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The U.S. Can Still Do the Right Thing in Honduras

November 2009

Despite a press release from the office of Senator Jim DeMint yesterday evening declaring that he has secured a commitment from the Obama Administration to recognize the Nov. 29th elections in Honduras regardless of Zelaya’s reinstatement, it is not too late for the Administration to reverse this position and do right by the people of Honduras.

Although Senator DeMint stated that he takes the Administration “at their word” that they will indeed recognize the elections, there is absolutely no reason why President Obama should hold to this supposed commitment, especially if he receives enough public pressure to do otherwise (hint-hint).  After all, both Senator DeMint and President Obama have already shown their disregard for their public commitments — and the people who are impacted by the policies they set — by treating matters of serious public concern as political pawns. 

Senator DeMint stated that he secured this commitment from Secretary Clinton in exchange for ending his opposition to two of President Obama’s key Latin American diplomatic nominations.  Do the people of South Carolina not expect their elected Senator to either support or object to diplomatic nominations on the basis of whether or not those nominations would be good for South Carolina and for the US?  And do the people of the US not expect that our President – elected on the promises of bringing positive change to Washington politics and a more progressive foreign policy – would set foreign policies on the basis of how they affect US relations with the rest of the world, rather than the appeasement of his Republican opponents? 

We know that, despite widespread misinformation in the mainstream media that tells a different story, Manuel Zelaya, the democratically elected President of Honduras, was ousted in a military coup in June for pursuing perfectly legal initiatives that threatened the Honduran oligarchy (having absolutely nothing to do with Hugo Chavez or term limits).  We know that the de facto Micheletti regime holds no legitimacy whatsoever and is not recognized by any government in the world.  We know that the people of Honduras have been violently repressed, and that the primary outcome of the coup has been emboldened support for Zelaya and his populist policies, but that under current conditions of oppression there is no possibility of free and fair elections.  Thus we are left echoing Zelaya’s similar line of questioning – why has the US, world liberator and democratizer that it supposes itself to be, promised to recognize the Honduran elections regardless of whether or not they occur under democratic conditions?

The reality is that US politicians, like politicians everywhere, care primarily about advancing in politics.  On this very issue, the Obama Administration has flip-flopped between stances depending on how it would advance political leverage.  For example, in August President Obama made a similar move, responding in that instance to pressure from Senator Lugar by withdrawing support for Zelaya and promising not to take further action against the coup regime in Honduras.  But then in early September – after intense public rallying in solidarity with the Honduran majority that opposes the coup regime – the Administration finally described the situation in Honduras as a coup and announced that it would in fact pursue tougher sanctions and push for Zelaya’s reinstatement

While it is regrettable that Obama has decided to play a tug-of-war with the Right – and appears to be letting them win – it is likely still possible to pull the Administration back into the realm of reality.  That reality is the one in Honduras, where military crackdowns have resulted in more than 40 people murdered in the streets, hundreds injured, scores of women raped, and children as young as two years imprisoned.  We also need to be mindful of the reality in the US, where past abuse of now waning global power and influence has put us at odds with many Latin American countries as well as others around the world.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 

In the midst of economic decline, two unpopular wars, and increasing frustration over political jockeying of public assets and time, who doesn’t desperately want to see a little reality brought into US policy making?  We have proven before that with enough pressure we can make reality a necessity in politics.  The Administration needs a reminder.  Please call or write to your Senators and Representatives, and to the State Department and tell them to respect democracy in Honduras, as well as in the US (and everywhere).

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