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How the Obama Admin Turned its Back on Democracy in Honduras (and Missed a Chance for a Real "Change" in Foreign Policy)

Why Obama has not taken a much stronger stand against the Honduras coup is a lingering mystery.

We’ve recently passed the one-year mark since the coup in Honduras against democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. Over the past year, the White House’s handling of the coup has become seriously embarrassing. It has needlessly strained U.S. relations with the rest of the hemisphere and has placed a serious blotch on the Obama administration’s human rights record.

Back in January, I  gave the White House a “D“ for its response to the coup. Even though it totally botched its approach to the elections in the country last November—reversing its demand that Zelaya be reinstated and allowed to serve the end of his term before legitimate elections for a new Honduran president could take place—I credited the White House for its early condemnations:

One day after Zelaya’s ouster, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Zelaya’s removal “should be condemned by all.” The following day, President Obama declared, “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras.“

While things grew steadily worse after those statements, I argued against giving the White House an “F” for its response. My rationale at the time was that the Obama administration’s approach was distinctly better than what we might have expected from the Bush cabal:

Some progressives, disgusted by the White House response, may be tempted to contend that it reflects a Latin American foreign policy that is even worse than that of President George W. Bush’s. This would be an error. The stances of Bush appointees such as former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Otto Reich—who lauded the coup as a necessary measure against the “expansion of Chavist authoritarianism“—shows that the position of the last administration would likely have been far worse than that of the present one. But the prospect that things could be even grimmer than they are now does not mean that the White House deserves passing marks for its efforts.

These days, I’m reconsidering my position and wondering if their initial statements against the coup only gave undeserved credibility to Hillary Clinton and company in later promoting an unacceptable state of affairs. Had White House officials, like Otto Reich, supported the military from the start, the United States would have no legitimacy in arguing that we now need to forgive and forget.

Sadly, that’s currently the Clinton position. In early June, she defied the rest of the hemisphere by  arguing at the Organization of American States that Honduras should be readmitted to the body: “Now it’s time for the hemisphere as a whole to move forward and welcome Honduras back into the inter-American community,” she said.

In addition to ignoring major problems with the elections last November, those in the “move on” camp have a terrible tendency to overlook the rash of human rights abuses that have taken place in Honduras since the coup. Conn Hallinan recently  noted over at  Foreign Policy In Focus :

The U.S. has been silent about the fact that the new president, Porfirio Lobo, has overseen a reign of terror that, since the June 28, 2009 coup, has seen the assassination of some 130 anti-government activists...The murders bear a close resemblance to death squad assassinations carried out under military dictator Policarpo Paz Garcia in the late ‘70s and early ‘80…

“We are living in a state of terror,” says human rights activist Dr. Juan Almendares, a former director of research projects at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. Almendares currently runs a free clinic in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.

The Center for Constitutional Rights adds:

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