Yes, We Can – But Will We Join Our Neighbors to Restore Democracy and Human Rights in Honduras?
More than a month after the military coup in the Central American country of Honduras (for which the term “banana republic” was originally coined due to the overwhelming influence of U.S. fruit corporations in that country), the junta is still in power and shows little real sign of budging. And the human rights situation has only gotten worse with the military and police cracking down on peaceful protestors who are ramping up their opposition to the coup through general strikes and marches. Perhaps one of the single biggest reasons that the military-installed Micheletti regime is refusing to compromise is the failure of the Obama Administration to act decisively and unequivocally in demanding the immediate and unconditional return of President Jose Manuel “Mel” Zelaya. U.S. influence in Central America, and Honduras, is still meaningful and can and must be used in a way that furthers human rights, social justice and democracy. The Administration’s response to the situation in Honduras – not its relations with Venezuela, or even Cuba – was, is and will be the test of how much, if any, our foreign policy has changed, not only from the last eight years of the Bush Administration, but from the very beginning of U.S.-Latin American relations. The jury on that is still out. While the President did call it a coup, Secretary of State Clinton publicly doubted whether the putsch could, in fact, be called as such. Where a few diplomatic visas were revoked, there was not an immediate suspension of all aid to the regime in power – and, in fact, an assertion that it was not even under consideration. And then there was the State Department’s response to threats from Republican lawmakers, including Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) – to delay confirmation of the Administration’s top appointment for Latin America – that clearly indicated a further weakening of U.S. commitment in its reference to “provocative” actions by President Zelaya having contributed to his ouster. Speaking in Guadalajara, Mexico on August 10th, President Obama noted that “the same critics who say that the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say that we’re always intervening, and the Yankees need to get out of Latin America. You can’t have it both ways.” But that is missing the point. Critics of the Obama Administration’s inaction on Honduras have been constant on the need for the United States to always act in principled support of human rights, democracy and social justice. Not just in Latin America but globally. And far from being hypocritical, as the President seems to think, that position is consistent and one hopes would influence his policies. Meeting further south, in Quito, Ecuador, at the same time, the leaders of South America’s nations were less conflicted or confused on their response to the coup and what needs to be done. President Michelle Bachelet of Chile announced that South American countries would not recognize the legitimacy of the scheduled Honduran elections this November if the coup regime was still in power at the time. The United States needs to follow the Latin American lead on Honduras. President Felipe Calderon of Mexico responding to President Obama’s comment emphasized that this was not about one or the other person or even President Zelaya himself, rather that it was about democracy and international law, and that international law and not the intervention of any one single state should be the recourse. He is correct. But it is also about President Obama’s legacy, and a belief that yes, we can work together with and within the global community in a way that supports human rights and democracy over our military or corporate interests.