Has Obama sided with Chávez? That's certainly the view of the
leader of Honduran coup regime Roberto Micheletti, whose spokesman angrily
denounced the 30 million dollar cut in US aid announced on Thursday.
Micheletti's spokesman added
that Obama's decision "condemned the people that struggle against Marxist
expansion in Central America".
In the rest of Latin America the tougher US
stance was welcomed, in particular the proposals to revoke the visas of members
and supporters of the regime and the indication that the USA will not recognise
the outcome of scheduled elections in November.
Yet despite coming under pressure from senior members of his own party, Obama
has so far resisted calls to formally declare that the June 28 overthrow of
President Zelaya was military coup. Were he to do so, the US government
would by law be required to make permanent its cuts in aid and suspension of
However, a formal declaration would require ratification by Congress, and some
analysts have suggested that Obama is desperate to avoid playing into the hands
of right wing Republican lawmakers who are busy echoing the claims of the coup
leaders that he has allied himself with Venezuela's socialist president.
Whilst this may in part account for Obama's reluctance to issue a declaration,
others in his administration- most notably Secretary of State Hilary Clinton-
are opposed in principle.
Clinton's role since the coup has been opaque. She chairs the US government's
Millennium Challenge Corporation, which had continued to fund the regime until
Thursday's announcement prohibited all direct aid. In July, she denounced
President Zelaya's attempt to return to Honduras as "reckless". And her
confidant Lanny Davis, who was chief fundraiser for her presidential campaign,
has since been hired as a public relations spokesman for the coup regime.
By not declaring the ousting of Zelaya a military coup, the US has left its
options open. Retaining the power to turn the aid taps on and off at any time
of its choosing leaves Hilary Clinton's State Department wielding significant
leverage over the nature and outcome of any negotiations between the elected
president and the regime.
Inside Honduras, a growing resistance movement has emerged, uniting trade
unions, social movements and the black and indigenous populations. They are
intent on pressing ahead with plans to convoke a constituent assembly which
would redraft the constitution and shift power away from the wealthy elites
towards the impoverished working class and poor farmers.
The Resistance fears that Clinton wishes to impose a solution that would see a
symbolic return of Zelaya to office, but with real power left in the hands of
the army and other institutions controlled by the elites. Their suspicions are
almost certainly justified.
Following the announcement of the US aid cuts, the Washington Post
lambasted the coup leaders for refusing to sign up to the Costa Rican mediation
plan which involves Zelaya's return to office in exchange for him agreeing to
share power and abandoning constitutional reform.
"Honduras's de facto government — and its supporters in Washington —
are playing into the hands of the Latin American left", the influential
newspaper lamented in an editorial; arguing that the mediation proposal should be
"…the president [Zelaya] would have to form a unity
government under international supervision, he would have to abandon his
attempt to hold an illegal referendum on changing the Honduran constitution,
and he would have to leave office when his term ends in January.
"This outcome would be a victory for the Hondurans who supported Mr. Zelaya's
ouster because they feared he was attempting to mimic Mr. Chávez's dismantling
of Venezuela's democracy. Mr. Chávez would lose his Honduran puppet by means he
could not contest: A new president would be chosen in an internationally
monitored election this fall."
Leaving aside the various distortions contained in this excerpt, it is clear
that the Washington Post views the Costa Rican plan as a way of
halting the "red tide" of left governments that have swept to power across
Latin America in recent years. And if the US, with its hands on the aid taps,
can oversee both the interpretation and implementation of the plan, so much the
Meanwhile, the very dispensable coup leader Roberto Micheletti remains
ensconced in the presidential palace that ten weeks ago was the home of the
elected president. As he peers out over the perimeter fence, now wrapped in
barbed wire and patrolled by armed soldiers, he must be feeling a bitter sense
of betrayal. No wonder then that his spokesman, on being informed of the USA's
decision to cut aid and revoke visas, lashed out at Obama in such a vitriolic
And whilst the decision to cut direct US aid has undoubtedly shaken the coup
leaders, the big money – 164 million dollars of aid already allocated to
Honduras – is sitting in an International Monetary Fund bank account. After
stalling for time, the IMF has now indicated
that it will deny the coup regime access to these funds. If the IMF makes good
on this promise, the impact on the Honduran economy will be devastating;
further undermining support for the coup and likely to fuel new waves of strike
Faced with mounting unrest
and economic isolation, it is doubtful that the coup leaders will be able to
maintain the already shaky unity of the four key pillars of the regime; the
military, the political elite, the private media, and the business community.
Their last roll of the dice will be an attempt to legitimise the coup by
holding elections in November. But this gamble is unlikely to pay off. The
Resistance has announced a boycott of any poll conducted under conditions of
violent oppression and censorship, and the US has declared that "at this
moment" it would not recognise the outcome of the elections.
The days of this regime are numbered. And when it ends, so too will the curious
convergence of interests between the Latin American left and the current US
administration. Henceforth, the struggle will be about whose vision for
Honduras and the rest of the continent will prevail.