September 29, 2014, Al Jazeera America
In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a review of Henry Kissinger’s latest book, “World Order,” to lay out her vision for “sustaining America’s leadership in the world.” In the midst of numerous global crises, Clinton called for return to a foreign policy with purpose, strategy and pragmatism. She also highlighted some of these policy choices in her memoir, “Hard Choices,” and how they contributed to the challenges that the Obama administration now faces.
The chapter on Latin America, particularly the section on Honduras, a major source of the child migrants currently pouring across the border, has gone largely unnoticed. In letters to Clinton and her successor John Kerry, more than 100 members of Congress have repeatedly warned about the deteriorating security situation in Honduras, especially following the 2009 military coup that overthrew the country’s democratically elected president, Mel Zelaya.
As Honduras scholar Dana Frank wrote in Foreign Affairs, the post-coup government “rewarded coup loyalists with top ministries. They opened the door, in turn, for worsening violence and anarchy … as the United Nations, Amnesty International, the Organization of American States, and Human Rights Watch have documented…” The homicide rate, already the highest in the world, increased by 50 percent from 2008 to 2011; political repression, the murder of opposition political candidates, peasant organizers and LGBT activists increased and continue to this day. Femicides skyrocketed. The violence and insecurity were exacerbated by a generalized institutional collapse. Drug-related violence has worsened amid allegations of rampant corruption in Honduras’ police and government. While the gangs are responsible for much of the violence, the Honduran security forces have also engaged in a wave of killings and other human rights crimes, with impunity.
Despite this, however, both under Clinton and Kerry, the State Department’s response to the violence and continued military and police impunity has largely been silence, along with continued U.S. aid to Honduran security forces. In “Hard Choices,” Clinton describes her role in the aftermath of the coup that brought about this dire situation. Clinton’s first-hand account is significant both for the confession of an important truth and also a crucial false testimony. We won’t accuse anyone of lying; like the Houyhnhnms in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels,” who didn’t have a word for lying, let’s just say she has said “the thing which is not.”
First, the confession: Clinton admits that she used the power of her office to make sure that Zelaya would not return to office. “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico,” Clinton wrote. “We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”
This may not come as a surprise to those who followed the post-coup drama closely (see my commentary from 2009 on Washington’s role in helping the coup succeed here, here and here). But the official storyline, which was dutifully accepted by most in the media, was that the Obama administration actually opposed the coup and wanted Zelaya to return to office.
The question of Zelaya was anything but moot. Latin America leaders, the United Nations General Assembly and other international bodies vehemently demanded his immediate return to office. Clinton’s defiant and anti-democratic stance spurred a downward slide in U.S. relations with several Latin American countries, which has continued to date. It eroded the warm welcome and benefit of the doubt that even the leftist governments in region had offered to the newly installed Obama administration a few months earlier.
Now for the “thing which is not”: Clinton reports that Zelaya was arrested amid “fears that he was preparing to circumvent the Constitution and extend his term in office.” This is simply not true. As Clinton must know, when Zelaya was kidnapped by the military and was flown out of the country in his pajamas on June 28, 2009, he was in fact trying to put a consultative, non-binding poll on the ballot. The poll was supposed to ask voters whether they wanted to have a real referendum on reforming the constitution during scheduled elections in November. It is important to note that Zelaya was not eligible to run in that election. Even if he had gotten everything he wanted, it was chronologically impossible for Zelaya to extend his term in office. But this did not stop the extreme right in both Honduras and the United States from using false charges of tampering with the constitution to justify the coup.
In addition to her bold confession and Clinton’s embrace of the far-right narrative in the Honduran episode, the Latin America chapter is considerably to the right of even her own record on the region as Secretary of State. This appears to be a political calculation. There is little risk of losing votes for admitting her role in making most of the hemisphere’s governments disgusted with the United States. On the other side of the equation, there are influential interest groups and significant campaign money to be raised from the right-wing Latin American lobby, including Florida Cuban Americans and their political fund-raisers.
Like the 54-year old failed embargo against Cuba, Clinton’s position on Latin America in her bid for the presidency is another example of how the far-right exerts disproportionate influence on U.S. foreign policy in the hemisphere. As we have also seen in the case of Argentina’s ongoing fight with the vulture funds, these influences can be substantial at certain moments when even the majority of the political establishment would prefer to let reason prevail. Not to mention the electorate, if it had a voice in these matters.