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Hillary and Honduras

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Supporters of ousted Honduras' President Manuel Zelaya protest outside the entrance to the international airport in Tegucigalpa, Sunday, July 5, 2009. After the Organization of American States, OAS, suspended Saturday night Honduras' participation in the organization because of last week coup, Zelaya took off for home Sunday in a Venezuelan jet in a high-stakes attempt to return to power, even as the interim government told its military to turn away the plane. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
Supporters of ousted Honduras’ President Manuel Zelaya protest outside the entrance to the international airport in Tegucigalpa, Sunday, July 5, 2009. After the Organization of American States, OAS, suspended Saturday night Honduras’ participation in the organization because of last week coup, Zelaya took off for home Sunday in a Venezuelan jet in a high-stakes attempt to return to power, even as the interim government told its military to turn away the plane. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton’s campaign posted a silly “7 Things Hillary Has in Common with Your Abuela” to appeal to Latinos. It was kind of pandering. So naturally a #NotMyAbuela Twitter campaign began. And whatever. This is just a Tuesday on Twitter. But those on the left doing this brought up her role with the 2009 Honduran coup while she was Secretary of State. And this annoyed me a bit. As I’ve stated a few times, I have basically not written about the primary campaign at all because I just don’t think it matters very much who wins the nomination. I’m voting for Sanders but if Hillary wins, she wins. I’m certainly not going to go all brogressive. But I do dislike bad arguments, no matter what side they come from. And that includes the idea on the left that Hillary Clinton is somehow responsible for the Honduran coup. When I expressed this on Twitter, a few people responded with links to her e-mails about Honduras. I found the subsequent analysis reasonable but not leading to a convincing argument that she somehow has major culpability in what happened in Honduras.

I actually crossed into Honduras from Guatemala on the morning of the coup without knowing what had happened a few hours earlier. It didn’t really affect me other than some power outages as I was up in Cop├ín, which is far from the major cities. I only mention this to say that because of that, I have followed it all pretty closely over time. From the U.S. perspective, my take on this is that when Zelaya was overthrown, basically the Obama administration really didn’t care and the Florida Republican Party cared A LOT because for them, it’s always Cuba in 1959. That right-wing Honduran elites flew to Miami every few weeks to spend their wealth stolen from the nation’s poor like the rest of the Latin American elite classes no doubt helped bind them to the Cuban-Americans representing Florida in Congress. They raised a huge stink at a time when a) Obama and Clinton were dealing with other, higher priority areas of the world and b) Obama still believed in his ability to craft bipartisan alliances. Jose Manuel Zelaya was pretty lame himself and his move toward an alliance with Hugo Chavez probably half-hearted but no American president or secretary of state is going to bend over backwards to help someone regain power who was a Chavista.

Add to this that we have to ask what that help would have even looked like and for what, from the Americans’ perspective. Honduras is primarily important in the unfortunate and never ending War on Drugs and for its maquiladoras and other low-wage American investment. There’s just not that much upside for American politicians to really crack down on these coup leaders. Now, I don’t agree with Obama and Clinton in their doing nothing and I said that at the time on my old blog as I was writing about this. The administration originally banned the coup leaders from entering the U.S. and banning those elites from Miami is about the worst thing you can do to them. When Obama ended that ban, I was disappointed. And the coup was not good for the Honduran people, who have suffered greatly from escalating drug and gang violence that the U.S. has no small culpability for.

The real problem here is that the left still looks at Latin America like it’s 1985 and Reagan is funding secret wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. And it’s just not. First, Latin America simply is not as important to U.S. geopolitical strategy as it was then, especially compared to China, India, Southeast Asia, and of course the Middle East. Supporting coups in Latin America aren’t worth it. Neither are taking huge steps to reverse them, not unless they threaten the United States in some way. This one didn’t. This has generally been great for Latin America as the U.S. simply stopped interfering to overthrow governments like it did dozens of times between 1898 and 1989. Even the ill-fated Venezuelan coup against Chavez that totally failed only had limited support from the Bush administration. In the past, the Marines would have finished the job. This has allowed nations like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and many others to gain greater stability and develop democratic institutions. It’s allowed trade to expand and the region to experience an unparalleled period of growth and geopolitical importance. No, that hasn’t been reflected in Honduras, but there are reasons for that much greater than continued U.S. interference. Or non-interference in this case.

So can one blame Obama and Clinton for deciding that going to the mat for Zelaya, who was not a close ally to begin with, was simply not worth the political cost at home? I don’t know, but I think that decision is not surprising at all. And I think it’s just kind of dumb to blame Hillary Clinton for what has happened in Honduras, not because her actions were perfect but because the claim simply doesn’t fly.

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