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Hillary Clinton Says Honduras Coup Not Illegal In Daily News Editorial Board Interview

Democatic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton insisted the Honduras legislature and national judiciary’s removal of President Manuel Zelaya in 2009 “actually followed the law” and was not an illegal coup. Her statement sharply contradicts the real-time assessment of Hugo Llorens, who was the United States’ ambassador to Honduras.

At a meeting with the New York Daily News editorial board on April 8, Clinton was asked about her direct involvement in “the coup in Honduras,” which took place when she was secretary of state.

As you know in 2009, the military overthrew President Zelaya. There was a period there where the OAS was trying to isolate that regime, but apparently some of the emails that have come out as a result of the State Department releases show that some of your top aides were urging you to declare it a military coup, cut off U.S. aid. You didn’t do that. You ended up negotiating with Oscar Arias [former Costa Rican president] a deal for new elections.

But the situation in Honduras has continued to deteriorate. There’s been 300 people killed by government forces, and all these children fleeing and mothers from Honduras over the border into United States. And just a few weeks ago, one of the leading environmental activist, Berta Cáceres, was assassinated in her home. Do you have any concerns about the role that you played in that particular situation, even not necessarily being in agreement with your top aides in the State Department?

The question was solidly framed, and it directly asked Clinton to take responsibility for her role in the coup, something most in establishment news media have been reluctant to do.

Clinton responded, “The legislature, the national legislature in Honduras and the national judiciary actually followed the law in removing President Zelaya. Now I didn’t like the way it looked or the way they did it but they had a very strong argument that they had followed the constitution and the legal precedence.”

“And as you know, they really undercut their argument by spiriting him out of the country in his pajamas, where they sent the military to take him out of his bed and get him out of the country. So this began as a very mixed and difficult situation,” Clinton added.

But this wasn’t merely a situation in which a change in leadership appeared unlawful because the president was whisked away in his pajamas. Governments all over the world regarded what unfolded as an illegal act, and they demanded Zelaya be returned to power. Although Clinton’s State Department took a different tack, President Barack Obama initially declared, “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras, the democratically elected president there.”

Nearly one month after the military removed Zelaya from power, on July 24, Ambassador Llorens wrote in a U.S. State Embassy cable, “The Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the
military, Supreme Court, and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch, while accepting that there may be a prima facie case that Zelaya may have committed illegalities and may have even violated the constitution.”

The U.S. embassy in Honduras rejected all of the coup defenders’ rationalizations for a “patently illegal act” and outlined the following: “the military had no authority to remove Zelaya from the
country”; “Congress has no constitutional authority to remove a Honduran president”; “Congress and the judiciary removed Zelaya on the basis of a hasty, ad-hoc, extralegal, secret, 48-hour process”; and “Zelaya’s arrest and forced removal from the country violated multiple constitutional guarantees, including the prohibition on expatriation, presumption of innocence and right to due process.”

How can anyone claiming to have sound judgment read such a clear-cut assessment and still assert there was a “strong argument” the constitution and rule of law was followed in Honduras?

Clinton suggested a brokered resolution was necessary after the coup because of the threat of bloodshed from Zelaya and his friends and allies, who were “not just in Honduras but in some of the neighboring countries like Nicaragua.” She said, “We could have had a terrible civil war that would have been just terrifying in its loss of life.”

What does Clinton think is happening now in Honduras? Does she really believe the horrific violence unfolding is not a result of the coup in 2009?

The Huffington Post reported, “A sharp escalation of violence accompanied the 2009 coup and the expansion of cartel operations. The Honduran homicide rate spiked from an already high 61 per 100,000 in 2008 to 90 per 100,000 in 2012 — the world’s highest murder rate, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.”

Honduras’ transformation into one of the most violent nations in the world has fueled a refugee crisis. However, instead of confronting the role her actions as secretary of state played, Clinton has called for refugee children to be “sent back” to Honduras to “send a message to families in Central America: Do not let your children take this very dangerous journey.” In other words, do not permit children to escape the bloodshed, which has reached epidemic levels.

Clinton argued during the editorial board meeting the U.S. government did not want to declare the government a coup because “humanitarian aid,” such as aid from the U.S. Agency for International Development, would have to be halted. The government was concerned about the impact to “very poor people,” and they did not want to “punish” the Honduran people by calling what had happened a coup.

This excuse ignores the fact that by November there was an aid freeze as a result of the coup. Reuters reported doctors and aid workers were dealing with hungry and sick children, who could not obtain medicine because donors cut aid.

“Soup kitchens have closed, medicines have become scarce, foreign doctors have canceled trips to Honduras, and funding for the poor to run small businesses have dried up, increasing unemployment,” according to Reuters. The European Union “suspended about $97 million in aid and the World Bank in July halted $270 million in loans.” The Inter-American Development Bank “held back $50 million.” About $450 million in credits and assistance” were frozen, Zelaya’s finance minister said.

Clinton apparently never contemplated these potential consequences when the State Department and the wider Obama administration made the decision to back the illegal military coup and not push for Zelaya to be restored to power.

The former secretary of state also mentioned the election in 2009, which was held after the coup, but she expressed no concerns about how the election was carried out and the fact that a coup backer won. Back in November 2009, she declared, “The Honduran people expressed their commitment to a democratic future for their country.”

However, as Rosemary Joyce of NACLA pointed out, “The election was conducted without the presence of certified international observers that would be necessary to accept the results even in normal times, let alone with the election conducted under a government exercising fierce repression of the media and of free speech.” It was a “demonstration election,” an election “held for little other purpose than to buff the image of an anti-democratic government.”

Clinton recognizes this part of her record is scandalous. The Intercept’s Lee Fang reported Clinton had back-channel conversations with longtime Clinton confidant and lobbyist Lanny Davis, who was working as a consultant for a group of Honduran businessmen who supported the coup. She also deleted the section on Honduras from the paperback version of her book, “Hard Choices.”

Prior to her murder, leading environmental activist Berta Cáceres recognized Clinton played a prime role in the destruction of her country.

“Clinton recognized that they didn’t permit Mel Zelaya’s return to the presidency,” Cáceres said. “There were going to be elections. And 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 permit a barbarity, not only in Honduras but in the rest of the continent. And we’ve been witnesses to this.”

Over 100 environmental activists and “scores of journalists, human rights defenders, union leaders, LGBT rights activists, legal professionals, and political activists” have been murdered.

The intersectionality of this issue could not be more glaring. The legacy of the coup impacts all sections of the Honduran population. Yet, that population does not include U.S. citizens, so she openly excuses the role she played in supporting conditions which have produced horrific violence.

New design of banknote 500 hryven. Photo by Julia Berezovska/ Press office NBU on Flickr
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."