya because, it said, Zelaya was elected democratically, removed illegally by the military, and thus Micheletti’s government was illegitimate. What the United States said was inaccurate and the resulting policy was naive.
Zelaya was elected democratically, but like so many Latin strongmen, once in power he ruled undemocratically. In his elected autocracy, Zelaya joined a group of famous Latin American presidents: Juan Peron (Argentina), Alberto Fujimori (Peru), Jean Bertrand Aristide (Haiti), Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua), among others.
Moreover, following Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s prediction, Zelaya had taken Honduras into an anti-American alliance, the so-called Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas, or ALBA, created by Castro and Chavez. ALBA’s purpose is to oppose U.S. “hegemony” in this hemisphere by creating a cartel of undemocratic “21st Century Socialist” governments in the model of Castro’s Cuba. In addition to Cuba and Venezuela, ALBA includes only Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras and Nicaragua, plus three energy-starved Caribbean island nations, which have been coerced into joining by Chavez’s petroleum extortions (“You join, and I’ll subsidize your energy; you don’t and you pay world prices”).
The United States misinterpreted the facts in Honduras. The Micheletti government is de facto, but it is also de jure. In a formal complaint dated June 26, two days before the military deported Zelaya, the Attorney General of Honduras charged that Zelaya had violated a number of clauses of the Honduran Constitution. Consequently, the Supreme Court issued an order for Zelaya’s arrest on the same day.
Micheletti was next in the Constitutional line to the presidency and was ratified in office by an overwhelming vote of the Honduran Congress, a vote that in the U.S. Congress would have been approximately 421 to 12, including all but 3 members of Zelaya’s own party. Therefore, the legal Government in Honduras today is Micheletti’s, not Zelaya’s.
A crime was committed in removing Zelaya: the Legal Advisor of the Honduran Army has acknowledged the illegality of the deportation, since the military was legally authorized only to carry out the Supreme Court’s arrest order. The Army said it expelled Zelaya because it feared domestic violence if he was allowed to stay. This violation, however, pales in comparison with the 17 high crimes with which Zelaya has been officially charged. Zelaya should be allowed to return to Honduras and face the charges in a court of law.
In 2009, at a joint press conference with the President Colombia, in the Oval Office, President Obama had this to say about what had happened in Honduras:
“Well, let me first of all speak about the coup in Honduras, because this was a topic of conversation between myself and President Uribe. All of us have great concerns about what’s taken place there. President Zelaya was democratically elected. He had not yet completed his term. We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the President of Honduras, the democratically elected President there. In that we have joined all the countries in the region, including Colombia and the Organization of American States. I think it’s — it would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections.”
Of course, despite what the OAS and the Obama administration said at the time, the removal of Zelaya was not a military coup, but rather a legally justified defense of democracy. Indeed, an August 2009 Law Library of Congress study concluded that “The judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system.” The OAS should never have expelled Honduras in the first place, and it should have reinstated the country much sooner. In June 2010, a full year before Honduras officially returned to the OAS, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that “President Lobo has done everything he said he would do. He was elected through a free and fair, legitimate election. He provided political amnesty. He set up a truth commission. He has been very committed to pursuing a policy of reintegration.”
So by no means did the US Back the coup, in fact it did the opposite. Though there is a legitimate criticism of American Policy in Honduras. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:
There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.
Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.
Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.
What was visited upon Honduras was of a piece.