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Mark Weisbrot of CEPR says Hillary and the Obama administration helped the coup to succeed in large part by helping to prevent Zelaya’s return to the presidency before the November 2009 elections

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Honduran indigenous rights and environmental activist Berta Caceres was murdered last week. The murder sparked protests across the nation, calling for a full investigation and, of course, witness protection in relation to her murder. If you’re interested in learning more about Berta Caceres, we have an interview about her and her assassination on the Real News titled Indigenous Rights Leader Assassinated In Honduras with Jesse Freeston, the director of the documentary Resistencia. The film was about the coup in Honduras in 2009. Jesse knew Berta Caceres personally. Her assassination has reopened a discussion about what Hillary Clinton’s role was in 2009 during the Honduran coup d’etat against Manuel Zelaya, the democratically-elected leader of Honduras at the time. Before Berta Caceres was tragically murdered, Caceres named Clinton, charging her with sanctioning the coup. Let’s have a look at what she said. BERTA CACERES: We’re coming out of a coup that we can’t put behind us. We can’t reverse it. It just kept going. And after there was the issue of the elections. The same Hillary Clinton and her book Hard Choices practically said what was going to happen in Honduras. This demonstrates the meddling of North Americans in our country. The return of the president Mel Zelaya became a secondary issue. There were going to be elections in Honduras. And here she, Clinton, recognized that they didn’t permit Mel Zelaya’s return to the presidency. There were going to be elections. In the international community officials, the government, the grand majority accepted this, even though we warned this was going to be very dangerous and that it would admit a barbarity, not only in Honduras, but in the rest of the continent, and we’ve been witnesses to this. PERIES: Joining us now to discuss this is Mark Weisbrot. He is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He’s also the author of the new book, Failed: What the Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy. Thank you so much for joining us today, Mark. MARK WEISBROT: Thank you, Sharmini. Great to be with you. PERIES: So, it is a tragic situation we are faced with, with the murder of such a great activist in Honduras, Berta Caceres. And Hillary Clinton was very involved in Honduras and the policies that led to the coup d’etat in Honduras that she was just speaking about. Tell us more about that, Mark. WEISBROT: Yes. Well, people who are following events after that coup, which took place on June 28, 2009, the democratically-elected president you mentioned, Mel Zelaya, was taken at gunpoint and flown out of the country. It was a military coup. And in fact, one of the things that the State Department did was to refuse to call it a coup, even though their own ambassador sent a report to them saying it was obviously a military coup. The whole world knew it, and they refused to call it a coup, because that would mean that by law they would have to suspend almost all aid to the country. But anyway, as I was starting to say, was that anybody who followed the events from the day of the coup knew that the United States was doing, and under Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, was doing everything it could to support that coup. So for example, on the day of the coup, even the White House just issued a statement, didn’t even condemn the coup, just said that all parties should talk to each other. And they had advance knowledge of the coup, according to them. So they knew it was coming, and they issued that statement. And the day after the coup, Hillary Clinton was asked if, you know, she was nominally in favor of restoring democracy. And they asked her if restoring democracy meant restoring the democratically-elected president. And she wouldn’t answer that question. And then we find out from her book in 2014, Hard Choices, she actually admits in that book what we knew, again, from following the events after the coup, that she actually worked to prevent the democratically-elected president from coming back. And I’ll read you what she said in that book. She said: “In the days after the coup I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, and we strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, and would render the question of Zelaya”–the president–”moot.” In other words, she was going to make sure that him coming back would not be an issue, that he wouldn’t come back. Now, these elections were neither free nor fair nor legitimate. Twenty-three countries made a statement, almost the whole hemisphere, made a statement saying, in the OAS, you had to have President Zelaya come back before you had a legitimate election. So nobody considered–the OAS wouldn’t send observers, the European Union, the Carter Center wouldn’t send observers to this election that was held six months after the coup in the presence of massive human rights violations, condemned by Amnesty International, by Human Rights Watch. And here was Hillary Clinton saying, not only saying that these were free and fair and legitimate elections, but really actively working to make sure that the hemisphere would not force a return of the democratically-elected president, would not force a restoration of democracy. She was making the coup succeed, and she was doing everything possible to do that, and she admits it in this book. And the interesting thing is that the paperback edition came out, of her book, last year in April. And this whole part on the coup in Honduras was eliminated, because, you know, some people, including myself, wrote about how outrageous it was. And there was more in the book on the coup, too, that really was an embarrassment to her. For example, she lied about the supposed justification for the coup. Here’s what she said. She said that Zelaya was arrested, that was the coup, amid fears that he was preparing to circumvent the constitution and extend his term in office. So the constitution had one term of office. Now, this is very interesting, for the president, because this was the excuse that the far-right here in the United States used for actually supporting the coup openly, unlike, unlike Secretary Clinton, who pretended she was against the coup, but tried to make it succeed. So here she endorses the far-right defense of the coup. And this was completely false, because there was no way that Zelaya could stay in office. He was proposing a referendum, to have a constituent assembly, to have a new constitution. Even if this referendum were held, and even if it were approved, he was long gone. His term was up, you know, later that–within a year. And so he was not going to be–he had no chance of being reelected. So this was a completely false statement, also, in the book. So he, that’s why I think she eliminated this, as well. So you can see that she worked very hard to make this coup succeed, and against the wishes of the entire hemisphere. And they were deeply alienated. I remember talking to the Brazilian ambassador at the time, and the administration was telling the Brazilian government, they were saying, well, you know, we’re going to make sure that Zelaya gets back. And that was completely false. So they were really alienated. You’ve got to remember, this was 2009, and President Obama had gone to the Summit of the Americas that year as a newly-elected president and was given a very warm greeting. Everybody thought, including the left governments, that this was going to be a different kind of administration. And imagine how horrified they were when they have a U.S.-backed coup. You know, it’s like, as President Correa of Ecuador said, it was like the darkest, old days in Latin America with the U.S. overthrowing a government that it didn’t like. PERIES: Now, in that statement or in her book, you read out that she spoke to her counterparts. I’m wondering who those counterparts might have been, given that the OAS had completely endorsed that they would, that they opposed the coup d’etat, and this was fairly solid across the continent. WEISBROT: That’s a very good question. And, well, the one, one counterpart was Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica. And he was the one who helped her to–he was a staunch ally of the U.S. administration, the State Department. So what he did is he helped move the negotiations to restore Zelaya out of the OAS and into this mediation effort that he and Hillary Clinton could control and sabotage, and make sure it didn’t succeed. So that was one of her allies. And then, of course, within the OAS they were eventually, well, they had Canada. And then they were able to kill off a handful of right-wing governments. There was Panama, Colombia, and Peru were the only allies that they eventually got, and that was quite late in the game. At first it was everybody against Clinton. And I should say also that one change that came out of this because of the role of the United States and Canada, its only real ally in the region, you know, completely reliable ally. Because of their role in supporting and legitimating this military coup against the Democratic government, they actually, Latin America formed a new organization called the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States after this, and it includes everyone in the hemisphere except the United States and Canada. So again, that’s how deeply alienated the rest of the hemisphere was from this outrage. PERIES: Mark, as we speak, there’s breaking news that there are protests going on at the USAID office in Washington, DC against continued support for the Honduras coup government. I guess this is all in light of Berta Caceres’ murder, and of course what’s happening in the elections. So I just want to take this opportunity to say that Hillary Clinton’s campaign has fought back. Jorge Silva, who has issued a statement refuting her involvement in causing the unrest in Honduras, saying that she was simply engaged in an act of diplomacy to bring about alleged democratic elections. What is your response to all that? WEISBROT: No, that’s a very good point, too, because the only reason we got that response, the public got that response, is because a reporter from Latino USA, an NPR project, asked the campaign about it. And you know, this is one of the problems. I mean, I just gave you in a few minutes a pile of evidence that the U.S. government did all these things that helped this coup succeed. And of course, President Zelaya himself later said that the U.S. was involved in the coup itself, which I think is quite believable, as well. But you know, the media has this standard which is very different from the one we have in our justice system. It’s called–they have a smoking gun standard, almost literally. If you don’t have the U.S. actually, a U.S. official, like, pointing the gun at the head of the, of the president of this country, then there’s plausible denial. Whereas in our judicial system, the criminal justice system, we have reasonable doubt for a criminal trial, and preponderance of the evidence for a civil lawsuit. A lesser standard–I think by the preponderance of the evidence there’s no doubt that the U.S. government played a massive role in legitimating and making this coup succeed. PERIES: Mark, obviously there’s so much more to unpack about this, particularly in light of the upcoming elections. So we’d like to continue this discussion with you another time. Thanks for joining us. WEISBROT: Thank you very much. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is also the author of “Failed: What the ‘Experts’ Got Wrong About the Global Economy” (2015, Oxford University Press).