Although U.S. President Barack Obama warned in the immediate aftermath of the Honduran coup last year that its success would set a “terrible precedent” in the region, the U.S. in fact proved instrumental in legitimizing said precedent via a post-coup policy of noncommittal condemnation and sanctioning. Obama’s initial characterization of the coup as illegal quickly gave way to State Department dithering over whether the military removal of a president was really military in nature.
According to a recent article in the Honduran daily El Heraldo, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo will attend the summit of the Central American Integration System (SICA in its Spanish acronym) in Panama starting June 29, the day after the one-year anniversary of the coup d’état that ousted President Manuel Zelaya. As the article notes, the potential reversal of Honduras’ suspension from SICA—enacted following the coup—would be a stepping stone in its bid for reintegration into the Organization of American States (OAS), from which it was also suspended.
Honduras is incidentally still listed as a member country on the SICA website, as well as part of a SICA-affiliated delegation sent this month to a course in Haifa, Israel, on Latin American female empowerment through rural tourism micro-business—an admitted improvement on past, less formal Israeli courses on the empowerment of Latin American paramilitaries. The El Heraldo article on the SICA summit notes that Panama, in its role as acting SICA president, is actively encouraging Honduras’ reincorporation into regional organizations and that Nicaragua is the only Central American state that has refused to recognize the Lobo government. It seems as though the consolidation of democracy, which is listed as one of SICA’s goals, might have been more plausibly pursued via consistent support for an elected Honduran leader’s efforts to reform the constitution in accordance with the desires of the majority of the population.
Although U.S. President Barack Obama warned in the immediate aftermath of the Honduran coup that its success would set a “terrible precedent” in the region, the U.S. in fact proved instrumental in legitimizing said precedent via a post-coup policy of noncommittal condemnation and sanctioning. Obama’s initial characterization of the coup as illegal quickly gave way to State Department dithering over whether the military removal of a president was really military in nature; former Clinton White House counsel Lanny Davis meanwhile joined the ranks of lobbyists enlisted by the Honduran regime and business elite to whitewash the coup on Capitol Hill. The very same regime and business elite nonetheless continued to resort to hysterics when it came to funds Zelaya had used to promote his proposed nonbinding public opinion survey on the issue of constitutional reform, materials for which were presumably less costly than Washington lobbying fees as they included cardboard ballot boxes and sheets of paper bearing the words YES and NO.
As for the transfer of other sorts of funds, the effectiveness of piecemeal suspension and cutting off of U.S. aid to Honduras was called into question by U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens’ admission at an August meeting in Tegucigalpa that it was not even feasible to freeze a substantial portion of the aid in question due to the fact that it was already “in the pipeline.” Other examples of the U.S. tendency to exaggerate the severity of its punitive measures against the coup regime meanwhile include Llorens’ allegation at the same meeting that the joint US-Honduran military base at Soto Cano had been shut down—a claim he was promptly forced to amend to reflect the base’s continued functioning, although he maintained that U.S. troops stationed at Soto Cano were abstaining from interaction with their Honduran counterparts.
The fact that, following the coup, Honduran officers were permitted to continue their studies at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation—the revamped title for the infamous School of the Americas (SOA), alma mater of Latin American dictators and torture specialists—additionally renders recent announcements regarding the restoration of U.S. military aid to Honduras slightly anti-climactic.
The coup regime of Roberto Micheletti endeavored to cast itself as the protagonist of a David-and-Goliath battle in which the U.S. was punishing Honduras for its legitimate “presidential succession” via such atrocities as the revocation of U.S. tourist visas from a minimal number of coup perpetrators. It is clearly difficult to reconcile the David-and-Goliath depiction with U.S. attempts to disappear the coup from relevant history—efforts which underline the historical utility of forced disappearances in the evasion of justice in Latin America.
Where Are They Now?
Following is a brief update as to the current whereabouts and activities of some key characters involved in and affected by the Honduran coup:
- Manuel Zelaya, former Honduran president. Currently based in the Dominican Republic, Zelaya has been appointed head of the political council for the Venezuelan oil initiative Petrocaribe. Apparently unaware that he has also been fingered by the pro-coup Honduran press as participating in Venezuelan drug trafficking initiatives, he continues to advocate for his immediate return to Honduras.
- Roberto Micheletti, Honduran coup president. Known for his signature bark “Viva Honduras!”, Micheletti has received the congressional appointment of “Congressman for life” thanks to his altruistic defense of the Honduran constitution, which stipulates that presidents can only serve one term. Irrelevant details include that Zelaya was not intending to become “President for life” via his nonbinding public opinion survey and that Micheletti himself endeavored to extend the term of the Honduran president in 1985; as for nominations of Micheletti as the first hero of the twenty-first century—courtesy of the National Industrial Association—he has not explained whether he finds such labels more endearing than those applied by the anti-coup Resistance, although he had once claimed a fondness for “Goriletti”.
- Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, coup general and former head of the Honduran armed forces. Having previously argued that his plans for retirement to a quiet family life had been thwarted by God—who had apparently decided that the overthrow of the democratically elected Honduran president was more important than Vásquez’ relaxation—Vásquez has been absolved spiritually and legally for his role in the coup. God has meanwhile further postponed retirement by appointing Vásquez director of Hondutel, the state telecommunications company, where he has promised to put his “specialty in intelligence” to use.
- Hugo Llorens, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras. Llorens continues his ambassadorial functions in Tegucigalpa, despite support for his relocation to Cuba by The Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Anastasia O’Grady, who has yet to realize that she and Llorens are on the same side.
- Father Andrés Tamayo, Salvadoran priest and anti-coup Resistance leader. Famous for leading cross-country marches protesting destructive environmental practices and illegal changes of government, Padre Tamayo abandoned the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa in November, where he had been confined since September with Zelaya and companions. Coup regime efforts to prosecute the priest for the crime of calling on Hondurans to boycott the illegitimate November elections were complicated when it was discovered that he was already in El Salvador.
- Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State. In her role as cheerleader for Honduran reintegration into the OAS, Clinton has devoted much time to persuading the American continents of the democratic commitment exhibited by the Lobo government. As for Clinton’s policy of “principled pragmatism” when it comes to denouncing global human rights abuses, it would appear that it is neither principled nor pragmatic to acknowledge that Honduran coup opponents continue to be murdered under the Lobo administration.
- Isis Obed Murillo, Honduran teenager. Killed during a peaceful demonstration at Toncontin Airport on July 5, Murillo remains dead despite attempts by the Honduran paper La Prensa to suggest he is merely asleep by removing the blood from his photograph using the Photoshop program.
- Oscar Alvarez, Honduran Minister of Public Security. According to María Luisa Borjas, former chief of internal affairs for the Honduran police force, Alvarez’ liberal application of the term “gang member” during his first term as Public Security Minister contributed to the criminalization of Honduran youth and the extermination of 3,000 young people during the presidency of Zelaya’s predecessor Ricardo Maduro. As for Alvarez’ current reprisal of his ministerial role, Jeremy Kryt reports the minister’s response to the assassination of seven journalists in six weeks in March and April of this year, which was that “[o]nly one of them was certified with the association of journalists in Honduras” and that “[j]ust walking around with a recorder, or having a TV program isn’t enough.”
- Porfirio Lobo, current Honduran president. According to the Honduran paper El Libertador, after admitting in May that last year’s coup d’état was in fact a coup d’état as opposed to a presidential succession, Lobo now claims that he may be the next target of a coup.
Belén Fernández is an editor at PULSE Media. Her book Coffee with Hezbollah is available at Amazon, Amazon UK, and Barnes and Noble.