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The silence from Washington over the past month of human rights abuses from the de facto Honduran government becomes deafening when one considers that the US government holds both the ability to bring that regime down as well as a recent history of criticizing similar abuses in Iran. Groups inside the US have taken up the call to pressure the government into taking the action required by US law in addressing a military coup.

Story Transcript

Honduras: Where does Washington stand?
Producer: Jesse Freeston

JESSE FREESTON, PRODUCER, TRNN: Ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya has hit the road once again to rally support for his return to power. He spent last week in Nicaragua, physically prevented by the Honduran military from returning home by land. On Tuesday he arrived to an official state welcome in Mexico, and will now head to Brazil. He has also announced intentions to file a case against the coup plotters with the International Criminal Court. It has been more than a month since the Organization of American States, as well as the UN General Assembly, both voted unanimously to support the unconditional and immediate return of President Zelaya. But now that the US-sponsored conditional return, as drafted by Costa Rican President Óscar Arias, has failed, and with most other governments having exhausted all their means of influence in Honduras, many are placing the spotlight back on the US government. A group in the United States under the banner Hondurans for Democracy have been demanding that the State Department do more to pressure the sitting coup government of Roberto Micheletti. They took their message right to the State Department’s front door in Washington, DC.

SERGIO MONCADA, HONDURANS FOR DEMOCRACY: We respectfully request the American government to, one, take measures and concrete economic sanctions against the illegal government that usurped political power in Honduras. Two, immediately recall the United States ambassador in Honduras, Hugo Llorens. Three, carry out an investigation about the ongoing human rights violations in Honduras perpetrated by the de facto government of Mr. Roberto Micheletti, such as violent deaths, disappearances, abductions, illegal detentions of dissidents, repressive actions by the police and military forces against those opposed to the coup, death threats, and the suspension of constitutional guarantees in violation of the freedom of speech. These have all been a daily occurrence since June 28, the day of the coup.

FREESTON: The group was accompanied by a number of allies, including anthropologist Adrienne Pine, author of the book Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras.

ADRIENNE PINE, PROF. OF ANTHROPOLOGY, AMERICAN UNIV.: I think it’s incredibly important for those of us who have done work in Honduras to not stand idly by as academics but really use what we know and take a side in favor of democracy and in favor of the people of Honduras. And, actually, I think that’s true not just for academics but for anybody who believes in democracy. This coup represents a grave danger for all of Latin America, and in Latin America, including the United States, which has a huge and influential Latino population, and, of course, much of its territory comes from places that belonged to Mexico previously.

FREESTON: Prior to the demonstration, the State Department announced that it would be revoking the US visas of four members of the coup government. Nonetheless, the protest went ahead as scheduled.

PINE: There have already been countless violations of human rights and violent acts, disappearances, murders. For the US to merely revoke four visas, to me, is not enough. And I can’t even say that I’m glad they did it, ’cause I don’t know whose VISAs they are. And, frankly, it’s a symbolic gesture.

FREESTON: I spoke to Forrest Hylton, Latin American historian and frequent contributor to the NACLA Report on the Americas.


FREESTON: Forrest, I want to start by going back to the Summit of the Americas, when Barack Obama attended, and there was a lot of talk about a new era of relations between the United States and Latin America.


BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations. There is simply engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values.


FREESTON: And now Honduras has been putting on the front step. And could you talk a little bit about what we’ve seen from the United States, what we’re learning about the relationship of Latin America through the Honduras crisis?

FORREST HYLTON, CONTRIBUTOR, NACLA REPORT ON THE AMERICAS: Well, what we’ve seen is a fairly incoherent strategy that’s not clearly defined, and it would be a mistake to present it as a kind of seamless whole. The Pentagon, as we discussed in our segment on Colombia’s military bases, in many ways the Pentagon is kind of the leading edge of US policy in the Americas right now, and to some degree the State Department just kind of follows step. So when it came to the plotting of the coup itself, it’s clear that neither the State Department nor the US executive was involved in the overthrow of a constitutionally elected government. Nevertheless, the elements within the Honduran military that carried out the coup are ones who’ve been trained at the School of the Americas and maintain very close ties with the US military.


FREESTON: It was only when President Zelaya briefly crossed the Honduran border with Nicaragua last week that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton broke her long silence on the issue.

HILLARY CLINTON, US SECRETARY OF STATE: President Zelaya’s effort to reach the border is reckless. It does not contribute to the broader efforts to restore democratic and constitutional order in the Honduras crisis. So we urge President Zelaya and all other parties to reaffirm their commitment to a negotiated peaceful solution, to the integrity of Honduran democracy and the safety and well-being of the Honduran people.

MONCADA: I think what we saw from Hillary Clinton is attacking the individual without really addressing the issue, which is what’s happening to democracy in Honduras. Zelaya is becoming just a scapegoat. The question of him as an individual is only secondary to democracy in Honduras and the power that the people of Honduras have in choosing their representatives and in choosing the destiny of their own nation.


HYLTON: Clinton and the Obama administration have refused to come out and condemn the coup regime for its violation of human rights, for disappearances, for murders that have been pretty well documented. And if you compare it to Iran, the silence regarding the human rights record of the Honduran coup plotters is remarkable, particularly because of the similarities regarding press freedoms and freedoms of assembly, which are restricted in both Honduras and Iran.

FREESTON: While the anticoup movement continues to hold strikes, roadblocks, and marches, the attack on freedoms of speech and assembly were made clear by the head of the armed forces, Romeo Vásquez, when he appeared on Honduran television Tuesday morning. He directed his message at the protest leadership, saying, “Calling us coup leaders is a strategy. They call us assassins. It’s an effort to demoralize the troops. When they do this, they are committing a crime, first and foremost, that of defamation. We’re going to go after them.”

HYLTON: Both the State Department and President Obama have really chosen to sidestep the whole question of human rights and US policy in Latin America and to broker an agreement through Óscar Arias that would be agreeable to both sides.


CLINTON: We urge both parties to accept the proposal put forth by President Arias. It is the basis for a peaceful solution, and that is what the United States supports.


HYLTON: Any agreement that would be agreeable to both sides under these conditions would clearly be legitimizing the pretensions of the coup plotters. And one of the most contentious points in the seven-point program that Arias was attempting to broker [snip] the question of amnesty, because one of the greatest problems in Latin America, particularly in the last third of the 20th century, was impunity. And as a result of counterinsurgency wars in the 1980s and 1970s, impunity reached epidemic proportions throughout the Americas, and there have been long popular struggles to hold the military accountable for its crimes against citizens.

FREESTON: And the importance of impunity as a focus is not lost on people in the United States, either. When President Obama was elected and opened up a forum on his website for people to suggest what they thought his first priorities should be, the most popular answer for President Obama’s first priority on coming into office was to appoint a special prosecutor to prosecute accusations of crimes that had gone on under the Bush administration. So even in the United States, where there hasn’t been the focus on impunity, traditionally, that we’ve seen in Central America or South America, there’s still that value. People understand the significance of punishing people for their crimes as a deterrent to future crimes. So, I guess, to wrap up, I mean, we’re speaking as if the United States has come out fully in support of the coup, and they certainly haven’t done it in the same sort of respect that they did in 2002 in Venezuela. If the US were to take a stance against the coup, what would that look like? What sort of levers do they have to put pressure on the coup leaders?

HYLTON: Well, you raise a couple of good points there. One is the difference between rhetoric and reality. The rhetoric is sort of a condemnation of the coup, which they refuse to call a coup for legal reasons, because if they called it a coup, then they would be forced to take measures like removing their ambassador from Honduras, all of the aid to Honduras, not just some of it.


PINE: The US, if it wanted to, could end this de facto government, this murderous coup government in a day. And that’s not intervention; that’s merely complying with its own laws. And, instead, what the Secretary of State has done has been talking as if she recognized this as a coup, but in fact supporting the coup government by refusing to take the actions required by law of the United States.


HYLTON: It certainly has not sanctioned the coup regime in the way that it sanctioned past Latin American coups and dictatorial regimes. It has not done that. The real mistake consists in treating as equivalents a constitutionally elected government supported by the rest of the governments in the region and the world, and an illegitimate government that has taken power through military force and has violated human rights in Honduras in a way that recalls the dark days of the counterinsurgent wars in the 1980s.

FREESTON: Thanks a lot for your time, Forrest.

HYLTON: Thanks, Jesse. That was good.

FREESTON: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Forrest Hylton teaches history at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia-Medellín. He is the author of Evil Hour in Colombia (Verso, 2006), and with Sinclair Thomson, co-author of Revolutionary Horizons: Past and Present in Bolivian Politics (Verso, 2007). He has contributed to New Left Review, NACLA Report on the Americas, and CounterPunch, and his short fiction and translations have appeared in the Brooklyn Rail. Also, he authored the novel Vanishing Acts: A Tragedy (City Works Press, 2010).