President Obama branded as “not legal” the the military coup in Honduras, where elected President Manuel (Mel) Zelaya was kidnapped and flown out of the country by soldiers bent on blocking an advisory vote on constitutional reform in the country.
Obama said a “terrible precedent” would be set if the coup were not reversed, adding that “We do not want to go back to a dark past. We always want to stand with democracy.”
The president’s statement — which toughened up a tepid earlier announcement that he was “deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras” — came as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the crisis as “a test of the inter-American system’s ability to support and defend democracy and constitutional order in our hemisphere.”
“The United States has been working with our partners in the OAS (Organization of American States) to fashion a strong consensus condemning the detention and expulsion of President Zelaya, and calling for the full restoration of democratic order in Honduras,” she said Monday. “Our immediate priority is to restore full democratic and constitutional order in that country.”
As the military and civil officials behind the coup clamped down on communications in Honduras and soldiers used tear gas outside the Honduran presidential palace to scatter thousands of people protesting a coup, President Zelaya was scheduled to speak tothe United Nations General Assembly.
Senior aides to the Obama administration tell reporters that U.S. diplomats were working to ensure Zelaya’s safe return. And the Wall Street Journal suggests that the administration may have worked behind the scenes to try and avert the coup.
But Roberto Lovato has been arguing that the U.S. should ramp up its response. The savvy expert on U.S. relations with Latin America writes:
President Obama and the U.S. can actually do something about a military crackdown that our tax dollars are helping pay for. That Vasquez and other coup leaders were trained at the WHINSEC, which also trained Augusto Pinochet and other military dictators responsible for the deaths, disappearances, tortures of hundreds of thousands in Latin America, sends profound chills throughout a region still trying to overcome decades U.S.-backed militarism.
Hemispheric concerns about the coup were expressed in the rapid, historic and almost universal condemnation of the plot by almost all Latin American governments. Such concerns in the region represent an opportunity for the United States. But, while the Honduran coup represents a major opportunity for Obama to make real his recent and repeated calls for a “new” relationship to the Americas, failure to take actions that send a rapid and unequivocal denunciation of the coup will be devastating to the Honduran people — and to the still-fragile U.S. image in the region.