U.S. Criticizes Honduras Coup

Secretary of State Clinton said Monday the situation in Honduras has become a coup, a day after the country's president was deposed by the military. Johanna Mendelson Forman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, offers her insight.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The United States and Latin American countries have come out strongly against the coup in Honduras. Over the weekend, soldiers removed President Manuel Zelaya from office and put him on a plane out of the country. Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. will press for the restoration of order and democracy.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. State Department): The United States has been working with our partners in the OAS to fashion a strong consensus condemning the detention and expulsion of President Zelaya, and calling for the full restoration of democratic order in Honduras.

SIEGEL: Left-wing Latin America countries, led by Venezuela and its president, Hugo Chavez, said they will withdraw their ambassadors and they called for the reinstatement of President Zelaya.

Joining us now to explain what happened and what, if anything, the U.S. had to do with it is Johanna Mendelson Forman, who is senior associate with the Americas Program at the Centers for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Welcome.

Dr. JOHANNA MENDELSON FORMAN (Senior Associate, Americas Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies): Thank you.

SIEGEL: First, tell us a little bit about President Zelaya, what he stands for and why his opponents would want him removed.

Dr. FORMAN: Well, President Zelaya has for a long time taken the image of himself as a cowboy. He wears a Stetson. He wears boots. He's a man who has a vision of Honduras that is progressive, that serves the poor; it's the third poorest country in the region. And he certainly has come up against some the old-line oligarchs. Certainly the country has had a long history of a division between right and left. It was a military dictatorship 'till the early '80s.

And so he represents a strain of politician from the liberal side of the spectrum who has often sparred at many times with the people who would not have the shared the same vision.

SIEGEL: He told a newspaper interviewer recently that there had been a coup in the works against him, but it had never happened because the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa refused to support it. And then there are reports that the U.S. was doing what it could to oppose this coup.

Dr. FORMAN: Well, my sense is, and I've read the same interview, I think it was in the Spanish newspapers, El Pais, is that there have been rumors about such a military activity going on for several weeks. And it's not surprising in any way that we had conversations, with respect to parties, about what the implications of any type of an illegal overthrow of a government might be.

I would not put that in the same camp as the U.S. actually doing anything specific, but rather to put out the warning signals of what, under the course of a multilateral framework, this would mean to the government of Honduras.

SIEGEL: Because it sounds as though every comment from the United States, on or off the record, about Honduras mentions the Organization of American States and the multilateral approach.

Dr. FORMAN: Well, I think this is demonstration of President Obama's approach to the hemisphere of taking a multilateral view, rather than coming out as the old hegemon working with the Americas. He certainly reinstated this in the Summit of the Americas. When he met with people, he said he wants partnership not patrimony. And I think this was clear. Secretary Clinton made that clear at the OAS meeting.

So it's consistent with a line of policies, not only at the OAS, but with at the U.N., where Obama has said we're working through the legal mechanisms that exist.

SIEGEL: There is a provision, I gather, in U.S. law that a country ruled by a group that takes over in a coup, loses foreign aid.

Dr. FORMAN: Well, yes. That's absolutely true. And I think among the conversations that must have taken place because Honduras receives the Millennium Challenge Account money, that $215 million over five years, is that you do anything that countervenes the Inter-American Democratic Charter and watch your aid go.

But I think there's a more important point also...

SIEGEL: But on that point, though, Secretary Clinton was asked today is the U.S. thinking about cutting off aid to Honduras and she shook her head, no, and she said no.

Dr. FORMAN: Well, I think the situation is a very immature one right now. The commission of the OAS is meeting tomorrow. There'll be more information. Where events are only 24 hours old, my suspicion is that if things consider to go downhill, then obviously that's a tool that the U.S. has to exercise if it wants to do that.

SIEGEL: There hasn't been a coup in Latin America for quite a while.

Dr. FORMAN: Right. I think the last one was an attempt in 1983, from my understanding. There have been several rumors of coups. But I think what's interesting in this case is the outpouring of outrage from left to right political leaders against a military action. I think and I've felt that we have surpassed the age of military intervention. Even in some of the worst-case scenarios, whether it was in Ecuador or Bolivia, presidents were removed through legitimate processes by their congress through a checks and balance system.

This is really old line military butchism.

SIEGEL: Johanna Mendelson Forman, thank you very much for talking with us.

Dr. FORMAN: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: Johanna Mendelson Forman of the Centers for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

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