CEPR

US Officials Were More Concerned With Protecting Military Relationship Than Overturning Coup

August 30, 2017

Contact: Dan Beeton, 202-239-1460

Washington, DC -- A new investigative article published by The Intercept reveals previously unknown details of US support for Honduras' 2009 coup d'etat that ousted the democratically elected government of President Manuel Zelaya. Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Research Associate Jake Johnston's exposé is based on thousands of pages of newly obtained US military intelligence documents and on interviews with Honduran and American officials involved in the US response to the coup. A Spanish version of the article is pending publication.

With the coup occurring just six months after Obama came to office pledging new relations with the hemisphere, the article focuses on the Pentagon and its Latin American subsidiary, SOUTHCOM, and how vested interests undermined official US policy, helping the coup succeed and ushering in a new wave of violence and repression in Honduras.

"This is a story that reveals much about how foreign policy works in general, not just in Honduras," Johnston explains. "The investigation shows the often hidden roles that various actors within the US foreign policy establishment play in determining and carrying out policy. What's clear is that personal relationships matter just as much as any official policy position announced in Washington."

The expose reveals:

•    A high-level US military official met with Honduran coup plotters late the night before the coup, indicating advance knowledge of what was to come;

•    While the US ambassador intervened to stop an earlier attempted coup, a Honduran military advisor's warning the night before the coup was met with indifference;

•    Multiple on-the-record sources support the allegations of a whistleblower at SOUTHCOM's flagship military training university that a retired general provided assistance after-the-fact to Honduran military leaders lobbying in defense of the coup;

•    US training of Honduran military leaders, and personal relationships forged during the Cold War, likely emboldened the Honduran military to oust Zelaya and helped ensure the coup's success;

•    US military actors were motivated by an obsessive concern with Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez's perceived influence in the region, rather than just with developments in Honduras itself.

Evidence described in the article suggests that the Pentagon's main interest was in maintaining relations with a close military ally, rather than in overturning the coup. Though the battle over Honduras appeared to be fought along partisan lines, in the end it was the Obama administration's State Department that sabotaged efforts to have Zelaya restored to the presidency, as statements by former Secretary Clinton and other high-level officials admit.

Since the coup, the militarization of Honduras has increased. While human rights abuses continue to shock the public, US security assistance and military training continue unabated. Under President Trump and the coterie of military officers surrounding him, including former SOUTHCOM commander and now White House chief of staff John Kelly, US-backed militarization appears likely to deepen in Honduras and elsewhere throughout the region.

"What this reveals are behind-the-scenes aspects of an episode that profoundly damaged the US relationship with Latin America as a whole, as the US was an outlier in supporting the coup, and opposition to the coup among Latin American governments was led by Brazil," Johnston says. "In the end, the US State Department quietly allowed the military and other hard-line factions to determine policy and support the coup's success."

This story is especially relevant for the current moment, as the hard-line, military factions who prevailed in shaping the US response to the Honduran coup are now in senior positions in the Trump administration, raising troubling prospects for what the US reaction to another military coup d'etat would be under Trump.

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